Dear BTIA Member:
While it is too early to pop the Champagne corks I am happy (ecstatic would be a better word) to report that after a year of disaster and a few months of cautious optimism it is safe to say that Belizean tourism is strongly rebounding. Here’s the evidence:
- Americans are flying again. Thanks to a successful vaccination campaign, U.S. travelers are heading to airports in such record numbers that the TSA is facing a shortage of agents.
- Arrivals at PGIA have been increasing rapidly in concert with the pent-up U.S. de-mand. With Covid still causing problems in Europe, Cancun, Jamaica and Costa Rica, Belize is becoming more attractive to visitors looking for a safe destination. The CDC’s decision this week to put Belize in Category 1 (the safest ranking) is simply icing on the cake. Also the early decision to allow in fully vaccinated visitors without Covid tests played a strong positive role here. Congrats are in order for BTB/MOTDR/GOB.
- Hotel occupancy is up and while the booking window has grown shorter, many properties are reporting that summer reservations and inquiries are running ahead of 2019 numbers. This also means improved revenues for BTB which means more marketing which in turn leads to more arrivals. It also means more people are being rehired in the industry at all levels.
- Airlift. This may be the best news of all. With the announcement that Alaska Airlines will begin non-stop service to Belize from Seattle and Los Angeles, Belize’s connections to the all-important West coast market have improved markedly. No more red-eye or sunrise departures that leave our arriving visitors wandering through the airport like zombies. These flights leave the U.S. around 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. and arrive in late afternoon. The planes sleep at PGIA and head north in late morning, allowing passengers from all destinations in Belize to comfortably reach PGIA.
In addition to Alaska, our old friend Southwest just announced a return to Belize and will resume daily service on November 7 from Houston. They will also run a weekly flight from Denver. At the same time serious discussions are underway with other U.S. carriers as well as those in Europe, Canada and Mexico. It is estimated that the number of seats available into Belize this winter may even surpass that of 2019. Major congratulations are due to the BTB/Tourism Ministry’s Airline Development Committee. This public/private sector partnership quietly goes about the task of improving airlift into Belize by aggressively engaging foreign air carriers and laying out the case for serving Belize. This is a lot more complicated than it sounds and in some cases it takes years to find success. Note that your BTIA is represented on the ADC along with members from the Ministry, BTB and airline sector.
A Final Word of Caution
Lest we get carried away in a frenzy of exuberant optimism, there is one major factor that can cancel all the positive indicators mentioned above.
That is the possibility of a resurgence of Covid-19 in Belize.
It is no secret that much of the country has relaxed its vigilance. Fewer hand washing stations, less sanitizer on display, more handshakes and fewer elbow bumps. Perhaps worst of all: more bars masquerading as restaurants and what seems to be only spotty enforcement of the rules.
The last few weeks have seen a number of concerning localized spikes around the country that may or not result in wider outbreaks. The response? Number one, increase testing and surveillance. Number two, upgrade the resources available for efficient enforcement of protocols. Number three—and most important—GET OUR PEOPLE VACCINATED!
With the recent announcement by U.S. President Biden that hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines will be made avail-able to the world through the WHO/COVAX program we should not have to worry about vaccine availability. What does concern me, however, is the less than encouraging rate of vaccine acceptance in Belize, particularly in the tourism indus-try.
When Cabinet announced the setting aside of 8,000 vaccine doses for tourism workers I was grateful. It was a sign that Government understood that tourism was the key to Belize’s economic recovery. I figured that the 8,000 initial doses would be gone in a week. Instead, two months later the industry has yet to use up its allotment.
Please get with it BTIA members. There is too much at stake to let down our guard at this time when recovery is so close.
Yours in Sustainable Tourism,