Emerging as a unique eco-tourism destination with exceptional pristine rainforests, undisturbed ecosystems, exotic flora & fauna, and a vibrant culture and people, Guyana is capturing the hearts and minds of adventurers, eco-tourists, conservationists and curious vacationers looking to experience a truly unspoiled gem in South America.
Nestled between Venezuela to the west, Suriname to the east, and Brazil to the south, Guyana has often been overshadowed as a tourist destination by some of its bigger, and louder, neighbors stealing the region’s limelight on the international tourism stage. However, the government of South America’s only English-speaking country is determined to see the word spread about its immense natural attractions and provide the conditions to enable its tourism industry to shine. It has embarked on an image building and branding campaign to not only get the message across to international tourists and investors as to Guyana’s huge attractions, but also to the Guyanese of tapping the business potential in this nascent sector.
“We are deliberately looking at the issue of product innovation and the business of tourism,” says Cathy Hughes, Guyana’s Minister of Tourism. “The reason is because we felt strongly that the average Guyanese did not have a sense of how they could get into some kind of entrepreneurial activity or a commercial business that could be related to tourism. Traditionally Guyana has been an agro-based economy: sugar and rice as well as mining have constituted the pillars of our economy. We now need to focus on diversifying our economy.”
Back in 2014 at the World Travel Market, the government implemented a very specific program “to define who we are and what we have,” says the Tourism Minister. “We came up with a new brand, which is: Guyana, South America Undiscovered.
“We’ve spent a lot of time defining the brand, defining the niche markets and the wider markets, especially in North America and the Caribbean. Other emerging markets include the UK, Holland and Germany, parts of Asia, New Zealand and Australia. With respect to improving airlift capacity, the plan is to form a tourism partnership with Suriname and French Guiana to put together packages to improve the experiences for their and our tourists. Multi-destination marketing is the way to go.”
On entering into power in 2015, President David Granger’s administration made it clear that tourism was no longer to be overlooked among the nation’s priorities and set up a dedicated Ministry of Tourism, with Ms Hughes at the helm. “Before that,” she points out, “tourism was always tagged on to another industry, but now we’re looking to develop it as an autonomous sector and the Ministry of Tourism has been charged with pushing that growth.”
In addition, entities such as the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana (Explore Guyana) and the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) are pulling in the same direction and encouraging the sector’s development through various initiatives.
At the launch of this year’s Tourism Awareness Month in November, GTA’s General Director Indranauth Haralsingh pointed out that in May 2016 Guyana registered an all-time record of a 102% increase in visitors for the Golden Jubilee celebrations. He also announced an 11.6% rise in tourist arrivals as of September 2016, over the corresponding period last year.
Also, at the World Travel Market in London in November, the GTA Director told the Government Information Agency (GINA) that awareness of Guyana as a destination, as well as its overall image and visibility, had increased with strong interest in the country shown by both consumers and travel traders at the event.
It is not hard to see why people might visit Guyana. Its sheer beauty and natural diversity alone make this it a proverbial paradise for intrepid eco-tourists and adventure seekers. Back in the day, Sir Walter Raleigh came in search of the fabled "City of Gold” and its tepui (table-top mountains that spread into Venezuela and Brazil) are said to have inspired Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.
Some 80% of Guyana’s vast and largely untouched thick virgin Amazonian rainforest is home to hundreds of species of bird and mammals. Bu contrast in the south, the forests open up to rolling savannah with their own natural environments, seasons and characteristics. The magnificent Kaieteur Falls, the world’s longest single drop waterfall, is a must for any visitor, as is a walk across the canopy walkway in the Iwokrama Rainforest or a trip to the 90 miles of immaculate shell beaches, the nesting ground for marine turtles
The country’s image is also bolstered internationally by remarks such as those made recently by a visiting team from National Geographic magazine, which included: “It’s one of the nicest unspoiled countries we have been to” and “frankly, I don’t understand why [more tourists] are not coming here,” as well as “it’s a non-spoiled gem that has to be discovered!”
In addition to tourists, international investors looking for new opportunities in the tourism sector are being welcomed with open arms and it’s certainly a sector on the rise. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), travel and tourism investment in 2015 was GYD4.1 billion, or 3.2% of total investment, and is expected to rise by 1.0% in 2016, and increase by 2.2% pa over the next 10 years to GYD5.1 billion in 2026 (2.6% of total). Visitor exports generated GYD18.0 billion (6.1% of total exports) in 2015, and they are forecast to grow by 2.6% in 2016 and grow by 3.4% pa from 2016-2026, to GYD25.7bn in 2026 (5.6% of total).
“There is no competition,” says Ms Hughes. “Guyana is a new market. I dare say that the investment market in tourism in several countries in this hemisphere is saturated. There is too much competition for the same dollar. In Guyana there are myriad opportunities for new investments just because it is a new industry, and the fastest growing sector of the tourism industry internationally is eco-tourism.”
“The key challenge that we have at hand is that we need to get the name of Guyana out,” adds Ms Hughes. “I want to say to people that I know that you are looking for new experiences. I know that you want a change from photographs taken in front of statues or famous buildings. Your tastes have changed and you want to experience something different. I believe this is what Guyana offers.”