By Rehana Ahamad
THE majority of businesses within the tourism sector have been closed since March 2020, owing to the deadly effects of the novel coronavirus, which quickly escalated into a pandemic. There have since been multiple calls for the government to strategise and provide options for reopening to stakeholders.
The administration, via the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA,) responded to the calls by way of instituting a two-step reopening criteria which requires the creation and comprehensive implementation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that align with the national COVID-19 protocols.
After several weeks of inviting businesses to undergo the process and safely reopen their operations, only 17 businesses have participated in the process. Of these, 13 entities have been approved, while four are currently working to fulfill the requirements.
Director of the GTA, Carla James, said that while the simple phased reopening has been well received by some stakeholders, the GTA anticipated much more participation, especially given the impatience of businesses to reopen.
James noted that Guyana has a total of 187 registered tourism businesses, which encompasses
122 Tourism Accommodation Establishments (TAE), 31 Interior Lodges and Resorts and 34 Tour Operators.
Despite the disappointments, James said that the GTA understands the difficulties faced by stakeholders over the past year, and the difficulties they might still be facing.
“We recognise and understand the challenges with businesses putting the requisite systems in place, especially since they were closed for more than eight months with no revenue or cash flow,” James empathised.
She noted that the GTA has made a commitment to provide whatever technical support is needed for businesses to complete the reopening process. The agency has developed a template of SoPs, which has been made available for businesses to implement. Once the SoPs are approved, the GTA would then conduct an on-site inspection of the business. As long as inspectors are satisfied with the implementation of the SoPs, the entity would be approved for reopening.
James had previously explained the inspection team would conduct their visit in a manner which tests the ability of businesses to operate effectively and safely under adequate COVID-19 measures.
“For instance, if we ask a staff how they serve dinner, they must be able to explain seating arrangements to ensure that persons are seated a few feet apart, and that meals are plated and served, and that servers and guests are sanitised and so on,” James explained.
To further assist businesses, the GTA has developed a recommended health sanitisation protocol for the tourism industry, which continues to be disseminated to various tourism businesses.
The businesses that have been approved to operate will be considered as “safe for travel” destinations, which would also benefit from cost-free promotion from the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce. James noted that the GTA will not be harsh with tourism businesses, and that help will be offered to all entities that need to get their affairs in order. However, those that refuse to operate within the COVID-19 guidelines will face consequences. “If they refuse to do that, then we will have to put out a disclaimer notice that anybody who is booking with these companies are basically putting themselves at risk, because they have not been approved by the authorities,” she said.