Developing Guyana’s tourism

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Donald Sinclair

– New Director General Donald Sinclair talks of policy and marketing

By Shauna Jemmott
Guyana’s tourism is expected to be given a massive lift with the staging of the year-long 50th Independence anniversary celebrations planned for 2016.

To get ready, Director General within the Ministry of Tourism Donald Sinclair says serious thought and planning is ongoing to ensure that major sports and cultural events take on an “international” flavour.

In a recent interview with the Pepperpot, Sinclair indicated that tourism is a department which urgently needs greater attention.

The ministry has created the new Director General office to offer high-level support to Minister of Tourism Cathy Hughes in achieving its objective of building a viable industry.

His immediate major responsibilities are the crafting of the National Tourism Policy, supporting Minister Hughes in programme activities, and coordinating inter-ministerial activities to decorate the industry.

Minister Hughes was quoted in June this year as saying tourism can become a substantial earner of foreign exchange and a source of employment through the implementation of strong policy formulated to identify niche markets and areas of strategic advantage such as the exotic local bio-diversity, flora, fauna, the pristine rainforest, and vast rivers with exciting potential for water sports.

“Guyana’s tourism potential is just waiting on us to make it happen,” she was quoted as saying.

With the rebranding of Guyana as “South America Undiscovered” there is hope that funding will be available for the executing of this massive marketing plan.

Sinclair said recommendations from over 20 years ago will also be included in the policy which he has already began developing. Recommendations will also be drawn from a Guyana tourism product development charrette which local and international experts collaborated in drafting since March 2003 to help develop a sustainable tourism industry in Guyana.

The charrette developed strategic and physical plans for three important sites in the country – the Rupununi Savannah, Kaieteur National Park, and historic Georgetown the document stated.

“Tourism in Guyana is going to be driven by a number of different engines. We often speak of ourselves, and rightly so, as a nature adventure destination. Yes, Guyana has a lot of nature. Guyana is part of the Amazon, we have Amazon attractions. There are nature based attractions. There are Eco tourism attractions in Guyana. Tourism in Guyana will grow on that base.

“It is the people of Guyana who have to develop tourism, and in order to develop the product, they have to understand what they are marketing and how to market,” Sinclair said.

In addition, he stated, “Product innovation is an important area for the Ministry of Tourism. Apart from that, we must innovate. We must see what we can do with foods. That will put money in the pockets of the producers of the product. What we do with food we can do with our rums, and the list goes on.”

“Sporting organisations can so internationalize their activities that their sport itself would grow through international competition and the tourism sector will grow from visitors coming to Guyana for the practice of sport, to be spectators of the sporting event, as coaches, as referees, as part of the outfit relating to sport,” he further highlighted.

Sinclair referred to models adopted by neighboring countries with booming tourism industries. While he worked in the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) office in Brazil, he has observed tourism in that country is built mainly upon beaches and festivals.

“Brazil gets millions of visitors, but the part of Brazil that has our kind of attraction has few visitors, because it’s not a mass tourism site. The Brazilian Amazon gets about two percent of the tourists visiting Brazil (but) tourists visit Rio and Sao Paulo mostly for beaches and festivals”.

Barbados, he added, has the ‘Run Barbados Run’ major athletics event, Antigua hosts an international ‘Sailing Week’ attracting yachts the world over, Suriname is fast developing its ‘Wonder of mars’ international sports and fitness showcase attracting participants and fans worldwide.

Guyana before hosted Cricket World Cup and has potential to accommodate other massive shows, and the Ministry has planned on patterning the annual ‘Flexnight’ as a major showcase attracting participants and fitness lovers from several other countries this December.

While he acknowledged that Guyana has beautiful seashores, “Our beaches are more to the interior locations,” he stated. And although ‘Rockstone beach’ is interesting and could easily be developed, the people who go there do not go mainly for fish, wildlife and birds.

If Guyana does not present attractive festivals and beautiful beaches in demand on the travel market, we still can attract tourists, but in smaller groups. His ministry however will not be satisfied until all hotels and resorts record satisfactory occupation.

“Because of the kinds of attractions we have, we should be attracting increasing numbers of small groups of visitors. When our hotels and resorts are recording eighty-five percent occupancy, we will be satisfied.”

Tourism ministry is currently drafting development plans, and correlating with other ministries to push products other than nature, attracting vacationers from all over the world, and has already seen increase in visitor inflow.

“We have been recording an increase in arrivals over the past five years,” he said. And while “Guyana is a natural paradise” the ministry is coordinating with South American neighbors – Brazil, Suriname and French Guiana to attract more tourists here through the Guianas trail.

While Brazil has millions of tourists each year, French Guiana and Suriname have daily flights with an influx of the vacationers from France and Holland who can simply hop over borders to Guyana.

Individuals and agencies overseas have also expressed interest in promoting Guyana abroad and though the ministry is not financially ready to pay for such services, “We are determining the most cost effective way of having destination Guyana promoted abroad.”

Donald Sinclair assumed duties as Director General in the Ministry of Tourism on 1st October 2015 after returning home from Suriname where he was employed as Director at the Suriname College of Hospitality and Tourism.

He held senior Tourism-related positions in local and international organisations before, serving in Guyana as Special Assistant to former Minister of Tourism, Michael Shree Chan; Executive Director of the Guyana Tourism Authority under former Minister Manzoor Nadir; and Coordinator for Tourism and Transport at the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization in Brasilia, Brazil.

He has also lecturing in the tourism field at universities in Guyana, the United States and Canada, executed several tourism research projects, and produced well researched articles on Tourism published in international publications.