With its Low Carbon Development Strategy and increased public and private investment, Guyana is ready to become South America’s premier eco-tourism destination
There are perhaps few countries left on earth as undiscovered by tourists as Guyana, but thanks to a new push to develop its tourism industry, the tiny South American nation hopes to become the continent’s next eco-adventure hotspot.
Guyana looks to emulate the success of places like Costa Rica, which has successfully utilized its outstanding natural beauty and stunning biodiversity in recent years to create one of the world’s greenest vacation destinations.
With the country sharing a similar wealth of incredible landscapes and unspoiled wilderness – as well as historic cultural charm – Guyana is today putting forward a tourism plan that will not only draw growing crowds of international visitors, but also help develop the economy in a sustainable manner.
The eco-tourism vision is aligned with Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy; an all encompassing national plan that has set out to protect the country’s 18 million hectares of forest resources (which cover 85% of the country) in order to promote national development and combat climate change.
“Our entire development trajectory is based on a low carbon approach,” says Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Mohamed Irfaan Ali. “Modern-day tourists and high-end tourists are looking for strong eco-based destinations that take the protection of the environment seriously. It is a very important hallmark of our tourism sector.”
However, with less than 200,000 visitors to Guyana in 2013, the country knows it has to do more than just protect its natural assets if it is to procure the greater number of tourists that it desires.
“Investment in tourism and the expansion of tourism as a dominant sector of the economy requires private and public investment,” says Mr. Ali. To this end, the government has already spent more than 53 billion Guyanese dollars on “modernization and expansion” of tourism infrastructure.
“We also need to have other infrastructure invested in by the public sector,” adds the minister. “That is why we are building a new airport. The existing airport has worked well but because of the growth in the sector, the growth in travel and our futuristic ambition of making Guyana a hub for South America, it is essential that we invest in this new infrastructure.”
The US$150 million expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, which is being largely bankrolled by the Chinese government, is set to be completed in August 2015. The idea is to turn the now sleepy rural airport — located 25 miles south of Georgetown — into a busy regional transport base that will eventually link Guyana with destinations all over the world.
The government has also been busy collaborating with foreign firms to bring new hotels and resort facilities to the country. “We are seeing, for example, a new Marriot resort almost completed; we are seeing a local hotel that is being rebranded; we are seeing investment out of Asia, Dubai and the Middle East in the Sea & Sand Hotel. These are all new investments that will definitely add to the tourism sector,” says Mr. Ali.
Additional public money has been put into developing Guyana’s tourism credentials. Aside from a new hospitality institute established to train locals with the knowledge and capabilities of working in the tourism sector, a biodiversity facility is being set up to help Guyana position itself as a regional centre for biodiversity studies.
Efforts like these will only help the country polish its eco-tourism brand. The Caribbean Tourism Organization, for example, has awarded Guyana its ‘Best Eco-Practices’ prize for the past three years running. In winning such acclaim, it is surely only a matter of time before Guyana begins to grab the attention of tourists looking to experience one of the world’s most unblemished natural environments.
The Minister of Tourism likewise believes that the country, while still developing, holds a big opportunity for discerning investors looking to take advantage of the growing trend in eco-tourism services. “The nature of tourism is changing internationally; more of the high-end tourists are going for eco-nature based products,” he says. “Therefore, a sustainable investor in the tourism sector must see Guyana as a lucrative market in which they can invest in tourism to meet the future demand of the industry. American investors should really make use of the opportunity of investing in Guyana now.”