By Ray Chickrie
Caribbean News Now contributor
PARAMARIBO, Suriname -- Jerry A-Kum, director of Suriname Tourism Foundation (STF), full of energy and grand plans to develop Suriname’s tourism industry, shared in his office some achievements, and current and future plans that his organisation has to improve the tourism product of his native Suriname and the Guianas.
Jerry A-Kum, Director of Suriname Tourism Foundation
The STF is the official tourism body of Suriname and it represents the country nationally, regionally and internationally. The purpose of the foundation is to develop, promote and brand Suriname as an attractive tourism destination. The goal of the STF is to develop different activities mainly in the field of marketing and promotion, product development, education and information. These goals A-Kum hopes can be achieved by consultation with both the public and private sector stakeholders.
Guiana Shield Cooperation
According to A-Kum, there are ongoing discussions on a draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana to develop and market the Guiana Shield as one.
A-Kum and Suriname’s minister of transportation and tourism, Andojo Rusland, have had meetings with Guyanese and French officials to conclude the MOU which is expected to be signed soon. A-Kum wants to see the Guianas coordinate policies and joint-marketing to develop the tourism industry as one.
In September 2016, Guyana’s minister of business, Dominic Gaskin, met with Rusland to discuss matters relating to the promotion of tourism in the Guianas. One of the objectives of the meeting was to address the removal of obstacles restricting hassle-free travel between the two countries.
Additionally, when President Desi Bouterse visited Guyana this past December, the two countries issued a joint communiqué stating that technical officials from Guyana and Suriname will meet to discuss issues in relation to the protection of the environment, agricultural trade, tourism, and investment and cross border activities, through their respective committees.
Ironically, the roll on/roll off ferry service between Guyana and Suriname, which was funded by the European Union (EU), has been out of service for some time. The blame for this debacle keeps shifting between Guyana and Suriname. However, it illustrates both countries’ ineffectiveness in efficiently and effectively administering the ferry service to enhance the integration of the Guianas.
In addition, there are concerns in Guyana that Suriname is restricting Guyana-based airlines from accessing its airports. On the other hand, Surinam Airways (SLM) is looking to expand its Guyana hub to include Havana and New York City. Currently, SLM flies to Miami, Paramaribo and Orlando from Georgetown. SLM is seeking Fifth and Seventh Freedom rights to carry passengers from Georgetown to Havana and New York City. Currently the NY/Guyana route is mostly served by charter companies like Fly Jamaica, Eastern Airlines and Dynamic Airways.
Tourism Research Unit: Visitor Survey
A-Kum has tapped the support of SESRIC, an organ of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), to help his foundation compile comprehensive and accurate data relating to tourism. SESRIC and Indonesia are helping Suriname to build statistical capacity in the compilation, production and dissemination of tourism statistics by supporting capacity building programs, including short-term training and a workshop.
With the support of Indonesia, SESRIC last year conducted a workshop on tourism satellite accounts, a standardized framework and tool for the economic measurement of tourism. A training workshop was conducted in August 2016, and another is slated for February 2017 in Paramaribo. An Indonesian expert will again visit Suriname to conduct the workshop.
The visitor surveys were conducted during the busy holiday season and, according to A-Kum, “The data will give a better idea of what the country earns through tourism.” The surveys were extended to all major entry and exit points across Suriname, Nickerie, Albina, Zorg-En- Hoop and Johan Pengel Airport. In the past, these surveys were only conducted at the Johan Pengel International Airport.
According to A-Kum, the results of data will be out in March. The data will reveal visitors spending, activities, and needs and constrains facing the industry.
It will enable Suriname to take measures to improve and address its tourism product.
”This will convince policy makers; people may see that tourism can tackle poverty, and create job opportunities,” A-Kum concluded.
A-Kum has brought together many stakeholders in the tourism industry, and is forging cooperation with them all. STF has signed MOUs with as the Suriname Bureau of Statics, Conservation International, the General Bureau of Statistics, and the United Tour Guides of Suriname. In addition, STF has a close working relationship with the Central Bank and the Airport Authorities of Suriname.
Marketing Expansion and Constraints
A-Kum is keen to market Suriname more and is facing great financial constraints in achieving this goal. Suriname participates in travel shows in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. However, there is little marketing in North America and the Caribbean, and he wants to see this improve. Joint marketing by the Guianas could save all countries money and expand their market outreach.
STF has been working behind the scenes to convince legislators to address the tourism legislation in Parliament. By February 2017 parliament has promised to pass tourism legislation to govern and direct the industry. These new laws are long overdue and President Bouterse has called on legislators to get it done.
September 2017 will be declared “Tourism Month” in Suriname to sensitise the public and policymakers about tourism. According to A-Kum, there will be numerous activities during the entire month to enhance tourism awareness. Many of these activities will culminate on September 27 to coincide with World Tourism Day.