GUYANA: LEADING THE WORLD IN ECOTOURISM

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A LOT is happening in Guyana! Education is on the rise; the Green State Development Strategy is in its implementation phase. First oil is imminent and the Decade of Development is at hand. Guyana is the place to be, and the Government of Guyana is not the only organisation to recognise this.

This year alone, Destination Guyana has won six tourism awards, including ‘Best of Ecotourism’ and ‘Best in Sustainable Tourism.’ This edition of Government in Action features two organisations working hard to put Guyana on the map.

Destination Guyana

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Mr Brian Mullis, a California native, was hired as the Director of the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) in 2018. His appointment was a key part of the government’s effort to restructure the GTA and more effectively promote Guyana as a viable tourist destination. Mr Mullis explained the vision for the GTA.

“The GTA has a number of responsibilities that fall under its portfolio. They include… marketing [and] being the voice of Destination Guyana in the global arena as well as domestically… Our vision at the Guyana Tourism Authority is to be recognised locally and internationally as a leading destination [which] is maximising the positive, social, economic, and conversation outcomes associated with tourism to benefit residents and provide an exceptional visitor experience… It’s a work in progress, [but] we have received a number of awards in 2019 alone that have opened the world’s eyes to Guyana as a leading sustainable destination,” the director said.

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First Lady Mrs Sandra Granger walks along the Iwokrama Canopy Walkway.

Destination Guyana is currently number one in the world for Ecotourism and Destination Stewardship and also holds the top spot for Sustainable Tourism. Additionally, Guyana received silver-award recognition as the Best Sustainable Adventure Destination and was placed among the top 10 of the world’s sustainable destinations; Guyana has also won the award for best destination video. Mr Mullis said this is due to the care given to Guyana’s natural patrimony.

“It just goes to show that Guyana’s legacy of protecting its rainforest, its Indigenous Peoples who have been stewards of those rainforests for millennia, and the long-standing sustainability agenda in the country has provided the foundation for us to build a strong and resilient tourism sector,” he said.

Mr Mullis added that Guyana’s distinct social, cultural, and natural environment is the nation’s greatest asset.

“There is nowhere else in the world that has 80 per cent plus virgin rainforest. I understand from our friends at Iwokrama, [that] 87 per cent of our rainforest represents intact ecosystems. We have six peoples living in harmony… nine groups of Indigenous Peoples with their own unique, tangible and intangible cultural heritage, largely undeveloped coasts, fairly unpopulated hinterland where there is an abundance of wildlife and birdlife… You can have an immersive experience with Indigenous Peoples without the need for an interpreter or getting to go to a national icon like Kaieteur and pretty much have it to yourself or travel for multiple days and see… little to no sign of human life in certain parts of the country. These are world-class experiences that can’t be found in many places on the planet. So, it does make Guyana a standout destination,” she said.

Expressing his own love for all that Guyana has to offer, Mr Mullis said he is fully committed to seeing Guyana marketed as a world-class destination.

“When the Guyana Tourism Authority opportunity became available, the board expressed its unanimous desire to bring me on board and invited my wife and I to come visit. Of course, we went to Kaieteur and got to… know Georgetown a bit and I could see immediately that it was a perfect fit for our family… That was a natural fit. Given how hospitable the people are, how wonderful the food is, how great the nature, culture, and adventure [are], how can you not fall in love with Guyana? That really has made it easy for me to passionately be able to convey my love for the country in a way that’s compelling… for others… I think once Guyana gets in your heart, then it’s there for life,” he said.

Tourism Awareness Month, observed annually during the month of November, features a number of events. Arguably, the most popular, the Tourism Awards Ceremony, takes place in early December. At both Giftland Mall and MovieTowne, there will also be trade fairs, where attendees can learn about travel opportunities and new travel products. The calendar also features school talks, a scavenger hunt on Main Street and tourism events in all 10 administrative regions of Guyana. Online, the GTA has launched a ‘Why I love Guyana’ Video Campaign, whereby participants list their favourite spots in the country.

The GTA has made significant strides during the past few years, but Mr Mullis says that there is still a long way to go.

“I do think that Guyana can become known as a thought leader in sustainable destination management and in development [of] community-led tourism… Communities leading, managing, and owning their own tourism enterprises and the entire communities benefiting, while, at the same time, creating pride in their cultural heritage, protection of their cultural heritage and protection of their natural heritage,” he said.

A collaborative effort, Mr Mullis explained, is the key to keeping Guyana on the map.

“While Guyana has been recognised as a leader in sustainability, I think that we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. A lot of that recognition has stemmed from past efforts in community-led tourism… It’s been linked to the long-standing sustainability agenda, the current Green State Development Strategy as well as the Low Carbon Development Strategy, which shows that tourism is apolitical… There’s a lot of room for improvement, not only what we’re doing within the government, but also in the tourism private sector and also within communities… What we’ve found is that by working together, that really is the key to unlocking the potential… We’re competing with every destination in the world… When we come together as a sector, as a whole, private, public, civil… then we can truly achieve the potential… I think people are already experiencing a number of benefits,” he said.

Visit Guyana

Most Guyanese can attest to the beauty of Georgetown and the tourist hot spots near the capital city. Most Guyanese can also attest to hearing extremely negative stigma and grossly misguided perceptions of what life in Guyana is really like.

While studying abroad, Mrs Stacey Dos Santos-Rahaman created an online space that points people to all the beauty Guyana has to offer: a Facebook page called Visit Guyana. Mrs Rahaman tells her story.

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Co-founder of Visit Guyana Mrs Stacey Dos Santos-Rahaman

“The inspiration for Visit Guyana came about from a need to show people who are non-Guyanese, what Guyana is all about culturally… I was working outside of Guyana and my co-workers didn’t’ know a lot about the country. So, I wanted to create a single space that just had positive images about Guyana… I wanted to share with them a bit about all of our festivals, our cuisine, our peoples, the beauty of our flora and our fauna and that’s really what happened. Within a week, the page got… 10,000 fans on it because… Guyanese wanted to see these images as well,” the co-founder of Visit Guyana said.

The Visit Guyana page now has over 200,000 fans and has a reach of about 1,000,000 people per month.

“It was really a demand by people for more content. Everybody wanted more. As the years went by, the page got its own identity based on what our fans were requesting. So, we bought our first camera, then we bought the second one, then we bought a drone… Really, we started to learn about our own country… we hadn’t ourselves, travelled around a lot. It was because of that page that we had to because in order to show authentic experiences, we had to experience it for ourselves,” she said.

Mrs Rahaman told us about her top three spots in Guyana.

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The tallest single-drop waterfall in the world, Kaieteur Falls. This breathtaking waterfall is a feature of the Potaro River, located in Potaro-Siparuni (Region Eight). (Photo courtesy of Visit Guyana)

“The top three places that I love in Guyana would be Kaieteur Falls, Orinduik Falls and I absolutely love the Rupununi as well… Orinduik is my favourite of the three… It’s a really tranquil, beautiful place. It’s a true reflection of the beauty and simplicity and diversity of Guyana. Kaieteur… There is no word to describe Kaieteur… It’s a feeling, not a word, I could use to describe… If you’re an adventure nature lover [and] love flora, fauna, and a lot of nature, Guyana is the number one eco-tourism destination in the world for 2019 and Rupununi is why we won that award. Rupununi is the reason we won it,” she said.

Mrs Rahaman said that one of Guyana’s best-kept secrets is the Mahaica River. There aren’t many settlements along the banks of the river, which makes the area ideal to see the Jabiru storks, deer, and Guyana’s national bird, the Canje Pheasant. The Essequibo Great Lakes, she said, holds beauty beyond description.

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Wichabai Ranch, located three hours south of Lethem, Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo (Region Nine). (Photo courtesy of Visit Guyana)

“There is a reason why Guyana has won six awards for eco-tourism and sustainable tourism for this year alone. There is a reason why we were voted the best ecotourism destination in the world; it is because we are unique… We have something unique and… when somebody comes to me with something negative, I’m going to say… well you guys don’t have all these giants… You don’t have Kaieteur and Orinduik. So, we have to be proud of what we have. We are good people. We are good neighbours to each other. When the going gets tough, we’re there for each other and we have to be proud of that. We are Guyanese first and foremost,” she said.

The GTA continues its efforts to put Guyana on the map. Guyana’s standing as a world- class tourist destination can only improve as persons from around the world come for business and stay for beauty and adventure. The world is only now becoming familiar with facts that Guyanese knew all along: Guyana is beautiful and her beauty is unmatched.

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