By Kiana Wilburg
With numerous transformative plans in the pipeline, Minister with responsibility for the Tourism
Sector, Cathy Hughes, says that the Tourism sector is poised to take a quantum leap to the pinnacle of success. She said that the financial resources which have been made available by Budget 2016 will certainly allow for this.
Hughes noted that the budget’s direct contribution to the Tourism Sector has increased from $214.6 million in 2015 to $312.7 million in 2016. This represents a $98.1 million or 45.7 percent increase in direct allocations to the Tourism Sector through the Ministry and Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA).
The Minister said that the hard work of tourism stakeholders and organizations like the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana, that started decades ago, but which is now receiving real government support and focus, is finally beginning to pay off.
She said, “People all across Guyana have been part of moving us forward as a nation. I applaud them all. And in this vein, I wish to reach out to the media. I’m not asking to sensor your stories of crime, but to be balanced in your coverage of the efforts to bring perpetrators before the courts, and all that is being done to fix this scourge which started to run out of control more than a decade ago”.
The Minister said that tourism is about creating opportunity, hope, and a better/good life for all. She said that improving this experience and selling it to the world, so that the citizenry derives lasting benefits out of tourism, is what drives the strategic plans and initiatives in the tourism budget and the Ministry of Tourism, aligned with the GTA.
She noted that the objectives of this renewed tourism thrust include expansion and increase of employment opportunities for Guyanese, increasing investment in the sector and amplifying the contribution of the sector to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country.
Once its budget allocation is approved, Hughes said that the Ministry will be able to continue its policy in terms of marketing and promotion of the destination, regulation of the sector, and tourism developments in priority areas to boost competitiveness and export readiness.
NATIONAL TOURISM POLICY
Minister Hughes revealed that the over-arching framework in which these developments are to take place is the National Tourism Policy. Completed in January of this year, the Minister said that this policy is a distillation of what consultants, stakeholders and tourism operatives have been recommending for over two decades and will guide the industry’s continued expansion.
She noted that this document has been shared with industry stakeholders for their comments and will be laid in the National Assembly as soon as this process is complete, which should be within the next four to six weeks.
“In addition to this, we are adding the finishing touches on our National Ecotourism policy which recognizes this important niche within which we have a strong competitive advantage. Within the next two weeks, stakeholders within the tourism sector will receive this for comments,” said Hughes.
The Tourism Minister expressed that efforts are also being aggressively made to measure tourism’s contribution to Guyana’s GDP.
She reminded that in November last year, her Ministry established a Tourism Satellite Accounting sub-committee which saw the addition of Tourism Satellite Accounting (TSA) experts. This was done to pave the way for a TSA sensitization and preparatory workshop with stakeholders.
“We have a strategy in place to ensure that we complete this process in the shortest possible time frame, having the benefit of the lessons learned and best practices within the Caribbean Tourism Organization member countries who have successfully implemented TSA,” Hughes informed.
The Parliamentarian said that her Ministry is also committed to research-based decision-making, and in this regard, it has subscribed to a Tourism Intelligence Centre Platform for one year with five-user access.
She said that the Tourism Ministry, Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana (THAG) Secretariat and the Bureau of Statistics have also been granted user access to available data and trends.
Hughes said that a travel and tourism intelligence centre is an important resource for travel and tourism market data, containing comprehensive consumer surveys and evaluations, alongside industry information on key companies, markets, manufacturers and financial deals.
The Tourism Minister noted that this is also a new initiative and emphasized that it is fundamental to her Ministry’s global marketing and sales success.
Hughes said, “These rich consumer insights will enable us to clearly define our best-prospect travelers, as well as the relevant communication channels, messages and experiences that motivate them to travel. It will also help to develop marketing strategies and tactics that more effectively connect the consumer with Guyana’s tourism brand in meaningful ways, leading to increased customer acquisition and retention.”
The Tourism Minister said that her Ministry has engaged Trip Advisor—a global marketing communication platform—in an effort to conduct targeted marketing to key generating and emerging geographic markets. These she said include; USA, Canada, UK, Germany, Holland and South America.
Hughes said that it is one of the assets that is used in the tourism market to create and enhance favourable perceptions of Guyana by delivering value propositions and unique selling points to targeted customer segments.
She said that there are several expected outcomes of the Global Marketing Communications platform. These include; improved brand relevance among target travelers in primary, secondary and emerging markets, making Guyana a more compelling destination; and improved campaign impact and influence, moving the traveller further down the path to purchase.
The politician stated, too, that for 2016, her Ministry is slated to recruit two overseas representation companies in the US and UK/European markets to assist with key trade and consumer shows, organize trade and media trips, conduct trade and sales outreach, business to business meetings, social media marketing and generate features and stories of Guyana in various publications.
MOU SIGNED WITH BARBADOS
Hughes revealed that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between Guyana and the Barbados Joint Commission (Travel and Tourism). She said that this will allow for improved inter-agency relations with regards to information sharing, strengthened bilateral relations, creation of opportunities for multi-destination packaging, capacity building (public/private sector), formulation of mutually beneficial links among operators in both countries, and joint marketing efforts, among other things.
The Parliamentarian said that several hotels and the Carnegie School of Home Economics benefitted from hotel and hospitality training at the reputable Crane Hotel in Barbados last year.
She said that another batch of hotel employees will be trained in Barbados at the beginning of the Q2 programme.
Hughes expressed that a delegation from Barbados will be in Guyana in March to network with tourism stakeholders and to experience and observe Community Based Tourism as practiced in Guyana.
“A reciprocal visit of Guyanese tourism stakeholders (Peer/Attraction Evaluation Exercise) to observe world-class attractions in Barbados is planned for Q2. This will help to boost our product attractiveness, competitiveness and marketability,” she said.
The politician asserted that at the end of the day, “this multi-destination marketing approach will bring tourists from the UK, where Barbados’ airlift has a huge advantage to enjoy the tranquility of Barbados, and then the adventure and magnificence that is Guyana”.
Hughes said that her Ministry has intensified its drive to raise Guyana’s profile as a Film and Documentary Destination, and has succeeded in enhancing destination awareness through the facilitation of numerous projects with international film crews.
She noted that several film projects are in the pipeline.
The Tourism Minister said, “The cornerstone of Tourism is our Hinterland Tourism Development Plan which recognizes that in nearly all of our 10 regions we are blessed with great tourism product, and it is up to us to encourage communities and Guyanese to get into income-generating projects in the tourism sector.”
Hughes said that with this thrust, efforts will be directed to developing local entrepreneurial opportunities through a viable initiative that will be replicated in many parts of the hinterland communities.
“Even though the country’s most popular tourism destination, the majestic Kaieteur Falls, is located in region eight, the sad reality is that none of the other 17 communities in that region were exposed to much less benefitting from tourism, despite some of the most spectacular landscapes in the country being located in their backyards,” Hughes asserted.
The Minister said that the Region Eight Development Initiative was conceptualized to make a start to effect change in this regard. She said that an inventory of the communities was done and those with the most tourism potential and basic infrastructure to make a start were identified as Kato, Monkey Mountain and Paramakatoi.
She said that the Government has a strong commitment to seeing tourism expand in the hinterland. It is for this very reason, Hughes emphasized, that over $4 billion has been allocated this year in support of the Plan of Action for Hinterland Development.
The Minister said that in excess of $280 million has been allocated to promote economic prosperity, tourism development and preserving cultural identity. This sum is inclusive of grants for 211 Indigenous communities that will build village economies and fund eco-tourism projects.
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