Belize officially reopened its borders today for international tourists.  News Five’s Andrea Polanco stopped in at the Benque Viejo – Santa Elena Border today to find out how the reopening was going:

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Pictured here are four of the five tourists who entered Belize through its western border today up to midday today.

Francisco Javier Gutierrez, Site Manager, Western Border

“We had our first five tourists that came across this morning; about ten-thirty eleven o’clock they were through.”

Andrea Polanco

“Did all five meet the requirements today?”

Francisco Javier Gutierrez

“They met the safety requirements. When they walked in they did have their gold standards stay but one didn’t have the gold standard transportation.   So we explained to them that they cannot leave the place without gold standard transportation and the B.T.B. kicked in.”

So to enter the country, the visitors must meet a number of requirements. Their first point of contact in Belize is with Ministry of Health representatives. The tourists must have a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival. And then they go through a series of prevention protocols – from sanitizing hands to temperature checks – all the while keeping six feet apart as these markers indicate on the floor.

Francisco Javier Gutierrez

“They walk in through a pedestrian walk way that we have that is also marked for the six feet separation. They are met and stopped by the health department. We call them screeners and we have two of them here and they will ask the guests the appropriate questions and to prove that they have the necessary requirements to enter Belize. What are these requirements? They have to have a PCR test that should have been done seventy-two hours prior to entering Belize. If they have that and they are negative, then that is the biggest step to walk in. If they are allowed if they have that PCR test without symptoms they look all clear and the screeners allow them to come to the immigration department.”

And inside the halls, signs to remind tourists about COVID-19 safety protocols are visible on the walls; the cubicles are also refitted to make them safer for the workers at their last stops immigration and customs, after which they depart to gold standard operators.

Francisco Javier Gutierrez

“When the immigration department picks them up they will ask if they have a gold standard hotel in place; do they have gold standard transportation in place and if they do then they are stamped in, do the legalities and they are sent to the customs department and they do what they usually does when you come in the country. If they do that right, they go outside the building where they are met with gold standards vehicle and we prove that by their gold standard decal on their vehicle that show that they have been given operation go ahead and our staff does that – the Belize Border Management Staff and then they are given the go ahead if they have all the requirements and sent into the country.”

But if the tourists don’t bring a PCR test – Ministry of Health has set up a testing site at the border. And if the tourist tests positive for COVID-19 they are not allowed in the country. While only a handful of tourists entered today, border authorities say it was successfully done.

Francisco Javier Gutierrez

“You know the process sounds like a lot but it is manageable; it is doable and we proved this morning that it can be done. Up to now, we have been successful today up to this point.”

Andrea Polanco

“Today is quite slow – perhaps you anticipate that in the coming day or weeks it will pick up?”

Francisco Javier Gutierrez

“Well, I hope so and when I say that I say that in a very good way. I want Belize to get more tourism, safe tourism, of course. Our nation needs the capital and I think that is what the Ministry of Tourism is looking at. We need the spending money and as long as we are super careful and don’t put our guard down we will try our best to keep Belize safe.”

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

For those Belizeans arriving, they go through similar protocols and if they test positive they are quarantined at Clarissa Falls.

Borders Need to Open to Bring Tourism Numbers Up

According to Chief Tourism Officer, Abil Castaneda, the threshold for recovery within the tourism industry globally is forty to fifty percent of pre-COVID arrival numbers. Castaneda argues that Belize would fall short of that threshold by double digits if the land borders remained closed.  He appeared on Channel Five’s Open Your Eyes this morning.

Abil Castaneda, Chief Tourism Officer

“In tourism we are all looking at how fast we can recover. What we are looking at is that this year in 2021 the threshold for recovery globally is that countries should reach around forty to fifty percent of pre-COVID arrival numbers as a part of the recovery process. What we have seen is that some countries are well on their way to that. But other countries are falling behind. In regard to Belize we are seeing some very optimistic numbers there. But P.G.I.A. by itself will not get us to the threshold where we can say that Belize’s tourism industry is healthy and back on the road to recovery. We need that element, that segment of our travel that comes through the land borders. Because as I mentioned the European traffic would use those not only to visit Belize, but the other parts of the region.”

Marleni Cuellar

“You said some countries are on their way to the target and some have fallen short. Where does Belize rank? What percentage are we at in terms of what is expected?”

Abil Castaneda

“Well we are anywhere between twenty to twenty five percent back. We actually seeing our numbers being very positive for the summer for travel. And even more so for the winter season that is coming, especially with the addition of airlift. So we are on our way. But when we run our projections, without the land borders we will fall short about ten to fifteen percent.”

Channel 5