THE advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of utilising technology as an alternative way of functioning, and, from all indications, stakeholders within the tourism sector are not falling behind.
As a matter of fact, the Iwokrama International Centre is ambitiously pursuing a pioneer initiative which implements Virtual Reality (VR) technology to showcase the Iwokrama Forest and other tourism destinations in the North Rupununi.
A statement from the centre confirmed that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has already been approached for “funding to support the application of Virtual Reality (VR) technology to its tourism business and educational activities. This would allow everyone to experience the Iwokrama Forest virtually thus encouraging them to want to visit by showcasing what Iwokrama has to offer”.
To achieve this, Iwokrama has partnered with the Lyell Centre and Heriot-Watt University in the United Kingdom to develop an immersive VR experience where one can explore some of Guyana’s natural beauty in the surrounds of Georgetown’s Botanical Gardens.
“The VR experience is designed to be used on a VR headset; however, a short video can be viewed at (11) Discover Guyana Virtually,” the press statement explained.
Dr Ryan Pereira, project lead from the Lyell Centre said that he is delighted to show what can be achieved by a team with a shared interest in discovery, learning and communication using new technologies.
David Richardson, Chief Entrepreneurial Executive for Heriot-Watt asserted that “Sustainability and economic development are core focus areas for Heriot-Watt”. He said that the project is an excellent example of immersive technology combined with academic research being used to drive tourism and educational activity.
According to Iwokrama’s Chief Executive Officer, Dane Gobin, the pilot project was a success and gives much promise to future endeavours and to further develop Iwokrama into a truly sustainable enterprise.
Under the same IDB project, the centre also developed a VR roadmap for a much larger VR experience to showcase the Iwokrama Forest and other tourism destinations in the North Rupununi.
Dr Raquel Thomas, Director of Resource Management and Training at Iwokrama noted that tourism and education in Guyana and Iwokrama have taken such a huge hit in the past 11 months and it is hoped that such collaborative initiatives can be used as models that can be replicated for the benefit of the industry at large.
The Iwokrama International Centre (IIC) was established in 1996 under a joint mandate from the Government of Guyana and the Commonwealth Secretariat to manage the Iwokrama forest, a unique reserve of 371,000 hectares of rainforest “in a manner that will lead to lasting ecological, economic and social benefits to the people of Guyana and to the world in general”.
The centre, guided by an international Board of Trustees, is unique, providing a dedicated well managed and researched forest environment. The forest is zoned into a Sustainable Utilisation Area (SUA) and a Wilderness Preserve (WP) in which to test the concept of a truly sustainable forest where conservation, environmental balance and economic use can be mutually reinforcing. The IIC collaborates with the Government of Guyana, the Commonwealth and other international partners and donors to develop new approaches and forest management models to enable countries with rainforests to market their ecosystem services whilst carefully managing their resources through innovative and creative conservation practices.
In more recent years, the centre has received support from corporate partners such as Exxon Mobil (Guyana) Limited which has funded the development of its Science Programme and continues to provide an annual contribution to the implementation of the programme.
Meanwhile, the Global Research Innovation and Discovery building (GRID), based at Heriot-Watt University, is a £19 million ground-breaking facility designed to advance global research, innovation and discovery. GRID’s ambition is to bring together world-leading talent and the brightest minds to tackle current industry challenges, pioneering innovations to drive future economies and build companies of scale. The facility provides its users with the capability to connect with global industry partners and Heriot-Watt University’s other campuses worldwide. GRID features the latest technological innovations, including Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Gaming studios which can be adapted here in Guyana.
Added to that, the Lyell Centre is a strategic partnership between Heriot-Watt University and the British Geological Survey, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Scottish Funding Council and Heriot-Watt University. The partnership enables them to combine their expertise in land and marine geoscience.