Could Suriname Develop into an Alternative to the Caribbean?

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A report by Josh Lew for TravelPulse.

Suriname occupies a kind of tourism no-man’s land between the Caribbean and the Spanish and Lusophone destinations to its south. Geographically part of South America, the country, a former Dutch colony, has more in common culturally with Caribbean nations than with Brazil or Venezuela. The same Caribbean ties are true in neighboring Guyana as well.

Suriname has been on the travel media’s radar for a while. Back in 2011, the New York Times called it “South America’s hidden gem,” and more recently Lonely Planet named it one of best up and coming destinations in the world.

A lack of infrastructure and sparse airline options have hampered any efforts to really capitalize on this buzz (though there has been a modest increase in the number of international arrivals over the past few years). The newly formed Suriname Tourism Foundation is hoping to change this, and it is looking to its international connections to help.

At least one travel firm sees opportunity in this newly ambitious country. TUI is offering a package vacation that includes stops in Suriname and the more popular island destination of Curacao. Unfortunately for American travelers who want to mix Curacao’s beaches and casinos with jungle ecotourism and cultural excursions, the package is only available via Amsterdam. It makes sense to start in the Netherlands because both Curacao and Suriname are Dutch speaking (although creole languages are used on the street).

The Curacao-Suriname package will include a code-sharing deal between TUIfly and Suriname’s flag carrier, Surinam Airways.

Surinam Airways has long sought partnerships with regional airlines like Air Jamaica and Caribbean Airlines, but it has always been turned away by the executives of these larger carriers. Now that it has enjoyed a profitable year in 2016, Surinam is finally in a place where expansion is more realistic. Its executives are in talks with Turkish Airlines, and there is the potential of a major code-sharing agreement on the horizon.

In the nearer future, Surinam wants to expand its base in Georgetown, the capital of neighboring Guyana. Guyana does not have a flag carrier, and Surinam is poised to step in to take that role with flights from Havana and New York in addition to already-established service to Miami and Orlando. The number of flights between Georgetown and Suriname’s capital, Paramaribo, may also be increased. Right now, charter airlines are the only real competitors on any of these routes.

The Curacao and Guyana partnerships seem to fit in with Suriname’s latest strategy for tourism growth: partnering with neighbors to market the region, sometimes referred to as the Guiana Shield, as one destination. Officials from Suriname, Guyana and France, which oversees French Guiana, are working on a memorandum of understanding that would oblige the nations to remove obstacles that currently make cross-border travel difficult.

What would Suriname have to offer in such a partnership?

The Suriname Tourism Foundation website focuses on the country’s natural attractions and ecotourism. That is an obvious choice given that the population is only about half-a-million and the land is mostly undeveloped and roughly the size of Florida. The former Dutch colony (Dutch is still an official language) attempts to differentiate itself from its anglophone neighbor Guyana by highlighting its melting pot of cultures. Suriname has Dutch, African, South Asia, Javanese, Chinese and Amerindian populations as well as communities of so-called Maroons, descendants of escaped slaves.

Suriname is trying to build public support for its efforts with a Tourism Month this coming September. However, diplomats and airline and travel company executives will be responsible for the first steps towards developing this region of northern South America into a destination that will be more accessible than the Latin American Amazon and more authentic and culture-oriented than many resort destinations in the Caribbean.

If these infrastructure improvements and promotional efforts are successful, travelers will have another alternative to the mainstream destinations in the Caribbean.

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