Mandatory travel/health insurance: positive or negative for tourism?
– President Stewart Krohn
Every country in the world—as well as their many states, provinces and municipalities—has been forced over the last two years to deal with the creation and implementation of policies to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
If you can name a country that has done it right please let me know, because every time the press has hailed a country that has the magic formula—Israel! Sweden! China! Canada!—the euphoria turns to horror as the statistics rise or human rights evaporate.
The fact is that most governments have muddled through trying to balance each nation’s health with the needs of its economy. If that is the measure then considering our slim resources, Belize—under both ruling parties– has done as well or better than most. As Covid shut down the economy in March 2020 the Barrow administration quickly rolled out a financial safety net for the poor and newly unemployed. When vaccines became available the Briceno government immediately procured ample supplies and a relatively efficient delivery system was implemented.
If there was any major flaw in the response that has allowed over 600 Belizean deaths and counting, it is that our own people have consistently failed to embrace the concept of vaccination despite the fact that the shots are free and readily available.
And Tourism? Yes, the industry took a major hit. But with few exceptions it wasn’t fatal and business is rebounding faster than most experts predicted. And as the case numbers continue to drop in both North America and Belize the latest controversy in Belizean tourism circles is the introduction of a mandatory travel/health insurance requirement for all tourists entering the country as of February 15.
The policy was introduced at a BTB meeting last year and was approved with only the BTIA and BHA reps voting against. Minister of Tourism Anthony Mahler and other officials, including insurance company representatives, later met separately with the respective boards of those two organizations. Members of both NGOs had many questions and while your BTIA formally wrote the Ministry with suggested modifications to the proposed mandate it was approved at least in concept.
WHY I SUPPORT THE MANDATE
A number of major hoteliers and other tourism players have registered their opposition to the new mandate. They point out that the added cost and complication of one more entry requirement will turn off prospective visitors to Belize and send them instead to Costa Rica or Mexico. Why, they ask, when the rest of the world is easing Covid restrictions, Belize is tightening up? While this line of reasoning is not without merit, I believe that a far better case can be made in favor of the mandatory health insurance policy. Why?
- The value. At US$18 any policy that covers both trip AND health insurance for up to three weeks in Belize has got to be the bargain of the century. In June I am going on a two-week hiking trip in France. The EU mandated health insurance policy is costing me 48 Euros. And that does not include travel insurance!
- The price becomes even less of an issue when compared to other costs AND inconvenience now encountered by US travelers to Belize who must pay for a rapid Covid test to enter Belize and another to get back into the States—a total of up to US$150 plus the indignity of a stick up your nose.
- Easing visitor fears. Having spoken to dozens and watched hundreds of guests march to their pre-check out Covid tests (and a half dozen testing positive) I can attest to the fact that in the present environment testing positive and being quarantined in a strange country is a major fear for most of our visitors, many of whom are not vaccinated. Part of their concern is the cost of paying for all those additional nights in a hotel until they test negative. Now with health insurance what was previously a most awkward conversation about discounted room rates and credit cards is now the opposite. The mandatory policy covers US$300/night for room to a maximum of US$2,000. Plus pays for any required medical care, including pre-existing conditions and medications. Not bad for a premium of US$18.
- Which is why some farsighted hotels (including mine) are picking up the cost of the insurance for all guests. What better way to show your guests how much you care about their physical and financial health! Because when you think about it the mandatory insurance policy benefits not just the visitor but also the innkeeper—and not only for larger more upscale hotels. What does the proprietor of a medium or low cost hotel do when the guest who just tested positive says that he or she has no money to pay for those extra days in quarantine? Talk about awkward conversations…
- Lastly, there are those in the industry who maintain that with Covid-19 numbers on the downswing there is no longer any need to worry; the pandemic has been routed so we will no longer have guests in need of insurance. And if you believe that then there is a bridge in downtown Belize City I’d like to sell you. Even the most optimistic medical scientists will confirm that with the vast majority of the world’s population unvaccinated and vulnerable the odds are great that new variants will arise that may be both more deadly and more contagious than those we’ve already seen. If this is the case then at US$18 per head maybe little Belize is making the best marketing move in its history.
Comments are welcome at [email protected]
Last month the UNWTO released a report that underscores the importance of tourism for economic recovery in 2022. According to the report, the sudden halt in international tourism caused by the pandemic has emphasized the sector’s importance to both national economies and individual livelihoods. Recognizing the tourism industry’s role as a source of employment and economic development, the sector’s recovery is expected to drive growth throughout the world, including Belize.
It is anticipated that the industry will be experiencing a significant rebound in the coming months. As travel demand rises, each tourism destination will be competing for a piece of the pie. In this ultra-competitive environment, it is imperative that we remain strategic and innovative in our efforts to restore traveler confidence and attract visitors to our shores. In order to be competitive, it is vital for us to keep updated on what is happening from a local, regional and global perspective. We must know our audiences, plan for the long term, embrace new technologies, brand ourselves successfully, be responsive to the needs of our guests and provide them with a memorable experience.
That said, I am pleased to introduce the Points to Ponder segment. In each of our subsequent newsletters, this segment will offer insight into strategies that we can use and tactics we can implement as we work towards our goal of recovery and regrowth. As the saying goes, to succeed we must “think strategically, act tactically.”
As your Executive Director, I am excited about the scope of the information we plan to provide via our newsletter and even more excited about the plans we have for BTIA in 2022 and beyond. I am looking forward to an exciting and productive year as we work in partnership with you, our valued members.
IN THE HEADLINES
BTB SIGNS AGREEMENT WITH UB TO UPDATE THE NATIONAL SUSTAINABLE TOURISM MASTER PLAN
The Belize Tourism Board has signed an agreement with the University of Belize (UB) for a partnership to update the National Sustainable Tourism Master Plan of Belize. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the tourism sector globally and countries that seek to remain competitive in the travel industry must also evolve their plans to charter a renewed path to resurgence. As a result, this process will not only highlight the gaps that Belize currently has in its tourism development strategy, it will also seek to align Belize to new travel trends and market realities, in order to facilitate future tourism growth and prominence.
A NEW CRUISE SHIP CALLS TO PORT IN BELIZE
Late last week, Belize welcomed the Seabourn Ovation, a new cruise ship under the Seabourn Cruise Line. According to the Belize Tourism Board (BTB), the ship had its maiden call ceremony on board at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday. Participating were representatives from the BTB, the ships local port agent APEX Shipping Agency Limited, Belize Port Authority and the Fort Street Tourism Village. The ship arrived with 417 passengers onboard. The BTB stated that they were thrilled to host the first ship call in our destination and look forward to supporting their growth in Belize.
TRAVEL TRENDS - WELLNESS TOURISM
According to Travel Pulse, one of the ways that people are caring for their mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing is by traveling, whether it’s relatively close to home or across the globe. In this edition of Travel Trends, we take a look at a few trends in wellness travel that are set to make their mark in 2022.
1) Travel as Self-Care
People have widely begun to view travel as a means of self-care during an era in which ever-fluctuating travel restrictions and COVID-19 levels around the globe have made it difficult to attain. According to Booking.com’s latest research, 79 percent of travelers agree that travel helps their mental and emotional wellbeing more than other forms of self-care. Booking.com also reported that two-thirds of its 24,000 respondents said, “they didn’t realize how important travel was to their wellbeing until it was no longer an option,” while 84 percent said, “having a vacation planned has a positive impact on their emotional wellbeing.”
2) Nature Immersion
Travel Pulse also reported that after enduring prolonged stay-at-home orders and almost two years of spending an inordinate amount of time in front of TV and computer screens, more people are viewing outdoor escapes as a privilege to be pursued. Expect to see more travelers in 2022 purposefully incorporating open-air activities into their trips—whether that’s bird watching, forest bathing, stargazing, camping, water sports, fishing, biking, hiking or nature tours.
3) Community Engagement
While there will always be vacationers who prefer more cookie-cutter vacations purely for personal relaxation, today’s travelers are increasingly looking to have more meaningful experiences during their getaways.
Tourists’ focus has shifted to engaging in authentic, ethical interactions with communities they’re exploring, learning about and participating in the local cultures of the destinations they’re visiting. Travelers want local people to benefit. They want it to be a positive experience not only for themselves, but for locals.
4) Sustainable Travel
An additional trend that was highlighted by Travel Pulse is sustainable travel. One might not immediately think of environmental and social sustainability considerations as playing a part in a traveler’s personal wellness journey, but travelers are increasingly seeking out sustainable travel options, whether that means choosing travel providers that maintain a minimal carbon footprint or planning trips that have a favorable impact on local communities.
Daniel Skjeldam, CEO of Hurtigruten Group, told Fortune this month: “Travelers these days have a greater sense of awareness about the complex climate problems our planet is facing, so the pandemic has accelerated the trend of the conscious traveler. Many more travelers are choosing their travel company or cruise liners based on their attitude and commitments towards sustainability,”
TIPS AND TIDBITS
Improve guest experience with these 3 simple steps
The gold standard in the hospitality industry is meeting and exceeding guest expectations:
The good news is that making changes to significantly boost the value of your customers’ stay doesn’t need to be timely or costly. Here are three quick, easy and inexpensive tips to improve the hotel guest experience.
1. Celebrate special occasions
Many guests who are celebrating a special occasion like an anniversary or a birthday while staying with you will be happy for the occasion to be recognized. It is worth asking whether there will be a special celebration during their stay – you can do so in the guest’s booking confirmation email prior to arrival.
Setting up the room to contain a small token of celebration as they enter is such a nice touch and usually very easy to do. The most widely accepted complimentary gifts are a bottle of wine or bubbly, a cake, balloons, petals on the bed, chocolates or a fruit basket. A handwritten card from the front desk should also accompany the gift, giving the guest best wishes from your in-house team
2. A smile goes a long way
First impressions make a big difference in this business. Kicking off the arrival and check-in experience on the right foot will not only make your guests feel appreciated, but also establish the tone for the rest of their stay. When you check the arrivals each day, take the time to review the names and reservation details and be sure to greet everyone by name and with a welcoming smile. Often, guests will have travelled far and could be tired and irritable – to go one step further add a welcome refreshment, such as a local drink or snack. Even a cool drink of water can make a huge difference after a series of plane, train and taxi rides.
3. Make it easy for your guests to get in touch
If you have an older, more traditional customer base, they may prefer to use a phone system in the hotel to get in touch with reception. This method also works if your hotel is quite large – it’s easier simply to walk to reception in smaller hotels. If your clientele is younger and more tech-savvy, consider investing in a simple app or online communication service for your property. This ensures guests can directly message staff from their smartphones wherever they are in the hotel. It’s also perfect for guests who have mobility issues, and those would like to make a discreet request
Making communication as streamlined as possible will always impress customers.
Credit – Tom Brown, MEWS
DID YOU KNOW? FUN FACT ABOUT TRAVELING
Do you believe that the shortest flight can take under a minute?
Well it’s true.
Why not just walk you ask? Well, you can’t exactly do so when you’re traveling from Westray Island to Papa Westray Island.
These two locales are part of the Orkney Islands in Scotland, and the flight between them is only 1.5 minutes! It can last under one minute in good conditions.
Now you Know!
The BTIA is working diligently to make 2022 the best year ever for Belizean tourism. If you are a current BTIA member we ask for your continued support. If you are a past member whose pandemic-ravaged budget did not allow you to rejoin last year, please give it some thought and help us fuel the industry’s rebound and transformation. Kindly respond to the email that was sent out by our secretariat, or contact us via phone at 227-1144 or email at [email protected] for more information.
As we look forward to a new and exciting year filled with growth and development, we extend a heartfelt thank you to our Diamond Sponsors for their continued support.