Why Guyana’s Tourism is Critical for Conservation
How can a visit to Guyana as a tourist actually improve the country? Read about tourism for conservation in Guyana here.
Background on Tourism in Guyana
For its small size, Guyana is home to a burgeoning tourism industry. In 2019, roughly 315,000 international visitors enjoyed Guyana’s natural attractions, coastal cities, and wandering rivers. Guyana attracts a host of tourists from all over the world, though a majority of them come from the United States. Different from other countries in South America, Guyana is English-speaking due to its unique colonial history; the country was colonized by the Dutch and later the English. Neighboring countries have shared French and Portuguese roots with Guyana, and the British brought indentured servants from China, Portugal, and India in the 19th century, communities that form a critical part of Guyana’s cultural tapestry. The official language of Guyana is English, but Guyanese Creole is commonly spoken among residents. This makes Guyana an attractive and accessible destination for travel.
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Guyana is its rainforest, and there is little reason to wonder why: home to thousands of diverse species, several breathtaking freshwater lakes and rivers, and parts of the greater Amazon rainforest, Guyana has one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world. With 87% rainforest cover, it is an ideal place for a true conservation adventure. Guyana is a place where travelers itching for adventure can dive headfirst into the tropical rainforest in search of incredible wildlife that they’d never see in a busier Amazon destination. Moreover, tourism in Guyana supports its national economy: a 2018 report shows that the tourism sector is the 2nd largest export sector for Guyana, injecting roughly $62.6 billion Guyanese dollars into the national economy. That’s nearly 8 percent of the country’s total GDP.
Tourism in Guyana supports two positive outcomes. First, it aims to increase the welfare of people who support tourism in Guyana through job opportunities and adequate pay. Second, it strives to preserve the cultural and natural heritage of the diverse communities and landscapes that define the country. In order to address both of these goals, there are social, environmental, cultural, and economic factors that drive tourism objectives. In 2019, Guyana was named #1 for best eco-tourism practices across the world. But what exactly does sustainability mean or look like in the tourism industry?
How does Guyana’s Tourism Impact Cultural Conservation?
A critical aspect about conservation in Guyana is cultural heritage, including 9 indigenous groups and Afro- and Indian-descent populations that make up the country. Indigenous communities in particular are underrepresented in the Guyanese government, and cultural conservation is a hot-button issue in both Guyanese tourism and in government affairs.
Tourism offers visitors a unique way to support different communities in Guyana while contributing to efforts in cultural conservation. A visit to one of the country’s many Amerindian villages provides money and work to its residents in exchange for educational experiences and a glimpse into rural Guyanese village life. Sites of cultural fusion and coexistence, such as Guyana’s capital Georgetown, gives visitors a chance to experience and support the confluence of people and establishments that define Guyana as a cultural melting pot. But the most impactful experiences, such as those which support conservation efforts through research and education can be found only in the most remote pockets of Guyanese society. For example, a visit to Warapoka Village will enable you to participate in a cultural exchange: learn about local Warau customs and traditions through the people who live there.
How does Guyana’s Tourism Impact Environmental Conservation?
In general, tourism has the potential to increase public appreciation of the environment and spread awareness of environmental problems by introducing people to the wonders of the natural world. Revenue from tourism can also directly fund conservation or nature protection efforts. Revenue generated from national park and protected area entrance fees can be directly channeled back into park management. This funding provides an economic incentive for government actors, interested stakeholders, residents, and business owners to continue protecting the areas.
Nature tourism also impacts the individual – visiting the rainforest and seeing the complex entwined ecosystems shifts one’s reality in a way that most people do not experience regularly. Many visitors become humbled, confronting the relative insignificance of their material lives juxtaposed with the ecosystems on which all our lives depend. This interaction with the wild world generally increases awareness of the value of nature, and leads to environmentally conscious behavior and activities to preserve the environment.
Tourism is one of the most important and viable ways that people – domestic and international – can support Guyana. As a country with relatively few resources to support and conserve its natural environment, tourism provides money and business that generates interest in the unmatched beauty and the unique biodiversity that Guyana boasts. Tourism also serves marginalized populations in Guyana, giving them both the financial means and the interest both to live self-sufficiently and to lobby for political influence effectively. The tourism industry must continue to play a key role in providing environmental information and raising awareness among visitors to Guyana for these reasons.
Can I volunteer to support conservation in Guyana?
Even if you do not have specific biological or conservation experience, there are numerous opportunities for tourists of all backgrounds to directly support cultural and environmental conservation efforts while traveling in Guyana. However, while considering the most effective South American conservation volunteering opportunities, do your research carefully to select one that will make a positive impact. Consider an opportunity that involves indigenous peoples in local management to connect more deeply to the landscape and ensure the money you spend stays with the community you visit.
At Friends of Wallacea, we are proud to run our tours with the Warau community at Warapoka Village, focused on conservation and tourism as a way of generating economic growth and employment for locals. Visitors can expect an entirely unique experience that centers on experiencing true rural indigenous life, while supporting scientists and local conservationists’ efforts to protect the forest. Each activity on the itinerary provides a new understanding of Guyana’s wildlife and indigenous cultures: expect rainforest walks, anaconda spotting, lectures from naturalists, wildlife surveys to spot monkeys or track jaguars, medicinal plant demonstrations, indigenous storytelling, archeological sites, and more. This is one of the world’s best wildlife conservation volunteer opportunities that allows visitors to experience a uniquely wild place through the eyes of its indigenous defenders.
Taking part in this conscientious experience illuminates exactly why Guyana’s rainforests are some of the most special places on earth, and gives you a chance to protect them. As climate change worsens, protecting Guyana’s wild areas is only going to become more important. Come help us defend this last wildlife frontier alongside the Warau people of Warapoka! ‘
How Will My Volunteer Experience With Friends of Wallacea Help Warapoka Village?
In addition to your stay contributing financial support to the village and the Warau guides, you will have the direct opportunity to participate in wildlife monitoring. Simply defined, ecosystem monitoring is the act of taking measurements of ecological factors over a sustained period of time. Ecosystem monitoring might focus on a single environmental variable, or it might place emphasis on geographical or temporal parameters. In some cases, ecosystem monitoring can aggregate sets of data to track overarching changes over time.
In Warapoka, this work is critical, because although the Warapoka community has intimate knowledge of their local environment and ecosystems, wildlife behavior and abundance has never formally been recorded and tracked over time. Your information gathering will directly contribute to local conservation efforts in Warapoka, and potentially wider policy decisions in the future.
If you have no experience doing ecosystem monitoring, you are still welcome. Naturalists trained by Operation Wallacea, as well as local guides from Warapoka, will accompany and support you through all the surveys. You will also learn about each methodology and how it contributes to understanding and conservation of species during naturalist lectures throughout the week. This tour is designed for non-biologists, so come as you are.
What is the Future of Tourism in Guyana?
Community-led wildlife tourism is the base of Guyana’s tourism industry. The Guyana Tourism Authority, Guyana’s tourism promotion organization, is developing products that further this mission, and travel experts predict this country’s reputation as a desirable international destination will only continue to grow. Tourists love visiting Guyana!
The future of Guyanese tourism will likely build upon not only government-sanctioned tourism projects, but also upon indigenous knowledge. In many areas of the country, reliance on indigenous methods of conservation is necessary for wildlife survival and community welfare. The volunteer program offered through Friends of Wallacea blends both environmental and cultural conservation through its unique education-centered tours run by local conservationists and scientists at Warapoka Village. This program is unique to the individual needs presented within Warapoka’s Warau community, bearing an impact not only on wildlife and their habitats, but also on the people who rely on them. It is therefore crucial to employ indigenous methods of conservation to prevent habitat loss, environmental ruin, species extinction, and cultural erasure.
Because Guyana holds some of the most well-conserved rainforest in the world, it is crucial to protect the land. Tourism in Guyana currently prioritizes and will continue to uphold a standard of sustainable tourism practices, generating jobs for residents and travel opportunities for eager adventurers. For tourists who wish to engage with the one-of-a-kind sights and wildlife that inhabit the country, Guyana is a new, exciting, and attractive tourist destination for adventurers, travel enthusiasts, and green-thumbed individuals alike.
What is the Future of Tourism in Guyana?
Yes, it can! When practiced responsibly, tourism holds an important place in both environmental and cultural conservation. With a 50% native plant species population and 4% of all the known animal species in the world, Guyana has an especially compelling opportunity to employ responsible tourism practices.
One report shows that about 7.8% of the country’s GDP comes from tourism, and over 22,000 jobs are directly tied to the industry. Tourism in Guyana is conservatively estimated to be 123 million USD industry. This accounts for a significant amount of wealth and jobs in Guyana, which proves that tourism is not only beneficial for the environment and for biological conservation, but also for locals’ economic livelihoods.
Visitors have the opportunity to educate themselves about the land they’re visiting, participate in initiatives that conserve precious natural resources, and actively work to keep those places beautiful and healthy. For example, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities for visitors, both for short periods and long-term projects. In Guyana, there are different options you can take, including volunteering and temporarily living in lodges, owned and operated by local and indigenous communities. This is just one example that works not only to mitigate and reverse damages done to the natural environment, but also to generate income for people who run tourism services locally. A win, win, win for you, the country, and the people!