Let’s talk tourism
March 8, 2014
In this little piece of paradise we call Guyana, we hardly depend on the tourism industry yet we have much to offer. Our 83,000 square miles make us the largest Caribbean state, 80% of which is largely untouched forests. From the beaches of the Corentyne to the rolling hills of the Rupununi Savannahs, the marine turtles on the North West beaches to the dense Iwokrama forest – Guyana is no doubt blessed and is a haven for eco-tourism.
But there is a problem. One that is staring at us right in the face. And we should be embarrassed to invite tourists into the country because of this problem. We all know what it is: the current state of the capital.
The practice has been to have tourists land at the Cheddi Jagan or Ogle International Airports and then whisk them off to Kaieteur and the interior to visit our eco-resorts and get their fill of looking at our birds and breathing that clean fresh air. But to have the full Guyanese experience one would always have to visit the capital which boasts a mixture of every culture that kissed this earth. And the same cannot be done when cruise ships dock at Port Georgetown.
Picture this: City Hall, which used to be a gem is now a murky piece of lead. The High Court building is in shipshape, but the broken hand and sceptre of Victoria is an insult to our colonial heritage. The canals that used to be low and shimmering are now pungent, stagnant and filled with garbage. The streets are lined with filth and the air with disgust. I could go on. But you get the picture. It is familiar and it is what the tourist sees.
And after we have fixed the city physically—and only heaven knows when that will happen—we have to fix the citizens. Or maybe we should tackle that first.
Let me list the tasks: We have to fix the often rude and uncaring behaviour that sometimes passes for customer service. We have to straighten out the security forces. Then we must tackle the less-than-average citizens; the ones who delight in standing on the corners urinating, cursing at the top of their lungs; blasting derogatory music from their vehicles or push carts.
Public transportation is a nightmare: too fast, choked, rude conductors and aggressive drivers. Then there are those pedestrians who have no regard for vehicular traffic and cross the roads when they feel like and at their own speed. It is as though we are slipping into anarchy; or have we already fallen?
When did the most hospitable country in the Caribbean lose its charm? Suriname boasted during Carifesta it was the most hospitable and Trinidad and Tobago invites business and tourists alike to ‘the Bridge between South America and the Caribbean’. What is our claim to fame these days? Garbage?
Let’s be grateful that Guyana does not have to depend solely on tourism. Let’s be thankful that we have diversification. Tourism is needed, tourism is wanted but tourism can never be accomplished with how we keep ourselves. Let’s stop pretending that we have arrived. And let’s start working really hard to regain what we have lost. (Jairo Rodrigues)