Eco-tourism should be on the front burner

Stabroek News
August 26, 2001

Dear Editor,

I read your timely editorial entitled 'Stimulating measures' (2l.8.200l). Previously in another editorial you dealt with the situation at CBJ International Airport. I want to commend you for raising these issues and your promotion of the eco-tourism industry. Having just returned from Dubai, Oman, Malaysia and Syria I have seen how those governments are working hard to promote their local tourism industry. When will Guyana wake up to realize how much money can be made from this industry? Before I discuss investment and eco?tourism, the airport issue must be addressed first.

The passenger service at the airport is deplorable. It's the first impression of Guyana and on many occasions it's horrible. Arrival-- immigration and customs must be passenger friendly. Sometimes it seems as though the immigration and customs officers are on a 'go slow.' Going through passenger luggage is another ordeal. If one has a few pieces of luggage he/she should not be searched. This is not the practice in civil societies such as Malaysia, Holland or Syria.

On two occasions, upon leaving Guyana, my passport was taken from my possession; when I complained, they threatened to put me in jail or stop me from travelling. This situation repeated itself going to Suriname at the Springlands jetty.

Sometimes it would seem as though Guyana is a beggar nation. From the airport travellers will be harassed for money. The taxi driver may say, "you na gonna leave a lil something?" Then the police will stop you on your way to Corentyne and harass you, "Oh, you have too much luggage, why is that luggage on the chair." He or she really wants a few Yankee dollars. Everywhere one goes they are begging. It's amazing, children in Syria will refuse money or food from strangers. Pride and dignity is something of the past for some Guyanese. This begging/harassing culture must be stopped.

Where is the master plan to improve civil aviation? With unreliable air transportation to Guyana, many are afraid of going there and getting stuck. And to top this off it is rather costly to fly to Guyana since BWIA and North American airlines monopolize the market. GA2000 is history. Yet we see no innovative efforts to attract international carriers to Guyana. Guyanese will be blessed again with GuyAmerica, Suncoast, Arrow Air, etc.

There are no stimulating measures to attract foreign investment. However, the government must first bring law and order to the civil service. I simply mean civility, discipline and professionalism. I remember reading a letter in SN about the ordeal of someone receiving misinformation from the Guyana Consulate. To get business done in Georgetown one has to make ten stops or speak to ten persons.

The red tape exists everywhere. According to the US Department of Commerce, "Customs procedures present problems relating to inconsistent valuations of imports by customs officials and delays in customs clearance." The US Department of State writes, "after years of a state-dominated economy, the mechanisms for private investment, domestic or foreign, are still evolving. Much crucial legislation is outdated and is currently being revised, including laws pertaining to resource use, mining, and the formation of private companies and capital markets." According to the US Department of State, "Bureaucratic procedures are cumbersome. Investors often receive conflicting messages from various officials and have difficulty determining where the authority for decision-making lies. In the current absence of adequate legislation, much decision-making is centralized and an extraordinary number of issues are resolved in Cabinet, a process that is not open to public scrutiny and which often results in long delays. Attempts at reform of bureaucratic procedures have not succeeded in limiting red tape."

The government constantly pays lip service to 'tourism.' I say so because I am not convinced that the government has done or initiated a master plan to develop this industry. Eco-tourism has emerged as one of the most important sectors of the international tourism industry. The United Nations, recognizing eco-tourism's potential role in sustainable development, has declared 2002 the 'International Year of Eco-tourism.'

The eco-tourism industry, which is growing rapidly, has emerged as one of the most important sectors of the international tourism industry, making up 7 per cent of the world tourism market. In the Asia-Pacific region alone, eco-tour operators report growth rates of 10 per cent to 25 per cent a year. Demand for quality eco-tourism destinations will continue to grow as urban congestion, pollution, crowding, and concern for the natural environment all increase. Successful eco-tourism requires maximizing environmental and economic benefits while minimizing ecological damage and disruption of local communities. To achieve these goals, eco-tourism development should be carefully planned from the beginning.

To encourage the growth of the tourism industry including 'eco-tourism' bold incentives should be available for tourist projects, hotel business, construction of holiday camps and recreational projects, including summer camps and construction of convention centres. I believe that the government has already in place tax incentives for investment in manufacturing, agriculture and tourism sectors. However, the government must provide investors with a high degree of certainty for their future planning. Government must put into place policies so that the way ahead is charted, thereby providing confidence to investors.

Yours faithfully,

Raymond Chickrie