The United Nations 70th General Assembly has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
Expressed simply, sustainable tourism can be defined as, “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.”
The 2017 designation marks a unique opportunity to raise awareness on the contribution of sustainable tourism development among public and private sector decision-makers and the public, while mobilising all stakeholders to work together in making tourism a catalyst for positive change. In the context of the universal 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the International Year aims to support a change in policies, business practices and consumer behaviour, towards a more sustainable tourism sector than can contribute to the SDGs.
Guyana has, in the past, made significant strides towards the promotion of Sustainable Tourism, and the destination has been recognised for its efforts; Guyana’s Rupununi region had justified the resources poured into its development, as it copped the regional spotlight by winning the 2012 Caribbean Excellence in Sustainable Tourism Award. The award from the Caribbean Tourism Organisation and Travelmole (CTO/Travelmole) was accepted by Guyana’s Rupununi Learners Inc, for improving the quality of life of the district’s inhabitants.
In 2011, this award was shared by the Surama Eco-Lodge, also located in the North Rupununi, Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo). This tourist destination was recognised by the CTO for harnessing the economic power of the visitor industry in a responsible and sustainable way. The 2011 award was shared with Barbados’ Harrison’s Cave. Guyana’s Karanambu Lodge Inc were among the big winners of the TravelMole 2013 sustainable tourism awards handed out by the CTO. The country, for the second consecutive year, emerged as the big winner, copping three of the six prizes presented. These awards pointed to the hard work and commitment of stakeholders in Guyana and to the policy direction of the Tourism Ministry and Authority.
President Granger, in his remarks at the Annual Awards Dinner of the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana last year, acknowledged that the promotion of eco-tourism would be essential to the enlargement of our national economy over the next two decades and beyond, and he assured that his administration would work towards ensuring that the sector would be developed more deliberately and more methodically over this period.
He emphasised also, that Guyana’s eco-tourism product, however, cannot be developed without improvement in investment, infrastructure and information technology. He therefore called for investment by the private sector to develop more eco-resorts and lodges, and to open new attractions. He assured that the Government would aggressively court investment for the eco-tourism sector. While there has been private sector investment, the slowdown in the economy has resulted in little returns on those investments and with the added taxes, many companies are grappling with introducing higher rates at the risk of losing business.
Sustainable tourism development requires the informed participation of all relevant stakeholders, as well as strong political leadership to ensure wide participation and consensus building. Achieving sustainable tourism is a continuous process and it requires constant monitoring of impacts, introducing the necessary preventive and/or corrective measures whenever necessary. Clearly, 2017 will be a challenging year and for the Tourism Sector, and as Guyana moves towards a sustainable development path, it will be up to the Government to ensure viable, long-term economic operations, which will provide socio-economic benefits to all stakeholders, which are fairly distributed, and which includes stable employment and income-earning opportunities.
Guyana is set to host the four prestigious Hero Caribbean Premier League games next month. These games will serve as a platform for the promotion of tourism. Guyana will benefit both from both financial and international exposure through these games. It is time we aggressively move towards the promotion of its tourism sector, and move away from simply acknowledging the country’s potential.