Many Guyanese nationals in Canada, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), return to the land of their birth annually for business, vacation, family celebrations, national festivals and the Christmas and Easter holidays to reconnect with family or friends or introduce their Canadian-born children to their parents’ birthplace.
How many actually visit, where do they stay and how much they spend are some of the questions that University of the West Indies (UWI) lecturer and program coordinator Dr. Sherma Roberts is seeking answers to for a research project on Diaspora tourism flows from the GTA to Guyana.
The UWI and the International Development Research Centre of Canada are collaborating on the project.
“One of the things we are trying to do is provide empirical evidence to what is the role and contributions of the Diaspora,” Roberts, who heads the Masters in Tourism Studies program at Cave Hill campus in Barbados, told Share while in Toronto last week. “Yes, there are remittances, but we want to see from a tourism point of view what is the Diaspora doing because in the global economic crisis, almost all of the Caribbean countries have shown double digit decline in their tourism arrival figures with the exception of Jamaica, Cuba and Guyana.
“One of the reasons for Guyana doing so well is that they have a huge Diaspora tourism segment that remains untapped and unexplored. It’s just happening, but there is no deliberate marketing strategy on the part of the Guyana government.”
Interested Guyanese can fill out a questionnaire that is located at www.surveymonkey.com/S/5FZ7CYK.
Similar studies are being done with Surinamese residing in The Netherlands, Jamaicans in England and nationals from the Dominican Republic based in New York.
The findings will be presented at the 35th annual Conference of the Caribbean Studies Association in Barbados from May 24-28 and the results will be published at the end of June.
Trinidadian-born Roberts, who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree and a postgraduate diploma in International Relations from the UWI, a Masters in Tourism Planning and Development from the University of Surrey and a PhD in Tourism from Brunel University in England, said the research project has turned into an interesting personal journey.
“What I have found particularly moving is the large volume of work the Guyanese Diaspora is doing for the development of Guyana in terms of building communities and schools and intellectual and social capital,” she said. “It says the Diaspora is more than remittances and that’s an important statement to make.”
Roberts coordinated the first ever UWI International Tourism Conference in Barbados last December.
The conference provided participants with the opportunity to reflect on the global economic meltdown and its impact on tourism and seek ways to enhance the competitiveness of the Caribbean tourism product.
“Many emerging tourism destinations in Eastern Europe and Africa are giving the Caribbean tourism product a serious run for its money,” said Roberts who has been at the UWI since September 2005. “The Caribbean tourism product has to transcend sun, sea and sand. It might be our core product, but the new tourist is looking for an experience that goes beyond what is easily substitutable.
“There needs to be a level of innovation that has to go into marketing and for us to decide what it is that we want to offer. Having said that, there is a fine line between what we want and what the market wants because sometimes the market demands things that compromise maybe our moral, social and environmental fabric. It’s a delicate balance, but it has to be research-led.
“For far too long, Caribbean tourism has been intuitive and led by persons who have not trained or disciplined themselves to learn about tourism. Everybody is an authority on tourism, but tourism, like medicine or engineering, requires a certain set of tools. We have to raise our game because our competitors are aggressive and very intelligent.”