Message from the President July 2022
Statistical and anecdotal evidence continues to point to a strong recovery for Belize’s Tourism Industry. While the outlook for the rest of the summer and fall—our traditionally slowest time of the year—is not likely to reach last year’s “revenge travel”-inspired levels the general consensus is that late November and beyond will see both hotel occupancy and overall tourism revenues return to at least 2019 levels.
And while much credit for the turnaround should be given to the strong public/private partnership that took us through the pandemic it is not quite time to celebrate.
One huge factor is that the world’s top scientists are less sure than ever about the future of Covid-19. In early July I returned from a European trip and passed through airports in Geneva, Amsterdam and Atlanta. All three were so crowded with travellers that the waits in security lines were as long as 90 minutes. But the worst part was that while Europe was in the grip of one of its worst Covid surges of the pandemic you could count the number of people wearing masks on one hand.
Another example. Out of a group of 19 people on my two week hiking trip in France, Italy and Switzerland, a total of seven contracted Covid and had to sit out some or all of the amazing trekking.
Of course the good thing about the latest Covid explosion—and Belize is as bad as anywhere—is that the dominant Omicron variant, while easily transmitted, is far less lethal than its predecessors. How long that luck will last is anybody’s guess, but one sure thing is that if a new variant develops that combines the mortality of Delta with the “catchiness” of Omicron we will long for the good old days of April 2020.
Is there anything we can do to prepare for a serious return of a new and deadlier Covid? Or some other tourism-killing event like a major terror event, mega crime spree, war or earthquake?
Here are a few suggestions for policy makers to think about:
- Reform labor and Social Security legislation to allow for quick pre-planned emergency action that will allow laid off workers to easily receive Government assistance without losing their ties to employers.
- Pre-package emergency loan programs for the private sector that can be accessed with a minimum of red tape. As part of the program tourism businesses can be trained to pro-actively keep better financial records. The time to get your loan application data together is before, not during the emergency.
- The Belize Tourism Board, as the industry’s major marketer, needs to pre-position a flexible marketing plan to respond to the particulars of the emergency along with a line of credit that will kick in as revenues from hotel tax dry up.
These are just a few samples of how the industry can prepare for the next disaster. Remember that such foresight is nothing new. We plan for hurricanes; we’re starting to prepare for sargassum. A little bit of preparation for the next economic shock certainly can’t hurt.