CTO CHIEF EXPRESSES OPTIMISM FOR GUYANA'S VENTURE TOURISM
Linda Rutherford The Chronicle October 1999
THE world stopped while the Greeks, from as early as 774 BC, brought people together to watch the Olympics. And when the Egyptians were marketing the Pyramids of Egypt at around 10,000BC, there was no mention of beaches.
Neither did the Romans invite people to their beaches, but rather, to their circuses. Even the Ephesians, back when Alexander the Great ruled the world as it were then, were creating massive tourism flows in their neck of the woods.
This was the argument put forward last Thursday for the case of venture tourism, among other forms of tourism, by Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) Secretary-General, Mr Jean Holder.
The CTO top-brass, who, with his Director of Human Resource Development, Ms Bonita Morgan, paid Guyana a flying visit last week, was at the time engaged in pre-discussion talks at the Hotel Tower, with a small public and private sector grouping.
The grouping comprised Organisation of American States (OAS) country director, Mr Michael Wyllie; Director-General in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ms Cheryl Miles; Assistant Director of the Minister of Trade, Tourism and Industry, Ms Leslie Benjamin-Trotman; Tourism Association of Guyana (TAG) President and Executive Director Mr Shaun McGrath and Ms Colette McDermott respectively; and Mr Donald Sinclair of the Division of Caribbean and Tourism Studies, University of Guyana (UG).
Chairing the meeting was Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Industry, Mr Tarchan Ramgulam.
The purpose of his visit, Holder said, was, essentially, to discuss with the Guyana Government what it would like to see done in the tourism sector; how the country intends to benefit from tourism; what are some of its goals and how it intends to achieve them.
Also on the cards were preliminary discussions about the annual CTO conference on sustainable tourism development, billed to take place in Guyana in the year 2000.
Contending that for too long the Caribbean has dealt with tourism "very much as though only beach tourism mattered", Holder said, "I think the world has woken up to the reality that tourism is not about beaches but a great deal more".
Tourism, he said, is also about learning, recreation of all kinds, adventure, cultures, and even forging international peace.
"So the idea that we cannot have a tourism industry unless there are beaches is something we must effectively put an end to", he
At the CTO, among whose responsibilities is marketing the entire Caribbean region, Holder said, one of their greatest strengths, and, conversely their greatest challenges, is their ability to market a region which, in terms of product diversity, is a microcosm of the world as it exists.
As he has had occasion to point out to people from time to time, Holder said, from Mexico to Barbados and from the Bahamas to Suriname, there is no comparing diversity in the Caribbean, whether the subject under discussion is landscape, marine life or activity, music, history or cuisine.
And this is one of the advantages that people of the region have failed to capitalise on in the past: "the unique position of this region, as seen from a broad perspective", he said.
Turning his attention to the business of sustainable tourism development, which has been the focus of the CTO for a number of years now, Holder said the concept was born out of the conviction that, first of all, the industry was not going anywhere, and that, contrary to predictions since the day he entered it 25 years ago, it is not going to self-destruct.
Holder said he has lived to see tourism weather every single international and national disaster, including a series of economic meltdowns between 1974 and 1991.
What was interesting about the "economic meltdown" of 1991, he said, was that the sector which proved the most resilient the world over was tourism. And even now, as one looks at all the economic disasters taking place around the world, one would find that "the thing that is most resistant to the fall of consumer demand is the travel industry".
So much so, that people have now begun to pay for their holidays from their savings, rather than give them up altogether.
Therefore, while he expects that there will be some attrition, and that people in the Caribbean will have their jobs cut out to get their share on the international market, Holder feels "reassured by the fact that this industry has in the past withstood this kind of struggle, and can, with the correct positioning, do the same in the future".
He cautioned, however, that inasmuch as the threats to the environment are "considerable", what with hearing every day about the depletion of the ozone layer and seeing the devastating effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon, "way beyond that, there are certain other factors about sustainability that we [at the CTO] want to address for this country".
"You cannot have a prosperous industry unless you have good people; you have to train people. You cannot have a successful industry unless you have air transportation services to bring people to these countries. You cannot have a sustainable industry unless you have [proper] health and security [services], not only for people who want to take holidays but for your own people also," Holder pointed out.
"So we want to enlarge the scope of the discussion about
sustainability beyond the considerable and important area of environmental protection, and even cultural identity, to include some of the other major factors that must be looked at," he said.
With reference to his meeting earlier in the day with President Janet Jagan, Holder admitted to being "very reassured" by her enthusiasm about the tourism industry.
"President Jagan made it very clear that she was committed to the tourism industry, [and that she was] committed to advancing and using it as a method of socioeconomic development, and that was extremely reassuring," he said.
What needed to be gone into in greater detail, he said, was exactly what the President meant; whether she meant "first of all, a commitment to put in place the structure for managing the industry; a commitment to put in place and to follow, a policy about what tourism development is for Guyana; [or] to commit to an investment in this industry at the level of infrastructure".
"If that commitment is followed," he conceded, "then I believe the investment in the superstructure, and in other things, will come from sources other than public expenditure."
Both Holder and Morgan left the country on Saturday.