Last night we told you about the very strong tourism figures coming out of the first half of 2016. But while tourist strongholds like San Pedro, Cayo and Placencia always perform well, it's not quite the same for the lesser known tourist spots. And that's why over the next few weeks places like Corozal, Toledo, Caye Caulker, and the Mountain Pine Ridge/Caracol and Chiquibul area will launch their own Destination Plans. These plans will identify key infrastructure projects that are considered critical for the development of tourism in those areas.

But it's not just a n exercise in paperwork, there's multilateral money behind the initiative. Investments will be made under the Sustainable Tourism Program II, a five-year 15.5 million US dollar IDB program for sustainable and resilient tourism development. The idea is to increase income and employment from tourism and stimulate private sector investment. Investment will also be made in new infrastructure to create centers for leisure and recreation for tourists and locals - much like the Cayo welcome Center which was funded under phase one of the project. Corozal's plan will be the first to launch tomorrow, followed by Punta Gorda Town the following week, and Cayo and Caye Caulker after that.

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Over the next few weeks, stakeholders in the tourism destinations of Toledo, Caye Caulker, Corozal and the Mountain Pine Ridge/Caracol/Chiquibul area will launch Destination Plans that reflect the collective vision for tourism development, in coordination with the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation (MTCA). The Destination Plans identify key tourism infrastructure projects and priorities that are considered critical for further sustainable development of tourism in the respective destination.

The Plans are the culmination of a process started over a year ago with the support of the Inter- American Development Bank (IDB), that brought together multiple community, private and public stakeholders to craft a common, integrated approach to tourism development. This approach follows the recommendations of the National Sustainable Tourism Masterplan 2030 (NSTMP), which highlights the need for greater involvement of multiple stakeholders in destination coordination and management, and encourages local stakeholder leadership within all facets of tourism development including planning, branding and promotion, and quality management.

A number of the activities identified within the Plans will be supported through investments under the Sustainable Tourism Program II (STP II), a five-year program for sustainable and resilient tourism development being implemented by the MTCA with the support of the IDB.

The USD 15.5 million STP II aims to increase income and employment from tourism and stimulate private sector investment, while recognizing the significance of the natural assets and cultural diversity upon which each local tourism product is based. As with the Cayo Welcome Center developed under the first STP, investment will be made in new infrastructure to create centers for leisure and recreation for tourists and locals alike as well as for business opportunities.

Each of the destinations face unique challenges from climate change and disaster risk - ranging from erosion of shorelines, sea-level rise, storm threat, and sargassum in the coastal areas, to increased fire risk in the Mountain Pine Ridge and limited water availability at the archaeological sites. STP II will fully integrate ecosystem health and environmental and disaster risk management within its program for tourism development, and is the first of its kind in Belize Details on the specific local investments of STP II will be presented at each respective Destination Plan Launch.

The launch of the Destination Plan for Corozal was held on Saturday July 16, at Corozal Town Hall prior to the monthly Art in the Park event. Similar launches will be held in Punta Gorda Town on Friday July 22nd (10-12 noon); in Cayo (the tourism plan for the four protected areas) at Center for Employment Training on Thursday July 28th (2pm-4pm); and in Caye Caulker on Monday August 1 on the new beach in the Palapa area from 6pm-8pm. All with an interest in the sustainable development of tourism in Corozal, Toledo, Caye Caulker and the Mountain Pine Ridge/Chiquibul/Caracol are encouraged to attend.