Dear BTIA Members:

As with many life situations, I am the recent recipient of both good news and bad. The good news is that I feel honored to be elected president of the Belize Tourism Industry Association, one of the oldest and most respected non-governmental organizations in Belize.

The bad news? This honor comes at a time of crisis, with our businesses crushed, the tourism industry decimated, the country’s economy in shambles, and our people’s health threatened like never in modern history.

The easiest thing for a new president to do under these circumstances is to write and speak inspirationally, using phrases like “we’re all in this together,” “we will overcome this crisis,” and “we are resilient.” And while I believe all the above to be true, words alone will not bring back the revenue from all those lost room nights, unserved meals, and un-guided tours. They will certainly not make the monthly payments to our bankers.

First, we need a plan.

Second, we need to work hard. Binge-watching Netflix may keep us sane, but it will not restore our balance sheets or pay our staff.

Third, we need to cooperate. This is not a “kumbaya” feel good cooperation; it is a hard-headed “coordinate our efforts” type of collaboration.

So, what is the plan?

It is about having a narrow focus on a small number of achievable short-term goals. What are they?

  1.  We must ease the entry requirements at the P.G.I.A. We cannot have tourism without tourists. With the huge demand for testing in the U.S., it is challenging for potential visitors to get the results of a PCR test within 72 hours of departure. This window needs to be longer. Acceptance of a rapid antigen test in the 72-hour window would also be helpful. Neither of these new protocols would have any meaningful adverse effect on Belize’s health situation.

  2. We must stimulate the local market. With Belizeans unable to vacation in Mexico, discouraged from flying abroad, and cooped up at home, there is a considerable demand for local travel. A modest ad campaign would be useful, as would a Belize Tourism Board (BTB) rebate of hotel tax for local guests. Family travel in safe pods should be encouraged. Pricing is an issue, and it is good to see that many hotels are more local-friendly during the pandemic. Even when covid-19 is a distant memory, those discounts should continue.

  3. We must have a closer relationship between the private sector and the BTB/Ministry of Tourism. This should include more significant involvement in formulating all-important marketing strategies. Fortunately, all indications are that the new Government and Minister are on the same page. They recognize that we need each other to restore the industry and economy. One crucial part of this will be marketing initiatives undertaken by the BTB requiring industry buy-in and, in some cases, co-op advertising. If we are involved in the campaign’s creation, we should also support its implementation.

  4. Direct aid to industry businesses must be expanded. While we applaud previous emergency efforts by the Development Finance Corporation and Beltraide, these loan and grant programs should be enlarged and streamlined for more immediate impact. The government must make funding requests to international sources a matter of high priority.

Those are the points for immediate focus. More will come as the crisis eases. In the meantime, we will support all efforts to curb the virus spread in Belize and provide general relief to those Belizeans –both inside and outside our industry– who have lost their jobs. We must also do our part to keep our employees safe.

And a brief final note…Just as the industry is hurting, so is BTIA. The pandemic has all but destroyed our traditional sources of revenue. With the new year, we are forced to terminate our three-member secretariat staff. We have arranged to outsource essential administrative functions that will operate out of our lower flat rental space on Taiwan Street, and our contact information remains unchanged. In the meantime, our hardworking board members are shouldering the added burdens as volunteers, and they deserve our appreciation.

We intend to restore a full staff eventually, but just as our members must make tough decisions in these unusual times, so does your BTIA. The only route to restoring our institutional strength is through our members’ support in the immediate future. That means renewing your 2021 membership dues, restoring lapsed members, and recruiting new members. A 20% discount applies to those paying by December 31. If you have received your invoice, please pay promptly to receive your discount. If you have not received it, please email membership@btia.org, and we will get it to you.

Thanks for reading this far and for the numerous expressions of support already received. Please do not hesitate to text, call, or WhatsApp me at 610-1009 or email me at president@btia.org. I have no doubt that Belizean tourism will not only recover but will prosper. I urge all of us to play a part in that success.

Yours in sustainable tourism,

Stewart Krohn