Because of some recent moves by the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) government, stakeholders in the Tourism sector are concerned about its commitment to the sector.
Guyana has been working to develop its “tourism portfolio” for the past two decades and especially in the last ten years there have been some positive results especially in its core strategic area of eco-tourism.
In 2014, international arrivals clocked in at 205,824, and tourism revenues amounted to 3.2 percent of GDP, as the sector generated 8,300 direct jobs.
Because the vast majority of the arrivals are actually overseas-based Guyanese, the real tourist potential is still to be tapped. For example Costa Rica, with far less natural attractions than Guyana, pulled in 2,526,827 tourists in 2014 – an increase of 4.1% over 2013 and collected US$2.6B. However, to the surprise of many, after appointing in 2015 the experienced head of the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana (THAG) Cathy Hughes as Minister of Tourism and increasing the budget for Tourism by 25%, the administration has pulled her off without a solid rationale offered.
Six months after her appointment, they added Public Communications to Hughes’ portfolio and when rumors surfaced that Tourism would be disjunctured, the government strenuously denied such a move. However, now four months later, the other foot fell and the Tourism portfolio was awarded to Dominic Gaskin who already was Minister of Commerce and Industries. The present executives of THAG protested vehemently: “If the current Minister of Public Telecommunications, with a strong background in and understanding of the industry, is too busy to address the needs of the industry, how could an equally demanding portfolio of the Minister of Business be able to devote attention to the Tourism Sector?”
This is a question others are also asking. After all, the administration inherited several infrastructural and institutional projects to improve the sector from the PPP – including the CJIA modernization project, widening of its road approach, creating the Guyana Tourism Authority, attracting new airlines, two new hotels – Princess and Marriott, upgrading several interior airstrips, etc. The coalition Government also indicated they were going to double the marketing budget and develop a National Tourism Strategy.
So it appears rather incongruous to be making such a radical move mid-steam. This is not a time for allowing one of the few opportunities for Guyana to create employment and generate revenues for the national treasury to go abegging when each of the six traditional industries are “aenemic” in the words of President Granger. Especially when the centerpiece of the Eco-Tourism product – our pristine flora and fauna – is already in place.
The IDB has just released a report on “Tourism and ecotourism development in Guyana: issues and challenges and the critical path forward” which affirmed: “Guyana has potential to create both a general leisure tourism product that would appeal to national and diasporic segments, and a niche nature-based tourism product that would appeal to foreign, diasporic, and national tourists.”
However it warned: “….broad-based and concerted action is needed in a number of areas ─ infrastructure, attraction enhancement, marketing, training, policy framework, reform ─ to spur higher levels of capital investment, realize upgrades, and increase the economic impacts of the sector. To date, the country has made some notable strides, but growth prospects are still constrained, unless more coordinated action and a higher level of resource mobilization occurs.”
The government should heed the point made by THAG and the IDB for “coordinated action”.