By Rehana Ahamad
THE majority of businesses in the tourism sector have closed since March 2020, due to the deadly effects of the new coronavirus, which quickly escalated to a pandemic. Since then there have been several calls for government to strategize and provide options for reopening to stakeholders.
The administration, through the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA,), responded to the calls by establishing two-step reopening criteria that require the comprehensive creation and implementation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that accompany the COVID protocols -19 national.
After several weeks of inviting businesses to go through the process and safely reopen their operations, only 17 businesses have participated in the process. Of these, 13 entities have been approved, while four are currently working to fulfill the requirements.
GTA Director Carla James said that while some stakeholders had been well received by the simple phased reopening, the FRS was anticipating much greater participation, particularly given the lack of patience of businesses to reopen.
James noted that Guyana has a total of 187 registered tourism businesses, which covers
122 Tourism Accommodation Organizations (TAE), 31 Inner Accommodation and Destinations and 34 Tour Operators.
Despite the disappointments, James said that the FRS understands the difficulties that stakeholders have faced over the past year, and the difficulties they may still be facing.
“We recognize and understand the challenges with businesses putting in place the necessary systems, especially as they have been closed for more than eight months with no revenue or cash flow,” James sympathized.
He noted that the FRS is committed to providing whatever technical assistance is required for businesses to complete the reopening process. The agency has developed a template of SoP, which is available for businesses to implement. Once the SoPs are approved, the FRS would then conduct an on-site inspection of the business. As long as inspectors were satisfied with the implementation of the SoP, the entity would be approved for reopening.
James had previously explained that the inspection team would conduct their visit in a manner that tests the ability of businesses to operate effectively and safely under adequate COVID-19 measures.
“For example, if we ask staff how they serve lunch, they must be able to explain seating arrangements to ensure that people sit a few feet apart, that meals are plated and served, and that waiters and guests are sanitized and so on, ”explains James.
To further assist businesses, the FRS has developed a recommended health sanitation protocol for the tourism industry, which continues to be disseminated to various tourism businesses.
Businesses that have been approved to operate will be considered “safe for travel” destinations, which would also benefit from a cost-free promotion from the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce. James noted that the FRS will not be harsh with tourism businesses, and that support will be offered to all entities that need to get their affairs in order. However, those who refuse to act within the COVID-19 guidelines will face consequences. “If they refuse to do so, then we will have to give a disclaimer notice that anyone who orders with these companies is basically putting themselves at risk, because they haven’t been approved by the authorities , ”He said.