You probably haven’t heard a lot about Guyana as a tourist destination. But that’s about to change.
Bolstered by a relatively modest budget and an infusion of new talent, which not only includes a new Director, but a new Board, new support staff, and new market reps honcho — the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) is hoping to compete with the heavyweights of South American tourism.
Leading the charge is Brian Mullis, who was appointed director of the tourism authority last April with a mandate to restructure the agency, pull its tourism marketing and products into the 21st century, and ultimately put Guyana in the sights of eco and adventure tourists around the globe.
Mullis was an unlikely candidate for the job. Born and raised in Alabama — and a graduate of Auburn University — he’s not a citizen of Guyana and had limited exposure to the South American nation before applying.
But as one of the world’s foremost authorities on sustainable tourism, his background was just what the Guyana government was looking for. Someone who could morph that nation’s incredible landscapes and natural attractions into a more popular, profitable, and accessible tourism outcome.
As the founder and CEO of Sustainable Travel International, Mullis spent 14 years developing sustainable tourism projects for more than 100 destinations. He also worked with the World Bank’s environmental team, on the U.S. Travel & Tourism Advisory Board, and was an expert on the World Economic Forum’s Future of Travel & Tourism Council.
“We’re very really clear about our goals and objectives,” says Mullis. “To develop and promote sustainable tourism in Guyana through collaboration. Because, that’s the only way we’re going to be able to maximize the socio-economic and conservation outcomes related to tourism and, in the process, improve the visitor’s experience.”
Mullis is also clear about what Guyana has to offer: “More than 80% of our forests are primary, virgin rainforest— a larger percentage than Brazil, Peru or other nations that are typically associated with the world’s largest rainforest. Much of that rainforest is totally pristine, untouched by logging, ranching, mining and the other activities that have impacted Amazon ecology elsewhere on the continent.”
When asked about what sets Guyana apart, Mullis mentions five iconic sights that every traveler should visit:
- The mega diverse, wildlife-rich ecosystems which are home to the world’s largest otters, anteaters, eagles, caimans, fish, bats and snakes.
- The golden savannahs of the Rupununi in the far south.
- The cloud-shrouded heights of Mt Roraima (which inspired the Lost World book and movies).
- The British colonial architecture and Caribbean-like ambience of capital city Georgetown.
Thundering Kaieteur Falls — four times higher than Niagara and the world’s largest single drop waterfall of any kind (741 feet).
In addition to raising the global profile of Guyana as a destination and enhancing the tourism experience, Mullis has committed his agency to doing all of this in a sustainable manner.
“We’re aligning all that we do with Guyana’s new Green State Development Strategy and incorporating destination management and development best practice into everything we do,” Mullis explains. “For example, we’re incorporating sustainable tourism guidelines and regulations into our new licensing process to ensure travel benefits local people and places.”
Meanwhile, he’s also trying to improve the GTA staff experience by creating its first-ever employee handbook and job descriptions, with clearly defined SMART goals and responsibilities linked to the organizations mission and objectives, so everyone knows how their efforts contribute to the whole.
Another key goal is optimizing the socioeconomic and conservation outcomes that Guyana can derive from tourism by establishing more (and better) partnerships with the tourism private sector and sister governmental agencies like the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs, National Trust, Environmental Protection Agency and Protected Areas Commission — four outfits charged with safeguarding the nation’s natural and cultural treasures and rich heritage.
“We’re also taking our marketing and communication to the next level with a new website and videos, digital marketing strategy, media partnerships, active social media campaign, and bringing in reps in our core markets, so that we can effectively bring Destination Guyana to the global tourism market place in a more fundamental way than ever before.”
In addition to attracting more travelers to Guyana, Mullis hopes this increased emphasis on tourism will also booster the bottom line of everyone involved in the country’s tourism sector.
At present, it is conservatively estimated that international tourism contributes about US$500 per person to Guyana’s economy, placing it in the top five export industries in Guyana. Mullis would like to see the figure double over the next few years. “If we’re able to meet the global average $1,100-$1,200 per person, travel and tourism will significantly contribute to Guyana’s State Development Strategy,” he explains.
Last, but not least, Mullis wants to boost training by bringing in some of the world’s best tourism trainers and developing a homegrown training force dedicated to international models like the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s (ATTA) Adventure Travel Guide Standard.
“It’s important for us to adopt international standards where it makes sense and integrate those standards into our regulations by design, so that we can effectively raise the quality and sustainability standards in country systematically and in an incremental fashion,” says Mullis.
And he’d like to see some sort of customer service training extending to anyone who has an interface with visitors — cab drivers, customs & immigration officials, restaurants workers, etc.
Mullis says the new strategy isn’t based on tourism in any particular country. “Costa Rica is often mentioned as an outstanding example of eco tourism,” he says. “But they’re also doing great things with sustainable tourism in Peru, Ecuador, Chile and other places. We’d like to draw from all of their experiences to create something that’s unique to Guyana.”
The new strategy seems to be already paying dividends. Guyana logged around 247,000 international arrivals in 2017. Right now, it looks like they’ll hit 272,000 this year. “We’re on track right now to reach that number,” says Mullis. “The percent gain year-on-year is very positive.”