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US State Department Warns Its Citizens on Travel to Belize; BTB Issues Note to Stakeholders

The recent killing of American journalist, Anne Swaney has brought Belize once again into the spotlight in a negative way.  In an effort to do some damage control, the Belize Tourism Board issued a note yesterday to stakeholders in the tourism sector.  The statement, which seeks to reassure investors and business owners that much effort is being placed in the safety and quality travel experience for visitors, reads, in part, quote, “Our continued thoughts and prayers are with the family of American tourist Anne Swaney who was found murdered on January 15 in the Cayo district.  While crime against tourists in Belize is uncommon, her family and our community deserve justice.  We will continue to work with the Belize Police Department in our tourism capacity to assist in their investigation.  Moving forward, we will work with the Belize Police Department and advocate for an increased police presence to ensure the safety and security of everyone in Belize.  As always, the safety of guests visiting your businesses, our cities and our country remains a top priority.”  End of quote.  The release was addressed to the partners in the tourism industry and appealed to them to submit suggestions for strategies that can be used in preventing crime.  But meanwhile, the quasi-government institution is working on reassuring investors of their efforts in security, the US State Department looking out for the safety of its citizens also issued a warning to US residents.  This release has been circulating in the United States issued by the US State Department as an advisory to persons traveling to Belize.  The release says, quote, “After American Anne Swaney, 39, was found strangled last Friday morning; officials raised concerns about the security of tourists traveling to Belize.  The small country on the eastern coast of Central America is known to have one of the highest murder rates in the world and a very high crime rate, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Overseas Security Advisory Council reports.”  The report added that Corruption, human smuggling/trafficking, the drug trade, money laundering, and organized gang activity remain significant problems as is stated in Belize’s 2015 Crime and Safety Report.  The document went on to say that in response to the violence there, the U.S. State Department advises tourists to “avoid areas of the south side of Belize City where numerous gangs are known to operate,” and remain cautious and alert when visiting border areas.  We encourage U.S. citizens to exercise caution and good situational awareness in all their travel activities. Visitors should travel in groups and only during daylight hours. Avoid wearing jewellery or carrying valuable or expensive items”, the State Department warns, to minimize the risk of attack and avoid becoming a crime victim.”  End of quote.  Tourism in Belize accounts for 14 per cent of jobs and 23 per cent of the country’s GDP. To protect both the country’s economy and tourists, the local Belizean “tourism police” was also appointed to patrol the country’s main attractions.