Digital marketing specialist and social media influencer, Stacey Dos Santos-Rahaman is a ‘Special Person’
“In the next five years, I would love to see Guyana’s tourism sector improve and I would want to grow with Guyana and continue to partner with those engaged in it. Overall, the impact and experience will remain a positive one, for which, I am so thankful and grateful for.”
Making a case for online tourism in Guyana…
By Rehanna Ramsay
Kaieteur News – Heralded as the world’s top ecotourism destination, Guyana is home to some of the most pristine rainforests which are surrounded by rugged terrains, enchanting rivers, and waterfalls, as well as some of the most exotic plant and animal species.
Internationally, Guyana is regarded as “a birder paradise” given that it boasts over 820 species of exotic feathered creatures and holds the potential to engage tourists from across the world, who revel in bird watching activities. In addition to that, the country hosts some of the largest land and sea creatures earning it the name, ‘Land of the Giants’.
The majestic Kaieteur Falls, Kanuku Mountains, and the glorious Blue Lakes of Linden are just some of the more commonly known attractions, but the rich history, cultural heritage, and citizen hospitality should be enough to boost the country as a hot spot for international visitors coming to the Caribbean.
Yet, Guyana remains vastly undiscovered as a tourist destination. For, this reason, this week’s ‘Special Person’ has dedicated her life’s work to raising the profile of ‘Destination Guyana’ and promoting its beauty to the world.
Stacey Dos Santos-Rahaman, known to many on social media as the ‘Visit Guyana girl’, has been using her digital expertise and marketing skills to sell Guyana to potential visitors as well as those interested in travelling around their country.
Dos Santos-Rahaman created the Visit Guyana website and social media accounts less than a decade ago. Today, both the Facebook and Instagram handle for Visit Guyana collectively have over 300,000 followers and 30,000 on its rapidly growing TikTok account. For last year alone, those three outlets attracted at least 16 million visitors.
On the occasion of Tourism Awareness onth, observed in November annually, Dos Santos-Rahaman sat down with Kaieteur News to share the story of how she became what most would refer to as a social media influencer.
During the interview with Kaieteur News, Dos Santos-Rahaman appeared quite coy about her accomplishment, in this regard.
“I guess you can call me that (influencer), but for me, the work that I do is for my country, I want people to know about Guyana, how beautiful and culturally rich it is, especially those in the diaspora.
I like giving them something to show their children or something to look forward to when they come home,” Dos Santos-Rahaman said.
But before she could have embarked on her social media journey, Dos Santos-Rahaman was able to earn herself credentials in the field of tourism and digital marketing.
She told Kaieteur News that her decision to conduct studies in tourism development came as a result of what seemed at the time, like a missed opportunity but in hindsight, she is most grateful for how everything turned out.
She explained, “I had just come out of high school and I wanted to enter the Computer Science programme at UG [University of Guyana] but the programme was closed.
So, I figured, instead of doing nothing, let me do something else until the course opened up again. At that time, UG was offering a course in Tourism Studies and I enrolled for it.”
As a result of academic pursuits, Dos Santos-Rahaman earned herself certificates from the University in both courses, Tourism and Computer Science. Those qualifications, she said, landed her a second job as the Information Administrator (IT Admin) at the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA).
“And that’s where I fell in love with the tourism industry,” Dos Santos-Rahaman said, adding, “I got to experience firsthand what I had only learned about in theory at UG.”
This was quite an exhilarating and interesting time for the young graduate who had just entered the world of work. “There is where I began to gather knowledge about my country…and saw the beauty of Guyana that you sometimes hear foreigners talking about. I got to experience it for the first time and learned so much about our biodiversity,” she said. “So it’s a full-circle moment to have fallen in love with tourism at the GTA and to now be able to sit on its board as a director.”
The digital marketing provider and entrepreneur shared briefly on her “countryside upbringing.” “I grew at Vreed-en-Hoop on the West Coast of Demerara at a time when there was limited running water. We didn’t have much growing up, but my mother, Ruby, a single parent, ensured that my brother and I were cared for. She was a teacher so education was already a top priority in our household and she instilled those values of work ethic and integrity. Her words were always that we make something useful with our lives,” she said.
Dos Santos-Rahaman said she remains grateful to her mother for those principles.
As a result, Dos Santos-Rahaman made her academic pursuits paramount. She attended the St. Gabriel’s Primary School, St. Stanislaus College and by the time she was 17 years old, she had already embarked on a tertiary level education at the University of Guyana. Reminiscent of those years, Dos Santos-Rahaman also credited her high school for helping to mould her into the individual she is today.
“At Saints is where I learned a lot about myself. I began to develop and evolve into my own person, know what I liked, explored career options and so on…many of the friends I had then, I still keep in contact with them,” she said, “they continue to be a valued part of my journey.”
Today, Dos Santos-Rahaman wears many hats. She is a wife to her husband Chris, mother to two adoring daughters, entrepreneur and co-founder of Christa Marketing Solutions, a digital marketing firm; IT specialist, tourism advocate, consultant, content creator and the list goes on.
She told Kaieteur News that indeed her work has expanded from when she first ventured out to start promoting Guyana’s tourism on her own terms. She explained that when she first began sharing information on the internet using the heading ‘Visit Guyana’, it was part of her efforts to educate her friends in Grenada about the beauty of her homeland. Having worked in the local tourism sector for three years, she moved to Grenada where she was employed by a Tourism Magazine development company on the island.
According to Dos Santos-Rahaman, “that is when it dawned on me that not much is known about Guyana’s [bountiful] tourism potential outside of the country; not even in the Caribbean.”
“There was basically a lot of negatives being said out there, so I created the Facebook page initially to share some positives about us as Guyanese; our culture, our food, and so on. I started by uploading information and images to teach them about simple things that happen in our culture like Diwali and Emancipation. And you would be surprised to know that not many people; even some of our Caribbean neighbours know what those celebrations are about. So it was a means of educating and enlightening them on our vast and diverse culture, biodiversity and way of life,” she said.
Dos Santos-Rahaman noted that in time, her “passion project” evolved into something bigger. “It became my heart on social media because I was literally investing my time and energy in content creation. Sharing locations, scenery, cuisine, freshly grown vegetables, and fruits…and in time, people began liking and sharing our stuff online. We started getting messages from Guyanese and people from all over the world expressing how much they enjoyed the content.
Dos Santos-Rahaman said that the page continues to garner popularity on social media. It creates nostalgia for citizens living outside of Guyana. It educates non-Guyanese and presents Guyana as an option for them to visit.
“Nothing beats getting a text or message on the Visit Guyana page telling me, ‘Your page has inspired me to return home and bring my entire family for a visit’,” she said with pride.
UPS AND DOWNS
As it is with any venture, Dos Santos-Rahaman has seen her share of ups and downs in her quest to advocate for improvements in the local tourism sector and even to promote it.
She explained that, “Many stakeholders didn’t quite understand the impact of social media at the time and there was definitely a push back and an unwillingness to initially embrace what we were doing. So, it took a while for them to warm up to the idea that social media is a powerful tool for promotion.”
As a board member of the GTA, Dos Santos-Rahaman continues to advocate for training and development in this and many other areas. Apart from the challenges, Dos Santos-Rahaman said that there have been many good experiences. For instance, her work has so far copped three awards for providing supporting services to Destination Guyana – another for her Destination Guyana promotion online and Tourism Entrepreneur of the year for her Visit Guyana Magazine.Added to this, she noted that there are many who continue to support the work Visit Guyana does and she is grateful for that. “Some of our main supporters include, Digicel, Demerara Distillers Limited, Giftland Mall. We also have the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana (THAG) with whom we partner to promote Guyana Restaurant Week online. We also liaise with a lot of local companies to organise trips for international visitors and persons returning to Guyana from overseas,” she added.
While she expresses hope that Guyana’s tourism will take on another dimension with adequate resources and expertise to support it, Dos Santos-Rahaman is keeping herself “booked and busy,” as she continues to push Visit Guyana as a means of inspiring people to visit this destination.
During her interview, Dos Santos-Rahaman shared some of the highlights of her Visit Guyana journey. In this regard, she noted that while she had many, the most rewarding moments have been, the fact that she gets to “show my kids the beauty of their homeland and create beautiful memories with them.”
She notes that, “No awards can compare to the precious time spent with family. No experience can compare to being able to stand at the top of Kaieteur Falls with my eldest and listen to her describe it to me through her own eyes. None can compare to watching her awake at 5:00 am to catch a glimpse of a “star bird” or giving her the space to create her own birding life list or develop her own passion and love of nature.”
“Nothing can compare to my youngest wanting to step in front of my camera lens at 6am and flawlessly delivering facts about anteaters and manatees…facts I hadn’t even realised she knew but was obviously listening to.
“To watch them start their own journey through life. To be witness to the beauty each age and phase bring and giving them guidance but also the space to blossom into productive humans.”
The tourism advocate notes that the impact on her children has the ability to live on for generations, and without even realising it, she may be inspiring the next generation of tourism advocates; one that would realise and elevate Guyana’s tourism sector to the level she always dreamed of.
Counting her overall experience with tourism in Guyana as a blessing, Dos Santos-Rahaman hopes to remain an ally to local and international stakeholders. “In the next five years, I would love to see Guyana’s tourism sector improve and I would want to grow with Guyana and continue to partner with those engaged in it. Overall, the impact and experience will remain a positive one, for which, I am so thankful and grateful for,” she stated.