JEEZ BELIZE – It’s ‘Caribbean with a twist!’
Bounteous Belize, a colourful combo of Central America and the Caribbean,
is reporting a positive outlook for its tourism sector and expects to come close to full post-pandemic recovery this year, in part with the help of the Canadian market.
Belize’s Director of Tourism, Evan Tillett, says that despite challenges from the global health crisis, Belize registered 75% of its 2019 numbers in 2022, and is projecting to finish the current year at around 90% of its 2019 tally, with growth predicted for 2024 and 2025.
Tillett believes key factors driving Belize’s tourism industry include the diversity of its product, Belize’s focus on sustainability, and its commitment to offering an authentic, experiential product that showcases its culture and natural assets, which Belizeans describe as “wealth untold.”
Speaking at the recent Routes Americas air route development conference, Tillet told attendees, “Belize is one of the most diverse destinations on the planet in a very small space. We have 8,867 sq. m., and we have not only the sun, the beach, but we have an authentic product. We have basically what the new post-COVID tourist is looking for.”
Belize is home to the largest living barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, three of the four atolls in the Caribbean, and an extensive cave system. Add Mayan history and a cultural melting pot, and the destination has something for everyone, from adventure seekers to those seeking relaxation and rejuvenation.
In terms of accommodations, Tillett emphasized that Belize has a wide range of options, from budget-friendly “mom and pop” operations to the Alaia Belize, Autograph Collection, which opened in 2021. Additionally, a Margaritaville is expected in 2023, Four Seasons Resort and Residences (2024), and other properties in the pipeline demonstrate the country’s commitment to expanding its accommodation offerings.
“Belize is in the western Caribbean and on the outskirts, but we are considered the Caribbean basin in Central America, and so it’s important that we sell the Caribbean for what we all offer. We have beaches, but we have different products that will allow us to be competitive with the world,” Tillett added.
Cruise lines have also returned to Belize, and Tillett says air prospects from North America look solid.
That includes Canada, which features direct seasonal flights from Air Canada and WestJet serving the peak December to March tourism period. Other connecting flights are available, such as Copa through Panama City.
On a recent a visit to Toronto, BTB branding and hospitality specialist Jana Puga told Travel Industry Today that Canada is an important market for Belize, and is a destination that “ticks all the boxes” for the interests of many Canadians: sustainable, active, experiential and authentic.
Indeed, authenticity is a hallmark of the destinations, she says, stating. “We’re not Cancun, we’re not mass market.”
She compares Belize today – “unspoiled and preserved” – to the Costa Rica of 20 years ago, adding, “You don’t feel like a tourist – you feel like you live there.”
Visitors can easily engage and mingle with locals, she says, not least due to the boutique- and lodge-style accommodation sector.
Visitors – or snowbirds, of which Belize attracts more than 11,000 Canadians a year – can also hop into a rental car and travel around via a developed road system. English is widely spoken (it is the only English-speaking country is the Central America).
A former British colony that achieved independence in 1981, the country exhibits its English influence most prominently in Belize City, whereas Creole culture flourishes in rural areas.
Puga says most Canadians will combine a beach stay with an active vacation in the interior, which includes jungle habitat combined with Mayan archeological sites and an extensive system of caves. Many cultural programs, such as homestays, Maya immersion, chocolate making, dancing, music, and drumming, can be availed.
Throughout the year, festivals across the country abound, such as Punta Gorda’s chocolate festival each May, and in summer, lobster festivals in coastal locales. The International Music and Food Festival is a two-day summer extravaganza that showcases local and international musical artists, with genres ranging from Reggae, Afro-Beats, Dancehall, Soca, Punta, and Latin beats, as well as exceptional local cuisine on Belize’s biggest island, and most prominent beach resort, Ambergris Caye.Sustainability, Puga emphasizes, is not taken lightly in Belize, and is ingrained into the DNA of Belizeans.
Indeed, more than half of Belize is blanketed in thick jungles, forests and nature preserves and the country has 103 protected areas, featuring a wealth of biodiversity.
Notable among them is Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, which is comprised of 121,000 hectares and home to sublime Big Rock Falls.
In 2021, a major deal was confirmed where Belize will be able to protect 30% of its ocean territory, which includes the Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features 500-plus species of fish and nearly 300 km. of coral reef. The region is a mecca for divers and snorkellers worldwide.
With such an emphasis on the environment and sustainability, overtourism is not an issue in the country, says Puga.
“Belize,” she concludes, “has an island feel. There are great beaches, but much more. It’s Caribbean with twist.”
Meanwhile, the BTB has relaunched the North American version of the Belize Specialist Program. Available through the Online Travel Training (OTT) platform, the free online course features a new look with the same content re-structured into a more concise format of four 30-minute modules.
In addition to the re-structured content, a Trade Resource Center has been added to the program, where travel advisors can download e-brochures, request high-resolution images and videos to use as a selling tool, submit FAM inquiries, subscribe to Belize Tourism Board’s e-newsletters, and request Zoom destination presentations for groups conducted by the Belize travel trade team. A list of tour operator partners that sell packages to Belize has also been added to the program as a quick reference for travel advisors.
The platform also includes a section that links to the new travel advisor rewards program: unBelizeableRewards.com. Participation in the Belize Rewards program is available to all travel agencies and travel advisors and reporting Belize bookings translates into redeemable Points for FAM trips with partner hotels and select merchandise.
Upon completion of the program, travel advisors will receive the following perks:
• Printable certificate of completion
• Belize Specialist Logo to use on business cards, email signatures, and website
• Access to quarterly trade newsletters
• Special invitation to attend Belize-hosted trade events
• Priority Considerations for FAMs
The program is currently available in English, French, German, and Dutch.
First published at Travel Industry Today