Dear BTIA Members,
It is now a year and five months since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in Belize. In the period beginning March 2020 we in the tourism industry have experienced a devastating period of lockdown, complete border closure, airport reopening, painfully slow initial recovery followed by a much more rapid recovery as vaccinations were introduced in the USA and pent up demand for travel took hold with a vengeance in late May and summer.
At the same time internally the pandemic situation in Belize has roller coastered from an initial Covid-free period into a series of peaks and valleys not too much different from most countries of the world as the introduction of vaccines and the Delta Variant vie with each other for supremacy.
Where are we today? To paraphrase some very old songs is it the “Eve of Destruction” or “Dawn of Correction”? Or perhaps both simultaneously?
First, the good news…
The recovery in the form of visitor arrivals and hotel occupancy rates this summer has been nothing short of spectacular. Many resorts are reporting numbers in excess of 2019 while inquiries and bookings for the winter are looking good. Previously laid off staff members are being rehired, tour operators are back in business along with increased numbers of tour guides, boat captains and drivers. Independent restaurants– still hampered by a curfew and occupancy limits—are rebounding strongly in our prime tourism destinations. Emerging and “off the beaten path” destinations in the north and south are still suffering but are beginning to show signs of life.
At the same time international airline capacity to Belize will be higher than ever before come December. All our major carriers will be back plus two new carriers—Alaska and Frontier—will join them, Alaska with service from Seattle and Los Angeles and Frontier from Denver and Orlando.
Even the cruise industry has returned to Belize with Carnival and Norwegian slowly adding arrival dates in Belize City and Harvest Caye.
And the bad news…
A severe wave of the Delta Variant has sent the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S.A. to record levels in a number of states. While it is too early to determine how this will affect Americans’ appetite for international travel it certainly has the potential to hurt—and hurt us badly.
At the same time the rapid increase in Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths in Belize is even more alarming than what is happening abroad. This is so for a number of reasons:
- Visitors do not want to vacation in a place where the Covid rate is extremely high and run the risk of becoming infected.
- There is the added fear among visitors that our health care system will become overburdened and not able to provide adequate care for a foreigner who is infected and requires hospitalization.
- Although the vaccination rate within the tourism industry is the highest of any group in Belize and nearing full compliance, the rate among the general population is abysmal, running around half that of the least vaccinated state in the U.S. This high level of vaccine hesitancy means that the pandemic here will only get worse and given the potency of the Delta Variant is likely to become entrenched among children as well as adults. Note that even with our tourism workers vaccinated they can still become infected and spread the disease, especially if they are exposed to large numbers of unvaccinated people outside of the work environment.
- Ultimately, if Covid-19 cannot be brought under control in Belize there will have to be a return to lockdown. This is not the development that anybody would like to see but unless the situation changes it is where we are headed along with the resulting economic devastation, educational disruption and emotional grief occasioned by the loss of loved ones.
Sorry to be Mr. Gloom and Doom here but sweet talk and rational persuasion has clearly not worked. We at BTIA are encouraged that the Belize Government has moved toward vaccine mandates among frontline workers and our Board is now calling on all tourism businesses to institute a policy of “No jab, no job”. Forget about bi-weekly testing as an acceptable alternative to vaccination. Forget about a “religious” objection.
No, a vaccination does not guarantee you will not get Covid-19. But it will greatly increase the likelihood that you will avoid serious illness, hospitalization or death from the virus.
All of us are confronted with a simple choice: we can be part of the solution or part of the problem. We at the Belize Tourism Industry Association urge all Belizeans to act immediately.
Yours in Sustainable Tourism,
President, Belize Tourism Industry Association