The Belize Tourism Board’s (BTB) Annual Tourism Industry Presentation, held Saturday at Fido’s Courtyard on La Isla Bonita has been expanded to a full-day conference offering continuing education in tourism topics – this year, service excellence and tourism digital marketing. But its primary purpose is to provide a report on the past year’s activities by the Board and look ahead to the coming year. It was recently reported that overnight tourist arrivals from January to April of this year, particularly from the United States and Canada, had slowed down by over 100,000 compared to the first four months of 2014 – that is a reduction of 1.2%. However, the industry now second in Belize only to agriculture for revenue and job creation is not in panic mode. Director of Tourism, Karen Bevans, told reporters that the temporary blip can be easily corrected.
Karen Bevans – Director of Tourism
“The main message Jules, is that the industry is strong, it’s stable, tourism is growing and there are many opportunities in new and emerging markets that the BTB is looking at and is going after for the stake holders.”
“Looking specifically at the performance, what are we looking at for the first half of the year and the second quarter because we in the media have not seen those figures.”
“2014 was a stunning year. We had massive growth over nine percent in the overnight industry, over sixty-two percent in the cruise industry. 2015 so far we had a one point two less growth than we had in 2014 in the first half of this year.“
“Over what period?”
“Correct But that is not to say that the industry is not growing. We are growing. Yes we had a very stunning year in 2014. Further to that and if you notice—and we went into the statistics—the area that we went down in is the Canadian market. Looking at our strategies and doing our research, we recognized that there was a devaluation of currency in the Canadian market. Last year, this time, we had a one to one more or less match with the Canadian dollar versus the U.S. dollar. This year, it is at point eight. So the reduction or devaluation in the Canadian dollar affected the traveling from Canadians.”
Bevans says the Board has been moving quickly to address key concerns including crime and security and marketing Belize as a tourism destination outside of the usual destinations. The Board itself, according to Bevans, has been operating within budget and enjoys the confidence of tourism partners. On the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Holiday Hotel in San Pedro, the recognized start of tourism in Belize, Minister Manuel Heredia Jr cited the following as reasons for Belize’s growth over the last seven years – 31% in overnight arrivals, 62% in cruise ship arrivals and an overall growth rate of 8.7%, which outperforms regional rivals.
“There are five reasons why I believe we have seen this growth that we have experienced.
One, ogether, the industry is committed to a continues enhancement of its quality and standard. Secondly, the marketing efforts and strategies utilized have become aligned with the hard competences and comparative advantages of our destination. Thirdly, that we have focused on strategically improving and developing infrastructure to support the growth of the industry in both urban and rural areas. Fourthly, that we continue to invest in our human capital as is the case of the first sustainable tourism program and the current making tourism benefit communities adjacent to archeological sites project. Lastly, together, we have forged a vision for tourism development in Belize and have enshrine this in our countries first ever national sustainable tourism master plan.”.
And the BTB has thumbs up from Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) president Osmany Salas, who puts no stock in the recent downturn.
“One year does not a trend make. We need to look at the previous years. If you look at the last 5-6 years the numbers have been going up but if you only compare it to the 1st 4 or 5 months of 2014 the figures have gone down a little bit – I am talking about over night arrivals. I wouldn’t be worried about that. I think we actually expect June and July to be better months when the figures are actually tabulated.”
Salas did warn of continued conflict between the cruise and overnight sectors, citing the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) project at Harvest Caye near Placencia as an example – the operators there, he says, must be ready to face the challenges that come with increased business from cruise ship visitors. And on the local front, Bevans says the Board’s recent decision to partner with local operators is already paying dividends. The six-month program features a different section of the country each month starting in July with special discounted rates and packages available. The Annual Tourism Awards were held on the island later on Saturday evening.