Overseas Guyanese cannot be a major tourist market
Stabroek News
April 7, 2002

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Dear Editor,

In his letter captioned "Overseas Guyanese should be our main tourist market," (5.4.2002) Mr. John Mair says the Minister and country got it badly wrong on tourism. 'Got it badly wrong on tourism' is correct, but that's all he got right, so he got it right for the wrong reasons. He uses the same uninformed and flawed reasoning that a while back already led the country down a dead-end tourism street.

The tiny, niche market his cousin Alison exemplifies is indeed a valid and important part of a well crafted tourism plan for Guyana, but not for the reason he advances. This minuscule target market might, just might, comprise a grand total of 6,000 potential nostalgic Guyanese tourists bringing their families to visit over the next 10 years. Certainly not enough volume to either provide a base or to change direction in building a tourist industry.

But how come only 6,000 potential Guyanese, don't we have massive numbers in the Diaspora? We do, but more careful examination shows a number of important details. In the first ten years outside, Guyanese are working their utmost, even holding two or sometimes three jobs, going to school, trying to get ahead for their families. There is no time for vacations. In the second ten years when they might think of a vacation, the driving, dominant desire is first to do the heavily advertised things the Romans mostly do - Florida and the Disney Worlds are obvious choices.

In the third ten years Guyana nostalgia can kick in at some point. The vast majority of Guyanese who lived in country areas, or who came out of struggle and hard economic circumstances on the coastland, have little or no desire to go back home to visit 'bush'. They want to stay with, see and impress family and friends, drink and party in the town or at a highway creek, eat all the nostalgic dishes and fruit, and a day trip to Kaieteur is enough 'bush' for this visit, thank you very much. So Mr. Mair's 600,000 Diaspora potential is really only 600 a year, O.1% if that.

A well-crafted tourism plan, though, does otherwise use the Diaspora. They love nothing more than to tell the Romans about beautiful Guyana. Such a plan puts high quality, competitive brochures and tourism sales collateral at their disposal. You create a vast team of dedicated, enthusiastic promoters for Guyana tourism, telling their boss, the business owner, management and professional persons they know, and who ever else will listen, about a holiday in Guyana's magnificent Amazon. We got it badly wrong producing a lot of cheap, inferior sales tools to sell Guyana. Have you ever called or visited a Guyana Consulate or Embassy to learn about a Guyana holiday? Horrors. Thank heavens for people like Sheik Hassan of SH Productions, who fight an uphill battle to drag the Government and many in the private sector to see the need for quality tourism marketing collateral, to deliver the competitive international standard at an affordable price for Guyana.

Mr. Mair is off the mark also in considering that 'eco-tourists' are Guyana's other valid market for tourism. It's the up-market 'Amazon Jungle' we must sell, filled with romantic adventure and unfolding mystery, with interesting and unexpected life-enhancing learning experiences at every turn, led by each couple or family's own personal, professional guide. Total security, comfort and fun in the Amazon are what we must sell. Swimming in cold creeks of golden, drinkable water, flowing along perfectly white, sand beaches in bright equator sunshine, in the amazing Amazon, are the ticket.

So Mr. Mair also has it wrong when he marvels at his cousin Alison and her family spending US$4,000 for 14 days in Guyana. Deduct $1,600 minimum for the presumed average family of four return airfare. Deduct another $200 commissions or fees paid to Canadian agents for the bookings. Take out another $200 for transport around Guyana for two weeks, and you are left with a family of 4 spending $143 per day for lodging, all meals and entertainment. Is everyone sleeping in one room? Do they eat three meals a day? Do they stay at one Essequibo lodge for the entire vacation? Do they fly anywhere into the interior for at least one day trip? How much remains in Guyana as profit to make the local operators viable, build a bankable tourism industry? Close to zero in such a model.

In the land of the blind sending out abysmal TV, the one eye man is a welcome and entertaining commentator, and a positive force for improvement. It is refreshing to have someone say things that need saying in at least one area, but nobody else dares or bothers. Mr. Mair's newspaper contributions are on target, and frequently hilarious as he pricks the balloon of our wonders on the tube, who slaughter the language, trample simple basics of production and bore the audience to death with too much of their own talk. Introducing more BBC television to Guyana alone gives you local lifetime membership to the Big Ones club.

But beware of falling into the common trap for one eye men and Big Ones. Because the gap is so wide in your area of expertise, it is easy, even human nature, to expand that superior, informed mindset to other areas or disciplines where you now are really the blind man; but you continue to behave as though still with special insight. 'About turn, Manzoor' is eye pass, and a tourist cannot advise on how to build a tourist industry for a country. Your letter is counterproductive, incorporating and reinforcing fatal flaws in the tourism subject. Every one of your pip pips are needed in the communications arena. Do not let ego take you where you are blind.

Yours faithfully,

Richard Humphrey