By Kurt Campbell
Guyanese authorities have pushed ahead with observing the calendar event of Tourism Awareness Month, but this year, it is happening in the shadows of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the economy slumbering since Guyana recorded its first COVID-19 case and death in March, craft producers at the Hibiscus Craft Plaza, in downtown Georgetown, are still trying to come to grips with the forbidding reality.
Measures instituted by the government to curb the spread of the deadly disease, resulted in the closure of schools, bars, restaurants, the international airports, and businesses, which were deemed non-essential.
It was only in September that the government started to reopen the economy in phases while the airports reopened its doors on October 12 to commercial flights. But this did little to ease the burdens of the craft producers.
Some plying their trade on the outskirts of the Post Office in the Lacytown area for more than a decade, say this period goes down in history as the worst for business.
Many of them have closed the doors to their shops since March and while a small percentage reopened a few months ago, many have recently opened but to the sad reality that tourist traffic is almost nonexistent.
The business owners say they have been forced into survival mode. Jacqueline King, proprietor of joy’s craft shop, has been operating her business at the location for some 17 years.
Closed since February because of the March 02 elections, King only reopened her business in October. She says was forced into survival mode, living off of her good deeds.
“This is a sad time for craft business and tourism. Even though the airport is reopened, we are not getting sales here. Most days nothing at all and then some days you don’t even sell to get enough money to put gas in your vehicle.
“I am renting and we pay $7,900 to the post office but we haven’t been paying since and the post office is demanding their money… we wrote the Minister of Tourism and the relevant authorities for help… we are hoping that the Minister could pay the money for us or even pay half, a 50 per cent,” King told the News Room on Tuesday.
King said November is generally out of season time for craft producers; she said previous Novembers were bad but this one is the worst.
Meanwhile, King David, who is the owner of Culture Ambassador Establishment, explained that after closing his shop on March 10 and reopening three months later, he is still dealing with the “devastation” of COVID-19 on his business.
“We learn in October that the airport is going to reopen…tourist awareness month is a calendar of activities, but us here who ply this trade we haven’t gotten the tourist flow. They come by but they come seldomly and they do a few purchases but we haven’t gotten that impression that it is a tourist month or tourist boost hence we are here in survival mode,” he explained.
David said he is personally unconvinced that the country is overwhelmed with tourist activities in observance of tourism awareness month.
The News Room also caught up with Marsha from Marsha’s Leather and Craft, who is similarly affected. She has been operating her business on the craft plaza for five years.
“I don’t have my employees right now; they are at home still because we cannot afford to pay them because there are no sales.
“The situation is difficult…we don’t have the support of tourist coming in. We depend on the customers to pay our bills so if they don’t come, it’s difficult for us,” she added.
Marsha said she is still working out her own plan for recovery but continues to work, even if it means carrying the load by herself.
The craft producers say they welcome any relief being offered by the government.