By Rehana Ahamad
FOR decades, the aim of the tourism industry had been to attract foreigners and entice them to come to Guyana and discover all that the country has to offer, even though a large percentage of Guyanese themselves were oblivious to the gems contained in various regions of the country.
When the coronavirus hit Guyana in March 2020, the tourism sector was crippled; the locally instituted lockdowns and curfews highlighted the fragility of the industry, and its glaring oversight of the domestic market. Even though the pandemic has brought much heartache and worries, there are perhaps a few silver linings; most notably is the fact that many persons and sectors were forced to look within, before looking out.
For instance, the pandemic inspired the creation of kitchen gardens and buying more locally produced items, as opposed to relying on imported products, the arrival of which were threatened by global lockdown regulations. Similarly, the advent of COVID-19 exposed the importance of domestic tourism, and the need for authorities to invest even more heavily in this area.
Consequently, the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce has begun to partner with relevant stakeholders to inspire and entice more Guyanese to vacation within Guyana.
This new mission is profoundly highlighted in the contents of the second edition of the Ministry’s Hotspot Magazine, which was launched virtually on Wednesday.
Under the theme, ‘The Road to Recovery,’ the 48-page magazine, promotes each of the 10 administrative regions, with emphasis on the hidden gems contained therein.
Publisher of the magazine, Mensah Fox, said that he was particularly pleased with the level of inclusivity captured in the publication.
“It gave all the regions an opportunity to showcase their own tourism product, and have an input in all the articles and even photography… it has touched on so many aspects,” Fox noted.
Director of Tourism, Donald Sinclair, who also acted as the Editor-in-Chief of the publication, explained that a competition was hosted for the design of the magazine’s cover, and that this was won by Region Three.
Associate Editor of the magazine, Cordell McClure, in his brief remarks, said that Guyana is a fascinating story that must be told, even to Guyanese who are unaware.
“Over the last year, I’ve been able to visit several of the regions and I can tell you that many of the regions have positioned themselves to really be part of this new tourism thrust,” McClure opined.
PLAN AND TRAVEL
Meanwhile, President of Visit Rupununi, Melanie McTurk, said that the Hotspot Magazine seeks to enlighten Guyanese about the tourism attractions in various regions.
“…from free public events, to once-in-a-lifetime-experiences; there are sites and activities to meet a range of preferences, as well as packages to meet every budget,” McTurk noted.
She added, “Tourism dollars directly create jobs and support village economies, right here at home in Guyana.”
While many Guyanese often cite financial constraints as reasons for their lack of travel, McTurk believes that the key to travel, even at home, lies in effective planning.
“It is important to do your research. Be realistic about what you can afford on your budget and in some instances, be prepared to save towards that special experience,” McTurk advised.
She is also recommending that Guyanese form a habit of looking out for travel packages and promotions, year round. “Because many of Guyana’s internationally acclaimed tourism sites do offer special packages at different times of the year, and many new products will offer special introductory prices,” McTurk posited.
DUSTING OUT THE HIDDEN GEMS
Meanwhile, Director of the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA), Carla James said that even amid the pandemic, the demand for travel will continue to grow until it can be met.
“Destination health and sanitation is the new norm by which travel decisions are made,” James posited.
She noted with international travel restrictions still imposed by many countries and destinations, the local and diaspora market remain critical components of the tourism industry’s recovery efforts.
The GTA Director said that the Hotspot Magazine particularly highlights the hidden gems of every region in Guyana.
EMPOWERING THE REGIONS
“We encourage everyone to get out and explore our very beautiful country. As you go through the magazine, you will see that there is no corner of Guyana where you’re not going to have fun and have unique experiences,” James asserted.
Similar sentiments were shared by Mitra Ramkumar, President of the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana (THAG).
“None of us can doubt the beauty of our regions. What this publication has done, is highlight those beauties,” Ramkumar said.
The THAG President believes that the efforts to compile the magazine has also lent to the strengthening of regional tourism bodies. “This actually ties into the World Tourism Day message of tourism and rural development…it empowers these regions,” Ramkumar said.
He noted too, that the magazine also serves as good promotion for tourism businesses to generate income, thereby encouraging them to continue their investments within the various regions.
“…and for them to stay in those communities and keep the history and the cultures alive,” Ramkumar added.
COMING HOME AS A TOURIST
The Hotspot Magazine also contains an article from Minakshi Babulall, a member of the Canadian diaspora, and the founder and Chief Executive Officer of a non-profit organisation called ‘A Different Youth Project’.
Babulall said that she able to include in the article, her desires and expectations of destination Guyana. “Many of our tourism before has been geared towards getting internationals into the country, but right now, the pandemic has given the locals an opportunity to visit the regions and see what they have to offer,” Babulall said.
She said that her organisation hopes to bring back the diaspora by creating immersive, intercultural adventures, employing three facets of what makes Guyana unique.
“Our project combines three essential industries – eco-tourism, agriculture and community development,” Babulall specified.
Nonetheless, distribution of the hardcopy magazines have commenced throughout the country, while electronic copies will go online today on the Ministry of Tourism, and the Guyana Tourism Authority’s website, respectively.