The Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) has written the Prime Minister Dean Barrow recommending that the Government revaluates their strategies for COVID-19. According to the BTIA Executive Director, John Burgos the way things currently are do not cater to attracting tourists to Belize. Burgos explained the recommendations made and some of the issues they have with the current strategy.
John Burgos, Executive Director, Belize Tourism Industry Association: “What we’re asking is for them to really throw everything out the window, reassess where we are right now with the pandemic globally. You know we’re really trying to recover our tourism industry and are we doing the right things, are we taking the right steps to do so. You have to remember that we live in a global platform whereby we’re competing with everybody. So the more efficient we are, the more effective we are in terms of the strategies being implemented we are going to be able to attract more tourists to come to Belize and that is basically what we want. At the same time of course we’re not promoting that we want to endanger the population and then it leads to that question who is really in danger now ? You know ? At first we didn’t have much cases of COVID for the most part but now we have well over a thousand cases, twenty one deaths you know we regret all of those circumstances but we realize that we as individuals need to be responsible for our actions. I think the SI promoting the social distancing, the wearing of masks you know when implemented it really prevents the spread of the disease and it serves a very good purpose you know. So that’what we’re saying right now look back, rethink what we’re putting in place leading up to October with regards to attracting tourists to Belize and allowing tourists to come into Belize. So if you look at the letter, two key messages that we want the government to look at is how we can make the passage and the arrival of tourists more efficient. We’re not saying just open the border with any controls what we’re saying is that do we really need all the controls especially if the tourist has a negative test or upon arrival and is tested and tests negative why are they going to be limited movement ? Once you have tested negative they’re gonna be at risk of catching COVID-19 here in Belize of being infected of COVID-19 here in Belize so we’re saying once you have screened them properly and shown that they are negative they should be allowed to walk in the beaches, they should be allowed to rent a vehicle and travel somewhere, they should be allowed to jump on a taxi and that’s where the other recommendation is any tourism service provider should have the gold standard certification.”
Stewart Krohn the second vice president clarified that they are not promoting for bars, clubs and other such business to be reopened; they are simply asking for the protocols apply to everyone.
Stewart Krohn, Second Vice President, Belize Tourism Industry Association: “Let me just clarify one thing we’re not saying open up the bars and start sporting events. No, no, no, no, no all we are saying is that the same all we are saying is that the same restrictions that apply to Belizeans should apply to visitors. Take the resources that are going into kind of useless protocols and says let’s devote those resources to make everyone in the country, the four hundred thousand Belizeans and maybe the four or five hundred tourists who are in the country at any one time let those protocols apply to everyone in other words make the smallest restaurant make sure that smallest restaurant is engaged in social distancing, hand washing, that kind of thing those protocols are not that different it doesn’t need to be just a gold star fifty room hotel that knows how to practice cleanliness okay? It’s making a distinction between tourist and locals that doesn’t make any sense. For example I have a gold star hotel and under the present rules lot of locals come to my hotel and hopefully one day a few foreign tourists will come to the hotel, presently they’re all staying together in a gold star hotel why do I have to keep my foreign guests prisoner in the hotel they cannot leave the premises except on a gold star tour while my local guest can go about as they please in their vehicles, their gold carts, go to restaurants, go to national parks, do whatever they want. We just want someone to explain to me while one is kept a prisoner while the other is free they’re both human beings and the fact is that it’s the visitor who statistically because he or she has been tested statistically those visitors are less likely to be infected with COVID-19 than the four hundred thousand Belizeans. It’s pretty much common sense.”
The tourism industry has been greatly impacted since the beginning of the pandemic forcing various restaurants and hotels to close. The Philip Goldson International Airport is expected to reopen on October 1 and hopefully bringing a breath of fresh air to the tourism sector. Krohn spoke about what Belize can expect in terms of tourism numbers and revenue when the airport opens.
Stewart Krohn, Second Vice President, Belize Tourism Industry Association: “We have to understand that even under the best circumstances October is the slowest month of the year that is a statistical fact so even in the best of times it’s going to be the slowest month. Maybe most hotels that are opened because many of them close for much of October maybe would have had occupancy rates of 15,20,25% and so now under COVID-19 when the general expectation for international travel is probably going to reduced by 75%. Where you were doing a 20% previous occupancy rate in October for this October 2020 you could probably expect 5% occupancy rate. Now at a 5% occupancy rate not only does nobody make money in the industry most hotels will be losing huge amounts of money at 5% occupancy. Under those circumstances no hotel – you might bring back a few people but you’re not gonna bring back the majority of your employees so we can expect that in the early week or two the biggest number of people coming on planes will be Belizeans returning. Put that aside, bonafide tourists will be really a handful that will increase as you get to November but to tell you the truth all the early indications are in terms of advance bookings- and this is not just from my hotel or a collection of hotels this is the major booking online tour operations like Expedia, Booking.com and those what they’re reporting is that advanced bookings even for the winter are awful.”
Krohn ended by stating the Belize shouldn’t expect anything major to happen when the airport reopens.