Letter to the Editor in Amandala, by Charles Leslie, Jr.
Hi Mr. Andrade,
I was just forwarded some information stating that you are willing to listen to any ideas for job creation outside of cruise tourism. Before I proceed, this letter is not saying that, I personally, do not contemplate cruise tourism. I am simply stating what I believe we should be taking a lot more other types of potential developments a lot more seriously than we have.
I now take this time to give you some of our ideas, as professionals in the fly fishing industry of Belize, with over 50 years of experience.
I personally just took a two-week vacation to Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. I took the opportunity to talk to industry professionals that I met during my stay. It is quite obvious that their tourism product is far superior to ours when it comes to infrastructure and service. However, we do have more variety to offer, I believe, than the Yucatan, and we are virgin and more authentic.
Many people are calling for marketing for hardcore divers, fishermen, adventurers etc…however, I do not believe that marketing alone will suffice. Our biggest problem is that our clients, especially European clients who travel during this time of the year, find it expensive to get to Belize, and also those who do decide to come, have to fly some very inconvenient routes to get to Belize. And this is the core of why we continue to suffer this acute seasonality, since North Americans stay and travel in the US during summer, and also find it expensive to travel during this time. So they simply do not, even though some of the best fishing months are August and September in Southern Belize. But even with huge discounts, potential clients decide that it is not worth the airline tickets, and they opt for closer fishing destinations, such as the Bahamas. As for the European market, it is the same, they find it too expensive and inconvenient to get here, and before I forget, this goes for the South American market as well. We have been seeing steady increase in fishing inquiries from Argentineans.
To recap and elaborate a bit more, from what I have found out, Cancun, Playa and the Yucatan, in general, have the room capacity to allow the airlines to buy rooms in bulk and package it with their airfare, thus allowing Europeans/South Americans to come to their country cheaper, and with easy direct flights into Cancun.
The five components I have observed that Mexico is far superior than Belize, are:
1. Infrastructure – compared to Belize, ours is an embarrassment.
2. Security – they make sure that they spend the money to protect their tourism industry.
3. Cheap airfare – airlines can get people cheaper and easier to Mexico than they can to Belize. .
4. Big chain hotels – in conjunction with #3, it seems that Mexico invited big chain hotels, so that the airlines have the room capacity to justify buying in bulk.
5. Fun – it seems that we do not encourage more extreme adventure tours in Belize, and we allow, especially in Placencia, too much resistance that discourage these types of investment, such as para-sailing, jet skiing, sky diving, etc… there are lots of people out there who want to have fun on their vacation, and these things pose no threat to overnight tourism, and in my opinion would bring more people to the area looking for these types of fun activities that they can couple with scuba, fishing, jungle exploration, etc.
The bottom line is, Cancun, Playa and the entire Yucatan, seem to be kicking our butts in tourism. They are tapping into the North American market as well as the European market. I was shocked and taken aback at the amount of Europeans in Playa alone, while most people in Placencia are trying to figure out what they are going to feed their kids for the next couple months, because they have been laid off for the off season, and even worse, how they are going to buy all the school supplies needed to send their kids back to school. We seem to be unable to break this acute seasonality.
I am not saying we should try to emulate Cancun, Playa and Mexico tourism. However, they have been at this longer than us, and we shouldn’t try to reinvent the wheel, however, adapt what can easily work for us here in Belize.
Charles Leslie, Jr.
Tarpon Caye, Belize