Community-led and owned Tourism: How Guyana’s own brand of sustainable destination management is helping indigenous communities thrive

Community-led and owned Tourism: How Guyana’s own brand of sustainable destination management is helping indigenous communities thrive

Community-led and owned tourism is an ethos in Guyana that has seen indigenous communities throughout the destination’s hinterland creating, implementing, and managing their own sustainable tourism projects for incoming travellers.

This sustainable tourism model aims to establish meaningful tourism activities for incoming travellers while simultaneously creating a sustainable source of income for indigenous communities and an incentive to protect their natural and cultural heritage.

Guyana is a small South American nation bordered by Brazil, Venezuela, and Suriname, located where the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea meet. It is part of the Guiana Shield; one of the only four pristine tropical forests remaining in the world and is a territory about the size of Britain with its interior being made up of 87% primary rainforest and approximately 250 small Indigenous communities.

Most communities are located in very remote and isolated areas, and many men are required to migrate out of their village to earn an income in extractive industries like gold mining and timber harvesting. Out migration can be as high as 80%, leaving behind the challenges of neglected family farms and more importantly families with absentee husbands and fathers.

Guyana’s community-led and owned tourism structure has proven to be a successful and sustainable solution, and a life-changing business model in Guyana. Community-led and owned tourism is different than community-based tourism. In community-led and owned tourism, entire communities own the tourism enterprise, deliver the tourism experience – from artisans and farmers to local tour guides, transportation services providers, and eco-lodge staff, and benefit directly or indirectly. Communities are also provided with a platform to preserve their customs, traditions, and ancestral lands as they are a key part of the visitor experience, creating huge economic and social benefits as a consequence.

Take Surama Village (suramaecolodge.com) for example. Surama was the first example of a community-led and owned tourism project in Guyana and, up until the mid-1990s relied on subsistence agriculture. Surama began their community-led and owned tourism enterprise in 2004 borrowing USD$5,000 to build a traditional style eco-lodge and managed to repay the loan four months early. Since then, profits have been used to expand the ecolodge, buy tourism vehicles, establish internet service, finance a community fund and more. The Surama  Eco-lodge has become the largest driver of economic activity in the area. Community members are employed either directly as hospitality staff, tour guides, cooks, artisans, and drivers, or indirectly as farmers, hunters, fishermen, and construction and maintenance workers.

Surama  Eco-lodge is just one example of an array of unique, authentic tourism enterprises that fully embraces sustainable tourism concepts and core values. Newer tourism ventures are being welcomed year on year throughout Guyana, providing visitors with an entirely different tourism proposition. The Arawak community of Capoey (guyanatourism.com/capoey-lake-and-mission) on the Essequibo Coast is a newer addition and is characterised by towering mango trees, neatly laid out benabs, lush surrounding savannah and the twittering and calls of bird song. Guests can access Capoey by boat across the spectacular Lake Capoey and will have the opportunity to enjoy fishing tours on the lake and swim in its waters before enjoying a BBQ on its white sand beaches. Excursions away from the village include a walk along the surrounding nature trails observing rare birds and butterflies and gathering medicinal plants. Travellers can also enjoy evenings of cultural presentations, singing, dancing and traditional crafts.

The goal for the Guyana Tourism Authority is to see a number of new communities setting up their own tourism enterprises using the community-led and owned tourism framework and toolkit; however, it is important that communities are assessed on their readiness for tourism to avoid failure through lack of adequate funding, training and governance. The Guyana Tourism Authority always considers the importance of establishing leadership in the form of a Tourism Committee, ensuring the benefits of tourism are equitably distributed in communities, securing input from all key stakeholders in prioritising policy recommendations and capacity building needs. Ideally these new enterprises would be trained and maintained with the help of the more established eco-lodges like Surama.

Since the turn of the COVID-19 pandemic, our perspective on our precious planet has shifted as with reduced human activity, nature has thrived in many areas. We have become more aware of our physical reach and impact on the world. So, in 2021 and beyond, the Guyana Tourism Authority wants travellers  to the destination to understand just how much of an impact their mere presence alone has on maintaining these community-led and owned tourism projects which ultimately contribute to the conservation of Guyana’s rich natural and cultural heritage.

Guyana hopes to see more travellers from around the world enjoying this amazing and little-known country in a sustainable and responsible manner.

For more information on Guyana, please visit www.guyanatourism.com

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