Queens Travel Agency Connects Little Guyana to Home


Walking the tree-lined streets of Richmond Hill, Queens, it’s easy to feel like you’ve taken the A train to the West Indies. Women flow past in colorful saris, Calypso music pounds from passing cars and Guyanese flags hang out of apartment windows. Newsstands sell papers from Georgetown, the capital. One restaurant promises to serve “real back home taste.” But for all the reminders of home this neighborhood offers its 17,600 Guyanese residents, it’s sometimes not enough.

That’s where Ryan Samaroo comes in. As a travel consultant for Universal Somwaru Travel and Tours, his job is to send people back home. As a native Guyanese, he’s eager to connect his people to their families and their country.

“Family in Guyana means everything and often a whole family or a village will travel and settle down somewhere together,” he says. “That’s how Richmond Hill has become Little Guyana.”

Ryan Samaroo and Samad Yeseen of Universal Somwaru Tours work on connecting Little Guyana to their home country.

Ryan Samaroo and Samad Yeseen of Universal Somwaru Tours work on connecting Little Guyana to their home country.

The Guyanese have been coming to New York City since the late 1960s and early 70s, when political and social unrest in Guyana were volatile. Some 144,000 foreign-born Guyanese immigrants live in the five boroughs, mostly in Richmond Hill, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. Many are small business owners and, more recently, real estate and travel agents.

Universal Somwaru has been on Liberty Avenue for more than 25 years. Six months ago, a pilot for United Airlines bought the business and hired Samaroo to run the daily operations. Tucked into a small second-story office, Universal is among several agencies in the area that specialize in arranging trips for people looking to return to Guyana or vacation in the Caribbean. What helps its business more than anything, Samaroo says, is its sister office in Georgetown, with which they keep in close contact.

“A lot of the business we get is from referrals,” Samad Yeseen, an accountant from the Guyana office, explains. “People come home to Guyana after taking a trip through us and they tell their families and friends. It’s all word of mouth.”

Shariff Mohamed, a truck driver living in Richmond Hill, is one of Universal’s most frequent customers. He has family living in Guyana and Toronto and travels every other month to visit them.

“A lot of people in the neighborhood go to Universal because they do such a good service,” Mohamed says. “My family in Guyana use them [also] when they come here because there’s such good deals on flights.”

The agency is considering launching a website that would “marry the two offices” and create better international advertising. Last month, they finished filming a commercial that will air twice daily on World Cable Television, a network that targets West Indian immigrants in New York.

“Our biggest income is coming from people originally from the West Indies,” Samaroo says of his neighbors on Liberty Avenue. “And our people live and buy locally. That’s what will keep us going.”

Photo – Scott Sell

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