Jan 11, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News- In 2014, this country’s tourism stakeholders launchedwhat was supposed to be the country’s new tourism
theme, “Guyana – South America Undiscovered.”Then Minister of Tourism, Irfaan Ali was adamant about focusing on the sector, stating that “The opportunity to confirm Guyana’s commitment to the development of tourism in Guyana must be fully exploited.”
Six years later, while the theme remains the country’s official tourism branding, some things have changed. For one, then Minister of Tourism, Irfaan Ali is now Dr. Irfaan Ali, President of Guyana and one presumes that as he gets into the groove of designing an architecture for the future, his commitment to development of tourism remains as strong as it was over half a decade ago.
In a country defined by undeveloped potential, the tourism sector remains – like, and in conjunction with, the creative arts – an area of perennially undeveloped potential. For decades, despite the country possessing a richness of options, particularly in nature tourism, this potentially lucrative sector failed to launch, with no overarching plan being developed and implemented over the long term.
Of course, the other more impactful thing that has changed since 2014 is COVID-19 which has not only been a public health crisis, but which has spawned a global economic crisis, and one of the hardest hit areas has been the global tourism industry.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has noted that for 2020:
“The decline in the first ten months of the year represents 900 million fewer international tourist arrivals compared to the same period in 2019, and translates into a loss of US$ 935 billion in export revenues from international tourism, more than 10 times the loss in 2009 under the impact of the global economic crisis.”
Perhaps the most symbolic incident in how COVID-19 has impacted Guyana’s tourism sector was the fact that last year, the newly-appointed Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Mr. Oneidge Walrond-Allicock tested positive for the virus shortly after taking up the portfolio.
While in her maiden speech to Parliament, she expressed the administration’s intention that, “We want to ensure that when we exit the pandemic, we would’ve built our local tourism infrastructure, especially our niche eco-tourism infrastructure to such a level that we preserve this local market and Guyana will be the first choice for Guyanese,” we have not yet heard from the Minister on precisely how she, as effectively the first COVID-era Tourism Minister, plans to manage this.
As the UNWTO has noted, even with some recovery, global tourism figures have been pushed back to their levels of 50 years ago.
The oft-repeated theme of crisis and opportunity is one that applies here but it’s critical that we move beyond rhetoric of commitment to development when it comes to developing the tourism industry in Guyana – the opportunity here of course being that COVID-19 has served as a sort of leveller, pushing more established destinations down to where Guyana was and perhaps lower considering the level of debt many properties have found themselves in the world over.
It’s still unknown in what policy directions the government intends to take the industry in this year, and what budgetary allocation will be given to support those directions, but the attitude on this has to go beyond returning us to the perpetually pupal stage, which we’ve been stuck at for decades.
The UNWTO presents a two to three-year timeline for recovery of the global tourism industry, which means that whatever Guyana has to do to transform our national industry has a specific and relatively brief timeframe attached to it.
If we don’t act urgently and with intelligence, that slogan is going to prove more of a label than an enticement – we are going to remain undiscovered, something that arguably works counter to the growth and sustainability of a tourism sector.
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