July 28, 2021

Dear BTIA Members,

There’s an old saying that “the best time to plant a tree is yesterday”. Unfortunately, the same adage applies to vaccination for Covid-19 as it increasingly appears that in the race against the virus we are several months late and thousands of arms short.

For a while, it looked like following a deadly first wave we had brought things under control. The Ministry of Health and Wellness somehow managed to acquire all the vaccines the country needed. The Ministry of Tourism and Diaspora Relations convinced Cabinet to earmark an initial 8,000 doses for our frontline industry personnel. Health centers around the country swung into action.

The public response, however, was underwhelming. And while a majority of Belizeans procrastinated, found excuses, drank the anti-vax Kool-Aid, or just pretended not to notice the death of almost 350 fellow citizens, the far more dangerous Delta variant found fertile ground in Belize.

As a result, even as the number of visitors to Belize continues to increase, the percentage of Belizeans testing positive for Covid-19 is growing faster. Note that the vast majority of visitors crowding through the PGIA are fully vaccinated and the rest have tested negative; they are NOT the source of our latest Covid surge. That dubious honor belongs to our own citizens who flaunt the anti-Covid laws by failing to wear masks, wash their hands, observe social distancing, and above all failing to get vaccinated.

Of course, the situation described above is not uniquely Belizean. We are following the nearly identical trajectory taking place in the United States and almost every other country in the world. We think we have the virus beat, we ease up on our vigilance, and boom, we are back in pandemic purgatory.

The question now is where we go from here. The answer is not hard to figure out. If we are lucky the increased enforcement of anti-Covid laws and protocols will confine the inevitable rise in hospitalizations and deaths to proportions within the capabilities of our already stressed public health system. Let’s not even contemplate what happens if we are unlucky. But the best bet is to not depend on luck. If you care about yourself, your family, your industry, and your country…GET VACCINATED!

In much better news the broad consensus in the tourism industry is that—with a few exceptions– we are enjoying the best summer season in memory. The pent-up demand for travel by U.S. citizens is proving stronger than predicted and it appears that despite a short booking window the numbers should remain impressive through the winter season, especially with the Canadian market waking up from Covid hibernation. All bets are off, however, beginning after Easter 2022 as a reopened Europe may draw business from the Caribbean which means we’ll have to market much harder and retain the loyalty of our local market which has stepped up big time during the last 16 months.

Again, kudos to the public and private sector team working to bring an increased airlift to Belize. Frontier Airlines is the latest carrier to inaugurate direct service to Belize beginning in December from Denver and Orlando. They will join Alaska Airlines which touches down in November from Seattle and Los Angeles. Southwest returns from Denver and Houston, WestJet re-launches from Toronto and efforts are underway to bring some other low-cost carriers into the fold. All in all the total number of seats into Belize this winter should be the most ever.

Finally, on a somber note, the BTIA would like to express its most sincere condolences to the extended Chaa Creek family, especially Emil and Briony Bradley and Mick and Lucy Fleming who recently lost their 14-year-old son and grandson, Laddie. Laddie, as we all know, was shot without any justification by a police officer in Placencia. Let us hope that justice is served in the case and more importantly, such an outrage never happens again.

Stewart Krohn

President, Belize Tourism Industry Association