Adventure travel pegged to boost an $585 Million tourism industry, past recession

By William Ysaguirre - Freelance Writer

Hon. Manuel Heredia, Min. of Tourism

ATTA Shannon Stowell

“Be one with Belize,” the Belize Tourism Board invites visitors in their $8.2 million marketing campaign to overcome declining tourist arrivals and the effects world economic recession.

Tourism industry stake holders packed the Belize Biltmore Hotel’s largest auditorium to capacity for the BTB’s annual industry presentation on Wednesday, in which it outlined its $16 million action plan to develop the industry, and get back to continue growth by 2010-11.

To achieve this, the BTB plans to invest $16,046,944, even though estimates total revenue from taxes for 2009 will be $15,601,484, which should push it into a $623,480 deficit. Of this $3.7 million will be invested in product development, same as last year; $3.7 million will be invested in finance and administration, compared to $4.4 million last year and $8,178,310 will be invested in marketing and public relations, up from $7.4 million last year. Minister of Tourism Hon. Manuel Heredia and BTB Director Tracy Panton were both optimistic that this investment should pay off with the industry recovery in 2009 with more growth in 2010.

In that budget, BTB has invested $317,060 in internet marketing, contracting Naturalight Productions to totally revamp and redesign the Belize tourism website at www.travelbelize.org to make it more user-friendly so that all registered hotels have a presence on the site and visitors can book their accommodations online. Naturalight Productions also created a new promotional video which was unveiled at the presentation and which can also be viewed on the website. This exciting 17-minute documentary lauds Belize’s many attractions and will be used as a marketing tool in the coming year.

The industry boasted record earnings of $130 million for hotel accommodations last year. The industry’s total revenue was $500 million in 2006 and $585 million in 2007, and anticipates a slight growth in 2008 when final statistics are in; even though visitor arrivals from the United States declined by 3.2%. This was buffered somewhat by a 6.2 increase in arrivals from new markets such as Canada and a 0.3% increase in arrivals from Europe. Although there were less visitor arrivals at the Philip Goldson International Airport and cruise passengers were also down by 4.3%, the industry professionals were optimistic.

As the industry to diversify away from the U.S. market, Shanon Stowell, President of the Adventure Travel Trade Association was on hand to point the way forward, saying Belize had great potential for expansion in the adventure tourism market. Citing criteria such as sustainability, safety, natural resources, health, advertising, entertainment, humanitarian interest, infrastructure, and cultural attractions.

He said Belize’s Adventure index ranks it among the top 20 adventure destinations in the world, we rank No.17. He recommended ways in which the industry could increase its attraction for the adventure traveller by offering authenticity in the cultural experience, intangibles such as family values, budget vacations, and allowing the visitor to feel that they were somehow giving back to the community. He also stressed the importance of ensuring the visitor got value for money as word of mouth and over internet publicity from visors would have more credibility than paid for advertising or reports from travel writers.

The industry represents 10% of global Gross Domestic Product, and in Belize it provides 28% of GDP, Ministry CEO Mike Singh reported. The industry also provides jobs for 5,314 hotel employees and impacts on the income of 60% of the population. The industry’s outlook was positive, increasing investment in hotels by 3.4% and tour operators increased their investment by 1.5%. Singh pointed out that the government is investing in infrastructural development, solid waste management, road access to nature destinations, improving municipal airports, border post management and improved access to tourism sites.

For its part the BTB is collaborating with the Belize Hotel Association and the Belize Tourism Industry Association, and has invested in training more tour guides, university scholarships in tourism management and enhanced police security for visitors.

It had also embarked on a four year tourism development plan funded by the Inter American Development Bank, which will develop infrastructure in Belize City, San Pedro, Placencia, the Cayo district and a greening of the Fort George area.

The Reporter