A lack of funds is preventing Guyana and Suriname becoming better known
Berlin, February 2005 – Guyana and Suriname have woken up out of their slumber. For ten years or more both countries have been concentrating their efforts on eco-tourism and sustainability and working to ensure that the benefits are also enjoyed by the villages in the rainforest and savannah and their indigenous inhabitants. The very modest budget for tourism marketing which is constrained by economic circumstances has so far prevented the two countries on the northeast tip of South America from making a faster breakthrough in the area of nature and adventure tourism. Financial constraints also mean that neither Guyana nor Suriname have tourist offices or official representatives in important source markets such as the USA, Canada or Germany. Nevertheless, figures indicate that they registered a record number of incoming tourists in 2004.
Because of their colonial history Brazil’s three northern neighbours – from west to east: Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana – are the only region in Latin America in which neither Spanish nor Portuguese is spoken. While English is the lingua franca in Guyana, the people of Suriname, formerly Dutch Guiana, are multilingual. Surinamese is used in everyday speech, while Dutch is the national language spoken in schools and offices. A large proportion of the country’s 400,000 inhabitants also speak English, some Portuguese. As an overseas department of France, Guyane Française is an integral part of France. Income levels and standard of living are substantially higher than in the other two parts of Guyana. All three countries have very strong links with the Caribbean through their history, music and culture. Guyana and Suriname are members of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), which is based in Barbados.
Karen Ford-Warner, acting secretary-general of the CTO, emphasizes that the CTO makes every effort to help where they can and to support Guyana and Suriname very strongly in promoting tourism. At the same time she makes it clear that the countries in the “Caribbean village” must also make their own contribution at the ITB Berlin, as well as at other fairs. The Caribbean Tourism Organization praises the exemplary efforts of both countries in the area of eco-tourism. Small wonder that two out of the six CTO conferences on sustainable tourism development held so far by the CTO have been staged in Suriname und Guyana.
Idealists and private businesspeople play their part in promoting the countries
Fortunately there are small operators and entrepreneurs in both countries who, as well as having business acumen, have so much idealism about and affection for the countries and their people that they are prepared to act as unofficial contacts and information centres. Among them is Claudia Langer at the STO – Suriname Travel Organisation, which has its offices in Freienwil in Switzerland (email@example.com, www.suriname.ch). Her catalogue promotes the country, which is four times larger than the Netherlands but has a population of only 400,000, under the slogan “The best kept secret in the Caribbean“. This might seem slightly misleading for tourists because, like Guyana, Suriname has virtually no attractive beaches. Instead it offers plentiful tourist highlights in the jungle and in its capital, Paramaribo. With its historic old town and many wooden houses, Paramaribo is inscribed in UNESCO’s world cultural heritage list, as is the 1.6 million-hectare Central Suriname Nature Reserve. Claudia Langer is a regular visitor to the ITB Berlin and says: ““Taking part in the fairs in Berlin is unbelievably important for both destinations”. Each year they do not take part, she says, is a blow to efforts to raise the profile of these countries in the world.
This is confirmed by Boyo Ramsaroop (firstname.lastname@example.org). Together with his Mecklenburg-born wife Brigitte, he runs a huge flower and eco farm in the jungle not far from Georgetown called the “Double B Exotic Gardens“, which is home to turtles, sloths, capuchin monkeys, capybara, anteaters and over 110 species of birds. The couple export heliconia, ginger lilies and other tropical blooms to the USA and Europe. Ramsaroop, who has also lived in Wismar, Rostock and Leipzig, has Indian ancestors. “I love Guyana and often combine coming to the ITB with visiting friends and relatives in Germany. It’s good that someone on the stand can speak German”, says the flower grower, who also canvasses for tourists for his country at flower fairs in Europe, the USA including Hawaii, Canada and Australia.
Another fan of Guyana who has also attended the ITB before is the Australian, Tony Thorne, managing director of Wilderness Explorers in Georgetown (email@example.com – www.wilderness-explorers.com). The company, which offers eco- and adventure trips in virgin forest and savannah, also has contact offices in St. Lucia, Great Britain and Australia. He says the eco-market is becoming increasingly important in tourism worldwide. This, he believes, offers a great opportunity for Guyana und Suriname which have huge potential but lack finance and investment.
German information via “unofficial ambassadors“
The tourist boards and responsible ministries in both countries are aware of the importance of “unofficial ambassadors”. Guyana’s outgoing tourism director, Donald Sinclair, and his successor, Indira Anandjit (firstname.lastname@example.org), say that those wishing for a reply in German can e-mail Claudia Langer in Switzerland or Matthias Beyer (email@example.com) in Berlin, who will be pleased to help. Beyer is an international tourism consultant and specializes particularly in eco-tourism. “In English we answer (firstname.lastname@example.org) as quickly as possible”, says Indira Anandjit. “There is a lot of information about the country, its people and tourism on our website (www.guyana-tourism.com).”
E-mailing and the internet now play an important role in training staff in the tourism offices in Georgetown und Paramaribo. New members of staff are taught that an unanswered e-mail creates financial losses and so can severely damage the country. In recent years tour operators and journalists have found that in Guyana, Suriname and Latin America in general e-mails frequently go unanswered or are answered much too late, particularly by official agencies, ministries and institutions.
“Guyana – for those who prefer nature, green tourism and no crowds”. The tourist authority’s slogan is quite right. With a total of 2000 rooms in hotels, guest houses and just 20 jungle lodges and ranches, there is certainly no mass tourism. The first five-star hotel in the country, planned by a local investor, is scheduled to open in two to three years. It is only since the mid 80s that Guyana has opened up to become a holiday destination. Before that time the country, which for a time was a “brother nation” to the old East Germany, was paralysed by unrest and economic restrictions. 2004 was a record tourist year for Guyana, which is only slightly smaller than Great Britain. It welcomed around 120,000 foreign visitors.
Guyana is another country which recently experienced the power of nature. In January continuous rain and flooding made thousands of people homeless; parts of Georgetown were also flooded. International organizations, the USA and neighbouring countries sent aid. The capital is a mix of colourful markets, imposing colonial buildings, parks and palm trees, villas, but also ramshackle huts. The architectural gem is St. George’s Cathedral, the tallest freestanding wooden building in the world.
Guyana, like Suriname, is a melting pot of peoples and religions. Most of the inhabitants are descendants of African slaves and immigrants from India. There are also Europeans and native Amerindians originally from the Amazon and Orinoco. The majority of the 800,000 inhabitants live in the green belt along the Caribbean coast. Most of the country is covered by jungle and savannah. The flora and fora are lush in the “land of many waters“, the name by which Guyana is also known on account of its many rivers and waterfalls. According to the tourist promotion literature, the Essequibo alone has exactly 365 islands – as many as there are days in the year. Because of the lack of beaches Guyana relies heavily on multi destination tourism – for example, one week in Trinidad and Tobago or Barbados with beach holiday and one week eco-adventure in Guyana. “Tourism still has a great deal of potential in Guyana, particular in the sustainable tourism sector, which needs to be carefully developed“, says Klaus Lengefeld from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ). The GTZ supports house-building in the country on behalf of the European Development Fund.
The Iwokrama Forest is one of the last untouched tropical rainforests in the world. Small sections of the jungle, in which the indigenous Makushi people have lived for many thousands of years, are now being carefully opened up for tourism. The forest is also home to the jaguar, tapir and caiman. The Iwokrama project (www.iwokrama.org) also includes the protection of flora and fauna, environmentally sensitive logging in small parts of the forest, and the creation of jobs for local people from the village of Surama. The Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau in Germany is a partner in the project, providing funding for training park rangers and tour guides, says David Singh, Iwokrama Director of Resource Management and Training (email@example.com). The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) has provided assistance in surveying and mapping here and in other parts of Guyana, as well as in the development of the village. A field station with kitchen, sanitary facilities, generator and an initial three guest bungalows is located on the edge of the forest – some six hours by all-terrain vehicle from Georgetown. In the south of Iwokrama visitors can walk on a 100 metre-long canopy walk between and over the tops of the giant trees in this primeval forest, some 30 metres above the ground.
Some way south of Iwokrama, between the Amerindian villages of Annai and Rupertee in the Rupununi savannah, lies "Rock View Lodge" (www.rockviewlodge.com). Every lodge and every wildlife resort in the country has either a landing stage for boats or a landing strip for small propeller aircraft. "Rock View" has a well stocked bar, a swimming pool and a shop selling Amerindian crafts and souvenirs. Overnight accommodation in hammocks with breakfast and dinner costs 30 US dollars, full board with room starts at 75 US dollars. Hire of a Landrover costs 35 dollars per day, while a horse or kayak can be hired for 20 dollars. Half an hour’s flight away is Karanambo Lodge run by Diane McTurk, where the accommodation is more basic. Prices for full board with plain tropical fair and a simple bed start at 30 US dollars. The price includes guided walks to Amerindian villages and kayak excursions on nearby rivers.
A must for visitors to Guyana is an excursion to the Kaieteur waterfall on the Pataro rover in the country’s interior. The waterfall, framed by tropical vegetation, has a drop of almost 230 metres. With a frown on his face Tony Thorne, who often guides parties here, picks up a sweet paper dropped by a tourist on a walk through the nearby jungle. “We take environmental protection very seriously“, he says. That is not the case everywhere. Tourists are very disappointed to have to step round piles of rubbish as they jog along the stone sea wall in Georgetown. Few wastepaper bins are in evidence and there is little in the way of rubbish collection in the town, but there are plenty of car drivers and pedestrians who toss cartons, cardboard and fast food packaging on to the street and into canals. “The rubbish problem in the capital is infuriating“, says Bernd Sommerfeldt from Delmenhorst, who has lived in Georgetown for a long time and is an expert in machinery for the logging industry. Protection of the rainforests, on the other hand, is taken very seriously. “It is impossible to completely outlaw illegal logging, but it could be better controlled and subject to stricter penalties here than it is in the vast rainforest regions of Brazil“, says Sommerfeldt.
The flight from Georgetown to Paramaribo takes less than an hour. A safe but time-consuming alternative is the ten-hour trip by bus and ferry. The one-way trip costs 25 US dollars for 400 or so kilometres. Sugar cane and banana plantations, rice fields, wooden and stone houses on stilts and pillars, cattle, cackling hens, small churches, Hindu temples and mosques line both sides of the river which forms the border. The structure of both countries is similar. Suriname also has a green belt and a great deal of jungle. But the racial mix is even richer than in Guyana. Among the workers who migrated to the country after the abolition of slavery were Indonesians from the island of Java, and also Chinese. Paramaribo today looks better cared for than it did ten years ago. Because the historic centre of the town is now on the world cultural heritage list, there is more aid money available and a lot of restoration work is underway.
Maroon villages receive small groups of tourists
The “heroes of the nation“ are the barely 40,000 dark-skinned Maroons who make up ten per cent of the population. They call themselves Bosnegers (Bush Negroes) but are also known as river people because they live along river banks in the bush. Their forefathers threw off the yoke of slavery some 300 years ago and withdrew to the freedom of the bush and rainforest, from where they waged successful jungle campaigns against the soldiers of the colonial armies who pursued them. A number of Maroon villages receive tourists, mostly in small groups of six to ten. Since indigenous people acting as tour leaders and operators share decision-making, tourism is developing cautiously – unlike the “zoo tourism” in some parts of Africa, where indigenous people are often nothing more than dance demonstrators or subjects to photograph. “We are pleased to receive guests but we make sure that they respect our traditions and customs“, says George Lazo, general manager of "Arinze Tours" and "Madeira Enterprise" (firstname.lastname@example.org – www.madeirasuriname.com) in his office in Paramaribo. He himself comes from a Maroon family and is very proud of the fact.
Among the trips offered by Arinze Tours, METS (email@example.com – www.metsresorts.com) and other tour operators are excursions lasting several days by propeller aircraft and boat into the country’s interior, for example to the Saramaka, the most important of the Maroon tribes who live on the river island of Kumalu. Holidaymakers live in simple wooden bungalows with mosquito nets, eat fresh fish, fruit and vegetables with the locals, and learn about the history, flora and fauna of the area. There is plenty of time to talk to the Saramaka, many of whom speak English.
Santigron, one of the Maroon villages, is located 60 kilometres from Paramaribo. Visitors can either book a group tour with prices starting at 50 dollars or travel individually by overland bus. The bus leaves from near the river ferry at the port in Paramaribo and costs the equivalent of just one US dollar. A good kilometre from Santigron is Pikin Poika, whose inhabitants are Amerindians. Some 3000 years ago their forefathers from the Arawak and Carib tribes travelled north in slim wooden boats and also settled numerous Caribbean islands.
Lily Duym, director of the Museum of the Jewish Community, stresses that the cooperation between all the population groups is immensely important for progress in the economy and tourism. The synagogue in Keizerstraat is right next door to the mosque and the headquarters of the Islamic Society. When a rabbi from the Netherlands or the USA visits the small Jewish community, he always makes a courtesy call to the Imam. Lily Duhm wishes that Jews and Muslims all over the world lived as peacefully together as in her community.
New investments in hotels, more tourists – but visa regulations act as an obstacle to tourism
After earlier political unrest, an economic crisis and massive inflation, Suriname has made visible economic progress even if average incomes remain low at between 120 and 300 dollars per month. The national carrier, Surinam Airways, is expanding its network of routes and has for a long time operated regular flights to Amsterdam. Six smallish hotels and eco-resorts are under construction or are in the pipeline. “This will soon increase capacity by 250 rooms from the present figure of 3,000“, says the director of the Suriname Tourism Foundation, Armand O. Li-A-Young (firstname.lastname@example.org – http://www.parbo.com/tourism). He comments that the economic recovery has given a boost to tourism and is delighted at the substantial increase in visitor numbers in recent years. For Suriname, too, 2004 was a record year for tourism, with well over 120,000 tourists entering the country. He believes that substantially more tourists would come if the authorities responsible for foreign affairs were finally to copy Guyana and do away with the requirement for visas which also applies to most EU countries. But for as along as travellers from Suriname require a visa to visit Europe, the responsible foreign office is not prepared to compromise.
Jan-Bjarni Bjarnason (email@example.com), project team leader for the EU’s “Suriname Integrated Tourism Development Programme“, is pleased that at least the tiresome need to register with the police has now been abolished. “It is a great achievement that in recent years the number of traditional holidaymakers from Europe who book eco-excursions to the country’s interior has also increased considerably.“ The project leader from Denmark confirms that the investment climate in the country needs to be improved but that it is better today than it was three or four years ago. The EU programme assists in the training of employees in the tourism industry, as well as with brochures, prospectuses, materials for schoolchildren and adults. It also provides help in improving tourism provision and the infrastructure for ecotourism in the country.
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