International image reform
May 10, 2007
IN HIS address to the 2007 Annual General Meeting of the Tourism and Hospitality Agency of Guyana, British High Commissioner Fraser Wheeler gave a generally positive diagnosis of the potential of the tourism industry here.
The thrust of the diplomat's speech was that Guyana suffers from a negative image overseas, something which the successful hosting of some matches in the recent Cricket World Cup 2007 helped in countering, but which we have still have a long way in countering.
Two crucial points the High Commissioner made were that the success of tourism depended on wider reform measures – one of which can be considered increased security – and that our successes need not be broadcast through expensive marketing campaigns.
There is, of course, a flipside to this equation. The biggest negative-marketing tool we have against us is, interestingly enough, not some expensive multimedia campaign travel advisories issued by some shadowy entity but simple travel advisories put out by countries whose citizens make up the bulk of the tourism market to this region.
For example, the most recent U.S. State Department Travel advisory on Guyana, current up to yesterday, speaks of occasional politically motivated protests and demonstrations; dead bodies being found periodically in the intakes for the Georgetown water supply; pickpockets and thieves; identity theft and rape.
Granted our less than ideal crime control situation, Guyana is barely recognisable to not only most Guyanese living here, but to the thousands of foreigners who are resident here.
Our tourism industry doesn't escape a little helpful boost either. According to the advisory:
"A recent Guyanese report on security and safety at Guyana's eco-tourism resorts stated that out of the nine major resorts, only two had a written emergency plan in the case of emergencies. All of the major resorts had deficiencies in safety including the lack of easily identifiable lifeguards or no lifeguards at all. Many of the major resorts lacked adequately stocked first aid supplies. Many urban hotels also have safety and security deficiencies."
The British, in their assessment of our fledgling eco-tourism, were much kinder, advising that "Visitors to the eco-tourism sites (outside of Georgetown and the coastal regions) do not generally experience any problems."
Perhaps what is needed is not a separate of imperatives when it comes to reforming Guyana's image abroad – investment, politics, tourism, et cetera – but an amalgamation of these imperatives into one central multifaceted strategic plan.
We need also to develop the political muscle to challenge, not out of mere confrontational chauvinism but on points of merit, what is said about us on the international scene. We cannot continue to let the infrequent be represented as the occasional, and the occasional as the norm. The U.S. travel advisory, for example, cites kidnapping for ransom as something to look out for.
Granted that foreign governments may choose to err on the side of caution when advising their citizens on travelling to other countries: but when such advice appears tantamount to slander, or its diplomatic equivalent rather, there is no reason we should take it lying down.