What is really needed to make tourism a success in Guyana? – THAG President weighs in

NOVEMBER is TOURISM MONTH in GUYANA

What is really needed to make tourism a success in Guyana? – THAG President weighs in

THAG Head, Shaun McGrath

What prevents Guyana from achieving the same level of success in the tourism industry as its Caribbean counterparts? Is it really the absence of blue seas and white sand beaches? Is it the high crime rate and poor hospitality services? Or is the problem, way more complex than it appears on the surface?

President of the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana (THAG) Shaun McGrath recently weighed in on this issue during an informative session at the inaugural business summit of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI).

According to McGrath, there is national recognition that tourism contributes between six and nine percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and brings in a minimum of US $250 million in foreign currency every year.    

The THAG President noted, however, that if the Government of Guyana wants tourism to play its part in the long term development of the country, then some fundamental changes will be required. He said that these can be broken into several categories.

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 of Guyana’s greatest challenges lie.

The THAG President 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 recognised and accepted carriers into Guyana is a barrier to the expansion of the industry.

McGrath believes 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 center of the Guyana tourism product is currently based in the Rupununi, where a series of small lodges have evolved over the years. 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 the 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 be introduced to help the tourism product to expand.

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The scope of the concessions should cover several areas, he said. McGrath suggested 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 destination, they will obviously want things to do and things to see. Apart from the rainforest, savannahs and wildlife, McGrath insisted that there needs to be a national programme that develops, refurbishes and maintains national heritage sites and museums, not just for the tourists but for the future generations of Guyanese.

He pointed out that the Guyana National Trust needs to be adequately funded by central government so that it can preserve the 400 documented “things of interest” on their books. He said that this includes commemorative monuments to tombs. McGrath also stressed that the allocation of $65M 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.”

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“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 materialised and THAG would encourage Government to put this back on the front burner.”

Furthermore, the THAG President said that visitor security should be an absolute priority throughout Guyana. 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 police on the streets to deter petty crimes.

On the importance of marketing, he recalled that three years ago, after extensive local and international consultations and focus groups by a UK based company called Acorn, destination Guyana was rebranded as “Guyana, South America Undiscovered.”
He said that with this came from a three year comprehensive marketing plan with a three year budget of US $3 million or US $1 million per year.

In the real world of international tourism, where annual marketing budgets run from $8 million to $30 million, this sum may seem insignificant. McGrath noted however that it was the first time Guyana had a workable and affordable plan that could make a difference.
“But there was no money allocated for its implementation and so we continue to lose ground to our competitors. Over the years, the private sector has suggested ways of funding the marketing of destination Guyana.”

“One idea was the introduction of an airport departure tax which was adopted but the funds were never directed to the marketing effort. Given current airport passenger numbers, the Government is collecting in excess of US $4 million per annum in departure tax and should direct some of this to the marketing effort required.”

The THAG President said that one needs to remember that the importance of integrated product development and marketing cannot be over-stated. He emphasised that marketing without product development is risky; and product development without an accompanying marketing strategy is often futile.
To be continued…

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Comments

  • Youman  On October 31, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    It would be lovely if Guyana could be a tourist paradise but I hear choke and rob is still together out there so no one can take this.place serious

  • BERNARD  On October 31, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    YOUMAN, you are so right, get rid of crime and all will come.

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