BTB’s Gives Private Sector Broad Strokes Of Tourism Re-Tooling

On Saturday in San Pedro, the Belize Tourism Board held its Industry Conference. It's an annual event where the BTB sits down with private sector stakeholders to discuss common concerns - and try their best to convince the private interests that their investments are safe, and things are looking up. That's proven true in the past few years when arrival figures have been on an upward trend - but this year, the figures are on a down tick - so we wondered what the message would be. Director of Tourism Karen Bevans gave that to us right off the bat:..

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."

Jules Vasquez reporting
On Saturday at the Fido's courtyard in San Pedro - that's the message that tourism stakeholders - mostly from the overnight sector gathered to hear at the annual industry presentation.

Osmany Salas, President - BTIA
"It's useful. It's very important to bring the key players together at least once a year."

And this year, there was mild anxiety amongst tourism interest about a modest downturn in arrival figures after successive years of strong growth:

Manuel "Junior" Herredia, Minister of Tourism
"Since 2008 with our collective efforts we have seen a 31% increase in overnight arrivals and a whopping 62% in cruise arrivals in Belize."

And that's why the 2015 downturn has raised some eyebrows:

Osmany Salas, President - BTIA
"The Numbers this year, in terms of overnight arrives have not been going up as previous years."

Karen Bevans, Director of Tourism
"2015 so far we had a 1.2 less growth than we had in 2014."

Jules Vasquez
"Over what period?"

Karen Bevans, Director of Tourism
"The first half of this year."

Jules Vasquez
"First half?"

Karen Bevans

Osmany Salas
"Even though there was an ad in Caribbean Journal Magazine that tourism growth in Belize has slowed down. I wouldn't get alarmed."

"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."

But - it may go down more - the US opening ties with Cuba will draw visitors away from Belize:

Karen Bevans
"We know Cuba is coming up and hence our reason for diversifying and looking at new and emerging markets like South America and Europe. We definitely have to do something and getting to those markets and expand our market share. Also with the threat of Cuba coming on board, the board and we put strategies in place to diversify, get into emerging markets. We cannot continue to do things the same and expect that the market will just grow and grow if we just look at the North America market. European and the South American travelers, the market is big, the market is great and we are looking at that now."

"The announcement by Copa last week as well complements this and because Copa of course will be flying from Panama to Belize and that has great connections to the South American market, Caribbean market and European market as well."

More than strategies, they are also putting money behind it:

Karen Bevans
"I am pleased to mention that our board of directors has approved a million dollars investment to dig deeper in new and emerging markets including South America and Europe."

But when those new guests come, where will they stay? Truth is there are more seats on airplanes coming into Belize than there are beds in hotel rooms:

Karen Bevans
"Room stock is an issue. The more we promote the more we market. We expect higher arrival numbers. We have to be prepared for that. We already talked to the Belize Hotel Association to see what we can do for room stock. We are working with BELTRAIDE to see if we can get some more tourism investments into hotels or bigger properties."

And while the mood on this day was not hostile - we know that the private industry and the government controlled board to have issues:

Osmany Salas
"You know the BTB has been doing a good job. We could always improve."

Jules Vasquez
"But there are those in the private sector who said BTB is a waste of time it's just pure administrative bloat. It's no longer the industry leader that it needs to be. We need to find, charter our own direction because BTB is falling over itself with its bloat."

Karen Bevans
"Jules I've been with BTB for the past 16 months and the presentation we have this afternoon for the year forward 2015, is to give comfort to the stakeholders and our industry partners that BTB is stable from a human resource standpoint, from a financial standpoint and from the strategies we are implementing."

And one of the main comforts is the BTB's financial wellbeing:

Jules Vasquez
"What is the status for overall budget with BTB and especially for marketing?"

Karen Bevans
"Jules the entire budget is now being satisfied. We are operating cash positive and everything that we need to do base from recommendations from our international marketing agencies, those are being done. I must say that we are financially stable and again we will show this afternoon. To do that of course we had to enhance our efficiency measures internally, but with that done and with proper controls put in place, we have been able to get our external audit up to date, which shows that we are stable and we can perform to the level the industry demands of us."

And the demand is not a small one: to keep these folks happy by making the industry continue growing in a globally competitive marketplace.

Later on we'll have more on tourism as we discussed other issues with Bevans - including reports that American Airlines may be cutting back on flights to Belize.

Channel 7

What’s the Status of Belize’s Tourism Industry?

To coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of tourism in San Pedro, the 2015 Tourism Industry Conference was held in the prime tourism destination. On Saturday, the Fido’s Courtyard was the venue for one of the biggest events on the tourism calendar. It’s essentially an event where the Belize Tourism Board issues its report card on the progress of the industry in the previous year and charts the way forward to keep visitors coming to the Jewel. Industry partners and stakeholders focused on two major issues: service to attract the visitor and marketing to promote the industry. Duane Moody reports.

Duane Moody, Reporting

This year, the 2015 Tourism Industry Conference featured several panel discussions which engaged stakeholders to dialogue on the theme “Service Excellence: A Silent Seller and Digital Marketing.

Manuel Heredia Jr.

Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism

“This year, we have changed this up a bit and have enhanced what once was the industry presentation into now a more inclusive and interactive experience for participants. While we will have an opportunity to look at the progress and achievements we have made in tourism in the past years, the newly improved model will also provide for you, our valued partners to learn about emerging trends and innovative ways in which we can approach our individual and collective efforts in onward sustainable tourism development.”

So how did Belize do? In 2014 alone, a record breaking one million plus tourists visited Belize, which according to the B.T.B. translated into more employment, increase trade and investment, entrepreneurial opportunities and overall investments.

Karen Bevans

Karen Bevans, Director of Tourism

“The industry is strong, it is stable, tourism is growing and there are many opportunities in new and emerging markets that the B.T.B. is looking at and is going after for the stakeholders.”


“Looking specifically at the performance, what are we looking at for the first  half of the year and the second quarter, because we the media haven’t seen those figures as yet.”

Karen Bevans

“2014 was a stunning year. We had massive growth over nine percent in the overnight industry, over sixty-two percent in the cruise industry.”

But is the industry in trouble? In the first half 2015, there was a dip in the number of tourist arrivals. In both January and February of this year, there was a decrease of one percent and one point one percent, respectively, in arrivals. Director of Tourism, Karen Bevans says that that trend remained constant for the first half of 2015. The figures are, however, above the figures of 2013.

Karen Bevans

“2015 so far we had a one point two less growth than we had in 2014 in the first half of this year. 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.”

Osmany Salas

And how do stakeholders score/grade the leadership of the B.T.B. in the tourism sector? President of the Belize Tourism Industry Association, Osmany Salas, says overall its grade is good, but there is room for improvement.

Osmany Salas, President, B.T.I.A.

“The B.T.B. has been doing a good job. We can improve. Everybody in the industry can improve. I represent the B.T.I.A. on the board of the B.T.B. and for us it is very important that the tourists that arrive…as important or even more important than the number of arrivals is the amount that they spend in Belize; the amount of money they spend. We at the B.T.I.A. are very interested in the per capita. So the numbers this year, in terms of overnight arrivals, have not been going up as previous years. But if you compared to years before than—2013 and before—they have been higher. So I think it is a good sign, but there is more work to be done. But overall I think they have been doing a good job.”

Bevans, who has been with the B.T.B. for the past sixteen months, says that her message is that the B.T.B. is stable. So what are the strategies for the industry going forward?

Karen Bevans

“The board and us then put in strategies in place to diversify, get into new and emerging markets. We cannot continue to do things the same and expect that the market is just going to grow and grow if we just look at the North America market. European and the South American travelers, the market is great, the market is big; major potential and we are looking at that now. If you recognize, lately we announced the COPA flight coming to Belize; that is a part of our strategy—diversifying and getting into new and emerging markets. We do know that there are certain properties that need to enhance in quality and standards and hence the reason again, another strategy to help with that is that we are implementing minimum standards for accommodations and properties to help with that to ensure that stakeholders who need some assistance or some kind of help, to uplift their standards. We help to bring them up to those standards so the rooms can be available and it goes hand in n with the increased airlifts, the increase room stock and we satisfy the demand.”

Channel 5