…consultant to be contracted for marketing and communications strategy By Jarryl BryanIn the Caribbean, specifically the Eastern region, the World Bank last year calculated tourism to account for roughly 52 per cent of earnings on average. Even without festivals, other parts of the Caribbean are famous for their scenic tourist destinations.GTA Director Brian MullisNew Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) Director Brian Mullis hopes to leverage the increased focus on Guyana, with the oil and gas sector being an international topic of discussion, while ironing out a strategy to effectively market Guyana as a tourist destination.In an interview with Guyana Times, Mullis stressed the importance for the tourism authority to have a master plan for marketing local destinations worldwide and that this plan be used as a reference for implementing tourism policies.“Right now we are working off a five-year strategic marketing plan that was developed in 2015, so you would see things like recent announcements on the launch of our first new website in over 10 years.”“We’ve just launched phase one; we’re in the process of launching phase two. We’ve also recently announced that we’ve secured market representation in two of our three core markets and one of our investment markets,” Mullis added.According to the Tourism Director, the United States and Canada are those two core markets, with the United Kingdom being the third. He also referenced Germany as one of those priority markets. The concentration of their efforts in these countries, he noted, is based on the large streams of tourists emanating from them.“(These tourists) are very interested in authentic adventure culture and nature-based experiences and the demographics that we are targeting, in addition to the traditional demographics in the Diaspora, are those people that come to destinations like Guyana to spend more money and stay longer and are typically open to the types of travel that we have, which are well aligned.”These different things, Mullis related, include more emphasis on digital, social media marketing. He noted that once they can boost their success with the core markets, the intention is to target other markets from the Caribbean and South America.One of the initiatives on the card is for a consultant to soon be contracted, via competitive tender, to formulate a marketing communications strategy and action plan. In addition, it is the intention to build capacity within the GTA and its destination to marketing divisionsHistorical tensionBut Mullis acknowledged that there has been historical tension between the GTA and tourism operators. Asked directly whether he has met with local operators in order to hear and address their concerns, he had this to say.“During my first few weeks, I held an open house and had a number of meetings, one on one and small group meetings, just to get to know individual players at an interpersonal level, build relationships with them, build trust, foster transparency, and open communication,” Mullis explained.According to the Director, he did this to attain a clear understanding of the challenges faced by the sector. Without this understanding, Mullis noted that it would be more difficult to overcome them.“The challenges are not unique. Emerging destinations around the world face the same challenges. But the context and the details are unique and with that information we can form solutions that will be contextualised to Guyana’s needs in order to overcome those challenges. One of the expectations, historically, is that the GTA, its sister agencies and the tourism sector have not worked closely together.”“But the reality is in the Government…there are a lot of agencies that touch through them. This is international best practice. You find it in any leading destination, the tourism Private Sector and agencies like the GTA are working more closely together and aligning goals and objectives, then we can achieve a lot more than we can achieve individually. So we’re actively working towards that.”He further explained that from his understanding, the expectations of the tourism Private Sector are that the GTA more actively market Guyana and that the Private Sector begin to see some economic benefits as market demand and awareness of what Guyana has to offer to tourists grows.In addition to more market benefits, Mullis said that people want to see more training opportunities. With that in mind, the agency recently completed a training needs analysis to better understand how to address current capacity needs.“It also became clear that our licensing system has not been working well. It was developed many years ago and many aspects of it are somewhat antiquated, given that the travel and tourism sectors are evolving on a year in year out and the industry looks very different today that it did when those regulations were first developed in 2002 and thereafter, when the GTA Act was established.”“So we have to look at revising that system entirely and we’ll be going through a stakeholder consultation process, probably starting late August, early September, to get feedback on the system that we’ve developed and be able to bring something to the sector that is much more accessible, user friendly and tied to tangible benefits that the sector can take.But Mullis acknowledged expectations that the coming oil boon will be leveraged by the GTA to bring more tourists to Guyana. And while he believes tourism will benefit from the economic growth that will accompany the sector, he noted that tourism can also align well with the Green State Development Strategy (GSDS).“I think that if we look at the GTA’s expectations, my expectations as Director are that we’ll strengthen the GTA so that it can be the best organisation that it can be in the areas of marketing and communications, licensing and capacity building and product development facilitation, which we play a major role in.”“Part of my mandate is also to raise funding to support tourism product development, capacity building related initiatives, so that’s something I’ve been actively focusing on,” he stated.Mid-year ReportThe recently released 2018 Mid-year Report does paint a favourable image of the sector. It states that in the first half of 2018, tourist arrivals increased by 18.3 per cent to 134,347 visitors, when compared to the same period in 2017.“This outturn was attributed to national events, sporting events, meetings and workshops, held during the review period. Of the visitors for the first half of 2018, those from the Caribbean and United States of America accounted for the largest share, of 48.6 per cent and 30.3 per cent, respectively.”“This increasing trend of visitor arrivals will continue in the second half, with the hosting of Caribbean T20 cricket, ICC (International Cricket Council) Women’s T20 Cricket World Cup and at least two international conferences,” the report states.