By Kiana Wilburg
There has never been the need for Guyana to rely on tourism for its general economic development. It is because of this very fact, Business Minister, Dominic Gaskin, asserts that there was always a piecemeal approach to tourism expansion.
In the case of Jamaica and Barbados, Gaskin said that their economies are heavily dependent on tourism. However, he noted that in Guyana, there is an abundance of resources – this means other economic activities take on greater prominence.
The Minister articulated that rice, bauxite, gold, sugar, and timber were largely driving Guyana’s economy, and still do today, even though there has been significant decline in some of these industries.
Gaskin said, “Tourism can contribute in greater measure to our economic security and we recognize that it will take deliberate efforts on the part of government to support the growth and development of tourism in Guyana in order to reap these benefits as our Caribbean counterparts do. We envision tourism making a significant contribution to Guyana’s GDP, but it will require investments both from the Government and the private sector”.
The Business Minister continued, “Government cannot run tourism in Guyana, but it of course has to make certain investments and develop policies to stimulate the sector. To this end, our draft National Tourism Policy identifies three key objectives to be accomplished as well as an action plan to be implemented over the next five years to ensure the growth and development of tourism”.
He added, “We have set ourselves the goal of reaching or surpassing half a million visitors by the year 2025, and this will require a lot of work going into marketing, developing our product, developing human resource capacity, promoting investments in the sector and managing the destination.”
Gaskin stated that the private sector will also have to invest in quality accommodations, raising service quality, doing their own capacity building to understand the tourism value chain, and positioning themselves in a global supply chain.
Gaskin said, too, that the Government believes that the airport expansion project that is underway provides the opportunity to court larger carriers. He said that this would be needed if Guyana is to attract more visitors from outside of its core markets.
The Minister said that this is a matter the Government will be exploring along with the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority and the Cheddi Jagan International Airport Corporation in the coming year.
The Business Minister said he is optimistic that tourism will expand, not just in visitor arrivals, but also the product ‘Destination Guyana’ will be enhanced.
Shaun McGrath of the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana (THAG) recently weighed in on the challenges the nation must overcome in order to realize its potential in the tourism sector.
Starting off with production development, McGrath said that people may want to visit Guyana to see the majesty of its interior, but that is not enough. He said that visitors need to be able to get here easily and affordably. Then, when they get there, he said that they need places to stay, things to see, great service and to feel safe and secure.
McGrath said that this is where some Guyana’s greatest challenges lie.
The THAG official noted that Guyana’s competitiveness as a tourism destination obviously depends to a great extent, on the cost and ease of access to the country. At present, he said that the lack of air access by recognized and accepted carriers into Guyana is a barrier to the expansion of the industry.
McGrath said that more competition on routes will lead to higher standards of service, as well as lower prices. He commented that the introduction of services by major international carriers will also encourage more established tour operators in Europe and North America to market Guyana as a tourism destination. He noted, too, that there needs to be more work done on this front by government if it is to move the sector forward.
He said that the centre of the Guyana tourism product is currently based in the Rupununi where a series of small lodges have evolved over the year. McGrath expressed that there is a need to develop such facilities across the country, but if this is to happen, there needs to be a comprehensive approach to making this a reality.
“This needs to include educating Guyanese on the benefits of getting involved in tourism, an incentive regime to help willing investors bring new products to market, customer and operations service training and marketing and business skills.”
Given the infancy of the sector in Guyana, McGrath suggested that a comprehensive set of incentives need to be introduced to help grow the tourism product
The scope of the concessions should cover several areas, he said. In this regard, McGrath said it should include; Duty-free importation including waivers of Value Added Tax of building materials and equipment during construction and rehabilitation; Duty-free importation including waivers of Value Added Tax of supplies for building/refurbishment of hotels, resorts, lodges, restaurants, and sports and recreation facilities for tourism purposes; and Extended tax holidays/write-off of capital expenditure and accelerated write-off of interest with the amount being dependent of the size of the property or value of the investment.
Additionally, McGrath said that once tourists get to their desired destination, they will obviously want things to do and things to see. Apart from the nature, birds, rainforest, savannahs and wildlife, McGrath insisted that there needs to be a national programme that develops, refurbishes and maintains our national heritage sites and museums, not just for the tourists, but for the future generations of Guyanese.
In this regard, he pointed out that the Guyana National Trust needs to be adequately funded by central government so that it can be able to look after the 400 documented things of interest on their books. He said that this includes from commemorative monuments to tombs. McGrath also stressed that the allocation of $65 million in the 2016 budget is inadequate and needs to be seriously increased.
“We also need to encourage the expansion of existing and development of new recreational facilities. We should encourage the development of local attractions in villages and towns, highlighting what makes them unique and special, creating points of interest for tourists and local employment.”
“We should have a sugar museum that highlights the profound impression it has made on the history and identity of Guyana. We need to expand existing signature events like Rodeo and Regatta, and create events like an International Kite Flying Festival at Easter.”
Furthermore, McGrath noted that poor customer service is one of the greatest challenges in Guyana in all areas of business and especially in the tourism industry.
“We have an advantage, in that we have naturally friendly and hospitable people and that cannot be taught. However, there is a serious need for training in customer service and in vocational training to get our people prepared to work in International tourism.”
“There were budgetary allocations made several years ago for the creation of a tourism and hospitality institute to provide a trained workforce. This has not materialized and THAG would encourage Government to put this back on the front burner.”
Furthermore, the THAG official said that visitor security will be an absolute priority throughout Guyana. In this regard, he commented that this must be guaranteed on all levels simultaneously.
In addition to education for the police force on dealing with tourists, he said that visitor protection will be achieved by educating the public to look out for tourists and their safety, and to discourage crimes against tourists within their own communities.
In relation to the police, McGrath commented that enhanced visitor security needs to be addressed through training for the police force on interaction with tourists, a permanent police presence in the major thoroughfares, and the posting of more ranks on the streets to deter petty crimes.
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