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Improving the Tourism Economy in Suriname

Futurpreneur | October 29, 2014

Tim Rudkins, Small Business Coach & Solopreneur

I’ll be going back to Suriname later in November to work with some of the eco-lodges who want to get more clients, build revenue, etc. For those of you who don’t know the country of Suriname, it is located on the north-east coast of South America and was a former Dutch colony. What is fascinating about Suriname is that it is still stuck in the 70’s. For example: the eco-lodges still believe their clients are Dutch backpackers and that they will only pay $20/day for a nice place to sleep, with all meals, in paradise.

Arriving in Suriname last year, it took me about two days to figure out how to fix the micro-economy – if someone in authority wanted to do that. My recommendations were as follows:

Cater to your market’s language. 
There are about 30 million people in the world that speak Dutch or some form of it, and they live a long way away from Suriname. There are around 500 million English speakers just north of Suriname, and there is about the same in Spanish and close to that in Portuguese surrounding Suriname. Why are all the websites and information in Dutch?  Even the Dutch speak English. The ministry of Tourism is just now thinking about creating a website in English, but right now the problem is that if you speak English, Spanish or Portuguese you can’t find Suriname let alone book a bed.

Understand your niche.
Cheap, Dutch backpackers are not a niche. It’s a ticket to poverty. Suriname has several great things going for it and none of them are exploited. It has fabulous scenery with some of the last big chunks of rainforest left. It has great Jewish history with the first Jewish settlements in South America. Best of all, it has superb African/Black history with the Maroon culture. The Maroons (West African slaves) not only broke away from the Dutch, they then defeated them and built their own settlements and culture in the country. There is a huge opportunity for those of an African-American descent who want to visit a place with a huge history, but the issue is, they’d have to speak Dutch!

Build basic infrastructure.
Suriname is in many ways quite modern – except they won’t build the simple things that help small business. Credit cards can’t be accepted because setting up accounts is more or less impossible. Internet in many of the areas is almost non-existent even though all the towers and access is there. So, not only can’t you find the lodges on the internet, you can’t email them to ask for a reservation, nor can you book or pay with a credit card. If you want to travel there, you have to go through incredible hoops, bring lots of cash and hope you can find something. Gee, I wonder if that is a long-term, winning, strategy.

So, my advice to small developing countries who want to earn some extra cash in tourism, cater to your market’s language, build some niches and ensure basic infrastructure is in place.  People want to come. Don’t make it so hard!