Local tourism sector remains resilient during pandemic – GTA Director

Director of the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) Carla James-Vantull says the agency has been making strides in returning the local tourism industry to normalcy.

Among those steps is promoting the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

Director GTA, Carla James-Carla James-Vantull

During a recent interview with DPI, James-Vantull said the worldwide vaccination programme is being used to help restart the tourism industry. She said Guyana is no different.    

“We urge people to educate yourself about the vaccine, get vaccinated so that we could accomplish that 80 per cent vaccination of our population so that we could achieve herd immunity and that’s really what’s gonna reopen tourism.”

She said there has been some indication that the sector is recovering.

“Year to date, January to March we have, we are still declined by 58.8 per cent for the same time last year, but March for the very first time we have reported an increase of 4.2 per cent and that really speaks that tourism and travel is coming back slowly,” James-Vantull said.

She noted that Guyana’s tourism product continues to place the country at an advantage during the pandemic.

“The reason I say that, is Guyana is truly a safe place to travel, our tours are designed with small group sizes, open spaces, small lodges so you really don’t have mass tourism where large gatherings are an issue, so we are really well positioned on that front.”

Despite the setbacks, the GTA has been able to keep businesses engaged and developing customised tour packages for those who are engaged in local tourism.

“Since the reopening of our travel industry, the domestic travellers and diaspora travellers are really the ones that have been helping to sustain businesses and really just book tours and enjoy it.”

It was found that the expatriate community makes up a large portion of the local clientele, this group, is looking for shorter trips like weekend or day trips.

“Expats have families and the time that they have really for day tours or weekend tours, they don’t go out and travel for a week or two weeks long, the way our core leisure travellers travel, so because of that we say we need to redesign tours and experiences to focus on those travellers’ profile so that we can develop products, really quickly so that there are things for them to do, there are places to go with them or their families”

Atta Rainforest Lodge, Iwokrama

The GTA director noted that those tourists also want to have experiential tours, getting involved in activities to enhance the experience.

James-Vantull believes that the resilience of Guyana’s tourism product is to the credit of the operators themselves.

“I think the fact that,90 per cent of our business were able to still remain in business speaks to the resilience of the Industry, I think 90 per cent of the businesses in tourism are owned by Guyanese Living in Guyana, and the work that they have put in, the systems that they have put in to really stay in business I think really speaks to their resilience.

“Our tourism sector in Guyana is very resilient and I think we have been able to see that by how they were able to cope during this time of the pandemic, our borders were shut down since March 18th which basically meant that they could not operate at least for eight to nine months until we would have worked on a reopening plan,” she added.

Mountains in the Rupununi

The work continues and James-Vantull said this will only help to strengthen Guyana’s tourism product.

The protocols that were developed by the GTA for the reopening of the industry was based on recommendations, from the World Health Organization, World Tourism Organization, CARPHA and the Adventure Travel and Tourism Association of the United States.

In addition, “really provide that technical support to them to operate at a higher standard, looking at all parts of the operation helping them reopen safely as well and working with the covid taskforce to set up a system to allow tourism to reopen I think was a really big plus for us that we were able to make that happen,” James-Vantull said.

The travel industry began a gradual conditional reopening in Late November 2020. Currently more than 60 lodges are reopened.

Traveling through the Rupununi

The GTA is also doing a visitor survey to note the positives and negatives of the local establishments.

“That’s really to assess, have people travelled from December to now, what were their experiences like, they want them to assess the safety protocols they have observed while on tour and that’s really to provide feedback to the tour companies to the establishments, to say hey travellers at your place this is the feedback, you’re doing great or this is an area that you still need to improve on.”

The GTA director highlighted that there is still a lot of work to be done with hotels and some other tour operators. While there is a formula that can be used for businesses to reopen, a lot of them have not gone through the process. She said the agency will still be working with those businesses to raise their standards of operation.