President David Granger: Thank you Honourable Sydney Allicock, Minster of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs; Honourable Dominic Gaskin, Minister of Business, who is the only person in the room authorised to speak about government tourism policy; Honourable Catherine Hughes, Minister of Public Telecommunications; Mrs. Andrea de Caires, President of THAG; Professor Griffith, Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; distinguished guests; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to join the previous speakers in congratulating THAG on their 25th Anniversary and also in advance, congratulate those persons who would be awarded prizes later this evening. The Chairman did say that I asked for the addresses to be done before dinner, but I think he got the right request with the wrong reason. Actually, some alternative facts here, and I discovered in earlier presentations that actually more people fall asleep after dinner, which encourages me to speak before dinner and here I am so you can sleep away after I have spoken, but you have to stay awake to get something to eat.

Ladies and gentlemen, what would you expect of a country which is larger than any Caribbean island with a variegated landscape, including coastlands, highlands, grasslands, islands in the Essequibo River – bigger than the British Virgin Islands – wetlands, waterfalls lakes and rainforest; a country which is divided by a thousand kilometres long river?

Ladies and gentlemen, where would you encounter some of the world’s largest and rarest species of ants, armadillos, bats, caimans, monkeys, rodents, snakes, spiders, storks, toads, turtles and vultures? How could you explain to a visitor that the species of birds, bees, butterflies, fish and frogs are too numerous to count?

Guyanese, we live in a big, beautiful and bountiful country, one that possesses a thousand natural treasures. Our country lies at the heart of the Guiana Shield – one of the world’s oldest geomorphic formations and one of the earth’s last remaining tracks of pristine forest. Our forest, like a limitless sea of broccoli, is the habitat of some of the world’s unique species of flora and fauna.

Guyana’s luxuriant biodiversity is the base of a potentially competitive, world-class ecotourism industry. Our country needs a strong tourism industry, one that is more than a weekend excursion or a fishing expedition. Our country sooner, rather than later, will be obliged to end its love affair with the six sisters: bauxite, diamond, gold, rice, sugar and timber. These beloved ladies have served us well in the past but at times they could be fickle- international markets always change and dinosaurs no matter how huge, must adapt or die.

Guyana’s future is ‘green’. We are on a path to building a ‘green’ state, one which will promote harmony between humanity and habitat of our rich fauna. I personally signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change at the United Nations in April last year. Unlike other people, I’m not about to erase my signature… I pledged as part of Guyana’s commitment under that agreement to place an additional two million hectares under conservation.

I promised the Guyanese people also that the protected areas systems will be expanded and extended countrywide; protected areas will be established on the coastland and the hinterland every region will become a ‘green’ region administered by a ‘green’ capital town and eventually every region will have at least one legally designated regional protected area. These protected areas are not ornamental; they can be profitable destinations for sustainable tourism.

Our country recognises the importance of projecting a favourable image and of possessing a formidable international reputation for protecting the environment. Guyana is being internationally branded as a ‘green’ state. I’m selling Guyana as a ‘green’ state, wherever I go. I see ecotourism development as a pillar of our ‘green’ economy, it is pivotal to economic diversification and to the creation of sustainable employment for the thousands of young people who leave school every year.

Our country, apart from being blessed with a bountiful biodiversity, possesses rich culture and I must thank Mrs. de Caires for introducing this topic. Our huge diaspora has been our most generous customer; the most generous customer of our culture and I have often said that Guyana is a country divided in two halves; one half lives in North America and the other half lives in South America.

I’m sure there are probably more Guyanese in North America than in South America anyway, but we have all witnessed the annual pilgrimages of the diaspora to national festivals such as Mashramani, Emancipation, the Regatta, the rodeo and various ‘town’ days and the diaspora support should not be underrated, its real support.

The passion of the diaspora for gold jewellery, for rum … when I was campaigning somebody actually held a bottle of 25 year old until reception was held. Unfortunately for him, it finished in five minutes flat, but the diaspora might be small but it is a reliable and faithful market for our tourism. The extension of our culture industries, especially the craft that I saw in the lobby a few minutes ago, more museums, again some of the older Guyanese, who don’t anticipate being here for the 50th anniversary of THAG have already informed me that they’d like to present their art collections to Guyana so we have to build galleries to hold these collections.

The production of CDs of our folk and popular music, DVDs about our environment; these sell very well, even along Avenue of the Republic and High Street and Main Street. Our unique wooden architecture is a unique wooden showpiece, which still attracts the more thoughtful type of tourists.

Ladies and gentlemen, our country is rich in potential. We do have the core of a globally competitive product. We do have the core of a highly motivated tourist industry. The public and private sectors, collaboratively, can develop the tourist sector into a competitive world class industry. This will not happen without increased investment, without innovation, without improved infrastructure and without our ability to penetrate international markets.

Huge craters in our precious national parks will outrage the international opinion and will repel tourists. Fish will die in turgid rivers, which resemble chocolate milkshake rather than coca cola. Birds will migrate and animals will run away to greener frontiers when we destroy their habitats by cutting down too many trees. Investment is needed to convert our natural wealth into that world class product we desire. Investment will originate largely from people in this room, the private sector.

Tourism is a private sector driven industry and it has a pivotal role to play in ensuring that this country’s tourism sector can develop. Infrastructure will originate largely from government’s initiative, truly, but I think every diplomat who meets me will know that I want them to build a bridge across the Essequibo. I don’t conceal my zeal in bridging the Essequibo River.

But seriously, the state will continue to support tourism development by improving aerodromes, bridges, ferries, highways and stellings. Government right now is unlocking the country’s ecotourism potential by improving communications in the hinterland and to the hinterland where our ecotourism product is largely located and to which access is mainly by air and river so far. International marketing is important to tourism development. International marketing however can be costly, but in the end will pay big dividends.

Your government will continue to provide resources within its means to promote our country to be a desirable destination for the world’s tourists. Guyana is unique. We are proud of our precious patrimony; patrimony which we inherited from our fore parents. We can derive great profits from sustainable ecotourism without damaging or destroying this blessed place. We are the mere trustees of our ancestors’ legacy. We must bequeath it to our children and our grandchildren.

Mustn’t we?

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