By Sharon Lalljee-Richard, Founder and Peacebuilding Advocate – Heal Guyana
Upon an actual visit to Guyana, you will experience an effortless intermingling of locals across various ethnic origins, working together to make your trip a memorable one. The spirit of a country as multi- culturally diverse as ours has, over the years, resulted in a uniquely authentic, down-to-earth travel experience unlike any other. The easiest, most satisfying way to begin acquainting yourself with this melting pot of creole goodness would probably be to taste the local cuisine, as soon as you get here.
But let’s say you didn’t hear about destination Guyana from a well-informed travel agent or tour operator. Let’s say, you heard about us from someone who lived here many years ago but no longer does. Or perhaps, someone who is a rabid supporter of the political party that happens to be in opposition at the time of your conversation. Chances are, you will be given the impression that Guyana is an unsafe place, steeped in economic depression and rife with hostility where no one gets along and there is absolutely nothing to be enthusiastic about.
Going a step further, let’s imagine you did decide to visit Guyana anyway. What you will actually experience in the capital city is a place buzzing with activity and endless opportunities to experience colourful local markets, enticing street-food, intimate caf’s, restaurants, and characterful people who would gladly pose for a selfie or two. The scattered urban greenscapes, colonial buildings and English speaking locals will emit a kind of old-world charm you most definitely will find endearing.
While you are here, let’s imagine you took a few trips into the heart of Guyana’s hinterland region as well to see for yourself, what could have possibly made us worthy of those eco-tourism awards we have been winning. There, I promise you, you will have your answer, along with a surprising awakening that will keep you coming back to Guyana to relive the peace you found under the canopies of our untouched rainforest. The vast natural landscape, rare encounters with captivating wildlife and the soulful lifestyle of our indigenous peoples will quickly transform your perspective of Guyana, making it abundantly clear to you, what makes this destination so fascinating without debate.
SO WHY ALL OF THE CYNICISM?
As the Owner and Communications Consultant of Tactical Branding who has worked within Guyana’s tourism sector, and the Founder of Heal Guyana, a registered not-for-profit NGO working to remedy the socio-political ills that pose challenges to harmonious ethnic relations within Guyana, I will attempt to theorize, what I have observed over the years to be the three key reasons, why cynicism continues to unjustly mar our local tourism product:
1) Our local media constantly prioritizes bad news while it plays down the good news about Guyana. Bad news intrinsically sells more newspapers and habitually benefits from higher click rates and online shares which, in turn, cultivates the sustained perception that Guyana’s crime situation is significantly higher than that of any other travel destination Ð a position which
cannot be adequately substantiated, given the constant absence of recent data and solid imperial evidence.
2) Guyanese abroad are vastly out of touch with the positive developments within Guyana. They depend primarily on the local media (which prioritizes bad news) to shape their current-day understanding of what Guyana is, without revisiting to garner more accurate references. Many such persons from the diaspora left Guyana during a time when the country was indeed facing tough economic circumstances but that era has since passed, leaving those who are insufficiently informed, spewing outdated/inaccurate accounts of what they believe Guyana to represent today.
3) Regardless of who governs Guyana, opposition supporters continue to be heavily invested in maligning the Government of the day. This takes the form of online propaganda news sites that misrepresent facts and create disparaging impressions of anything positive that happens under the administration of the day. Organized social media trolls, sometimes in the hundreds, constantly post and comment online with the deliberate aim of tarnishing every development that results under the tenure of the leaders they are working against. This unfortunate cycle, from one administration to the next, does a huge disservice to the tourism brand of Guyana.
But the good news is, your visit to Guyana will dispel most, if not all of the negativity you may have heard or read about! We obviously recommend that you exercise all precaution, similar to that which you would while travelling to any other country but by no means is Guyana a place to avoid.
In fact, the Heal Guyana Team believes that you, an independent traveller, can be very instrumental in the healing process that remedies these challenges we face as a developing nation. By simply sharing your wonderful travel stories of our destination, you will be countering the negativity and inspiring thousands around the world (even within Guyana), to see the beauty you see and to value the treasures you have come to value about this extraordinary destination that has so much to offer.
Learn more about Heal Guyana’s work by visiting www.healguyana.org; and happy travels!