March 10, 2021

Dear BTIA Member:

For the first time in a year, there is more good tourism news to report than bad. Why the optimism?

  1. Vaccinations have started in Belize. With the arrival of an initial shipment of 26,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, our Ministry of Health and  Wellness has begun to vaccinate essential personnel and people over 60. In phase two, 8,000 frontline tourism personnel will receive the vaccine.
  2. Vaccinations in the United States –our prime tourism market—are advancing at a rapid pace. This means more Americans are willing to travel. The result has been a corresponding increase in inquiries as well as future bookings for Belizean properties. Most tourism destinations countrywide are reporting an increase in visitor traffic.
  3. Protocols for entry into Belize have been relaxed, making it easier for visitors to enter the country without compromising national health. The most recent decision to admit fully vaccinated tourists without testing is most welcome. Even the inconvenient U.S. requirement that all people entering that country—including U.S. citizens—must be tested before boarding their flight was met by a quick response from our public and private health sectors, offering
    timely testing at countrywide destinations.
  4. Airlift, following deep capacity and route cuts by our traditional suppliers, is rebounding nicely. Our authorities are in advanced discussions with existing carriers as well as several new ones. Southwest is expected to resume service later in the year, and COPA will be back in June, opening the Central and South American markets and Europe via its Panama hub. United is poised to increase its Denver service frequency as demand from that city continues to grow impressively. Finally, the Mexico City-Belize route, reluctantly abandoned by Aero Mexico before the pandemic, is being actively considered by several other Mexican carriers.
  5. Local tourism exceeded expectations and provided many hotels and restaurants with a revenue stream that, while not huge, in some cases meant the difference between hanging on or going out of business. The recent March 8th long weekend saw thousands of Belizeans on the move all over the country, spending money and getting to know their country. In Cayo, with the still-under-construction new road improving access to the Mountain Pine Ridge, local tourists thronged to the Rio On Pools, Big Rock Falls, and other attractions, including privately-owned resorts, restaurants, and specialized activities. No doubt, the long Easter weekend will see even more local tourism.

If I had to emphasize one of the above positive developments over the other, it would be the last one. Without question, the visitor from abroad will always be the financial driver of Belizean tourism, but it is the “coming of age” of the local tourist market that will be remembered long after the pandemic is a distant memory.

Why? The pandemic has taught us that those local dollars are a valuable refuge in an economic crisis, but it is more than that. Imagine if all those thousands who got to know their country over the last year continued the habit. What if, instead of going to Chetumal, Bacalar, Playa, Mahahual, Cancun, Miami, and New York, most Belizeans holidayed in Belize?

Not only would the country benefit economically, but once Belizeans realize how great a destination their home is, the result is a newfound pride in the country and sense of confidence that is the absolute prerequisite to the nation’s future success.

So as a stakeholder in the tourism industry, what can I do? Give special rates that make it possible for the average Belizean to enjoy what your enterprise has to offer. Advertise those offers instead of waiting for a local guest to ask you for a “special deal.” And finally, train your staff to treat Belizean guests with the same friendly service you provide foreigners. No, make that better service. We deserve it.

Yours in Sustainable Tourism,
Stewart Krohn, President, BTIA