The Belize tourism industry led the region in post-pandemic recovery to 75 percent of pre-COVID numbers over the last three quarters, and the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) and the Ministry of Tourism remain optimistic that the industry will rebound to 2019 levels as the BTB continues to revise its master plan for sustainable tourism, BTB director Evan Tillett told the media recently.
There are still gaps in the tourism product that the BTB continues to tweak to have a world-class product and to compete on a global level. To this end, the BTB focused on all source markets from which visitors originate, which have direct flights to Belize, and ensure that Belize renewed all the flight connections it had before the pandemic.
Belize also got two new flight connections in 2021, Alaska Airlines and Frontier Airlines, and in addition to destinations in the United States, the BTB has also focused on Europe to try to develop new markets for Belize.
Mexico alone has a huge potential market of 120 million people. They are the second-largest dive market after the U.S. and we are next-door neighbors, Tillett enthused. Only 7,000 Mexicans visited Belize in 2019, numbers which Tillett found to be very low, and he is confident that Belize can grow those numbers if we do the right thing.
Belize is also seeking to grow cruise tourism numbers, which reached the one million visitor mark in 2019, and BTB officials sought to increase arrivals when they met with cruise line representatives at the Seatrade Cruise Global Expo, which opened at the Miami Beach Convention Center on Monday, April 25.
The cruise tourism sector had reached 60 percent, almost 70 percent, when the arrival of the new Omicron strain of the COVID-19 virus forced a contraction in the industry, as the cruise lines were forced to restrict passenger occupancy for safe distancing aboard their ships, and that travel sector is only now beginning to recover.
Having a docking port facility is key to growing the number of cruise passenger arrivals, Tillett said. It is critical that Belize gets a docking port facility as soon as possible, he affirmed.
Belize’s travel insurance requirement may not have been popular with all in Belize’s tourism sector, but the BTB is the custodian for the industry and has to decide what is in the best interest of the industry, Tillett said. It has zero impact on tourist arrivals as the BTB has seen no decline in the numbers, and is very relevant to protecting visitors and the hotel sector against even non-COVID health emergencies.
There is also the possible threat of the H3N2 strain of influenza which is now raging in China and the United States. The BTB is doing what it can to mitigate against a total shutdown again and will keep the travel insurance in place, for as long as it is needed. When it is deemed to be no longer needed, the BTB will consider whether to make it optional for visitors and will review this policy continuously as the situation changes.