The Stabroek News Editorial of Tuesday May 21 has certainly stirred conversation. There are valid points raised in the article no doubt; it is widely recognised that there has been a lack of serious support for tourism in previous years. Budgetary allocations to tourism bodies have been relatively small compared to most destinations for the work required and expected of a National Tourism Board. Guyana does not currently have an enabling environment for tourism development nor the optimal requisite infrastructure. Effective tourism policy is vital, yet changes take time due in part to the fragmented nature of tourism which requires multiple ministries and levels of government to coordinate their efforts to effectively respond to political, social, economic and environmental trends affecting tourism.
Creating a positive policy environment and improving infrastructure is a multi-faceted undertaking that will benefit multiple sectors, including but not limited to tourism, agriculture, and construction, and result in added local and foreign investment. This industry norm reinforces the reality that tourism is an industry that encompasses other industries and requires a lot of moving parts to be in sync to function well, let alone produce and surpass the expected results. Fortunately, decades of commitment and perseverance are starting to pay off, and the positive momentum is growing.
The Process of Tourism Planning and Implementation
The writer alluded to plans not being made for rolling out a serious strategy for tourism development. The Guyana Tourism Strategic Action Plan: 2018-2025 is a living plan that was developed by the Department of Tourism and Guyana Tourism Authority and is being implemented and refined annually to inform and guide tourism management, development and marketing through inter-ministerial, multi-stakeholder collaboration. Importantly, it supports the Green State agenda and is aligned and consistent with the Green State Development Strategy.
To complement the strategic action plan, a living Marketing and Communications Strategic Action Plan is being implemented based on Guyana’s product strengths and brand pillars, which include nature and wildlife, active exploration, culture and heritage, birding, and scientific, academic, volunteer and educational (SAVE) travel. The Guyana Tourism Authority now has a new destination website that is of a calibre expected of National Tourism Boards, and is working with market representatives in our core and investment markets to ensure that not only are we creating awareness, we are targeting travellers whose interests match our product offering. This is driving market demand.
The results speak for themselves. Guyana received a 15.9% increase in arrivals in 2018 of which there was a 21% increase in leisure travel (183,639 total) and a 15% increase in business travel (28,466). It is anticipated that if the current trends continue Guyana will attract more than 500,000 a year as early as 2025, which would reflect nearly doubling visitation over 10 years.
Due to the increased market demand and lodging filling to capacity in several locations, there is an increasingly urgent need to invest in market-driven product development. The Guyana Tourism Authority has developed and is in the process of implementing a Community-Led and Owned Tourism Framework and a SAVE Travel Market Development Action Plan in collaboration with sister governmental agencies. Communities like Karasabai and Warapoka are now starting to host more visitors, and institutions like the Smithsonian and Operation Wallacea are looking to expand their operations in Guyana.
All of these plans are dynamic; as trends continue to change and the industry needs to adjust and evolve, these living plans that will guide that change.
The Key to Success is Collaboration and Shared Vision
Given the interlinkages with different sectors and cross-cutting impacts, no single tourism agency or entity cannot do it all. We are competing with every other destination in the world. Everything from raising global awareness of tourism to well-managed tourism requires shared ownership, buy-in, and structured collaboration. Guyana is home to some of the world’s best examples of the benefits of collaboration at a community level such as Surama and Rewa. Taking that to scale in the form of inter-ministerial, multi-stakeholder collaboration must become the new norm. This is already happening in Guyana through, for example, regional Tourism Committees, the development of a new Regional Destination Management Organisation in the Essequibo tourism circuit, and the close partnerships between the Tourism & Hospitality Association of Guyana and the Guyana Tourism Authority. We are stronger together.
Almost without exception, key stakeholders linked to tourism agree that there is a need to collaborate with one another to unlock the sector’s potential – to maximise the local social, economic and conservation outcomes and protect our wealth of natural and heritage. Guyana is not alone. All of the Member States of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation have formally recognised that tourism’s direct and multiplier effects on other sectors and industries can accelerate the achievement of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Tourism is beginning to play a role in creating an enhanced universal understanding of the importance of environmental sustainability. Guyana is firmly establishing its leadership in this space. This is exemplified by the recent #1 Best of Eco-Tourism Award and one of the Top 10 Sustainable Destination Awards Guyana received from ITB Berlin and the Green Destinations Foundation, among the many other accolades Guyana has recently received in the international marketplace.
Maintaining the Momentum
As we move steadily toward 2020, we need to maintain and build on the positive momentum. Fortunately, political will is a renewable resource and tourism is apolitical. It has the potential to directly or indirectly benefit all Guyanese. The tourism sector generates an average of 1 out of every 11 jobs globally. In 2017, travel and tourism directly supported 8,500 jobs in Guyana. Due to the multiplier effect of indirect and induced economic impacts, it currently supports many more jobs. And we are just beginning to see the potential.
Guyana is becoming known for its abundance of wildlife and is vibrant cultural heritage. Unlike gold and oil and gas, tourism is not an extractive sector. As the number of pristine places on the planet decrease, undeveloped landscapes and wilderness regions becoming a more precious commodity. The research on the economic benefits is becoming more conclusive: High functioning ecosystems generate valuable ecosystems services. Wildlife in the wild is more valuable than wildlife that is consumed or exploited for the pet trade. Forests are more valuable standing than cut down for short-term economic gains.
But how do we protect our natural heritage assets and maximise the social, economic and conservation benefits of tourism? Unlike the sector itself, the answer is not overly complex.
Educate. Invest in our future leaders and make it tourism and entrepreneurship attractive and accessible to them. Continue to inform the world and locals as to what Guyana is and has to offer, what is in the works to help develop and promote the destination and why is tourism a force for good in Guyana. The media especially play an important part in pushing this mandate as the voice of the country.
Improve policy and infrastructure and build on the plans and practices we already have in place. Advance sustainable destination development, management and marketing through collaboration between government agencies, NGOs, academics, donors, and the tourism private sector.
Persevere. Remain focused on our global commitments and our long-standing efforts to sustainable, low-carbon and resilient development that uses resources efficiently, and is sustained over generations to benefit all Guyanese and our children’s children.
Like tourism, sustainability is all about the journey and not the destination. There is a popular saying that “patience is a virtue”. We know tourism takes longer than most industries to fully reach its potential. Due to decades of perseverance of our industry leaders, we are just beginning to realise the potential. If you cannot see it, ask the right people to help point it out to you and they will be happy to. After all, tourism is in everyone’s business. With shared vision, collaboration, patience and perseverance we can realise the potential.
Brian T. Mullis
Guyana Tourism Authority