Belize tourism takes a new turn
Jun 15, 05 | 1:10 pm

With the appointment of a new tourism minister, Belize has renewed its optimism in meeting the challenge of upgrading Belize’s tourism products while maintaining the pristine quality of its environment.

Newly appointed Belize tourism minister, Godfrey Smith, brings a wealth of professional experience and significant academic credentials to his new position as the tourism minister. His Masters of Arts in International Relations is from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University (Boston, MA) and his Bachelor of Laws (with Honors) was awarded to him by the University of West Indies, where he graduated among the top five students in the class of 1994. He is a published author, having co-authored the Practical Guide to Gross Receipts Tax, and the founding editor of the Belize Law Review. He also has an understanding of international crime and economic issues, having studied in the USA, China, Singapore and the UK.

When asked why he left the law for politics, Smith spoke of “the seduction of politics” and the “limitations of the law.” Formerly the Foreign Affairs, Defense and National Emergency Management Organization minister, Smith started his professional career as an attorney with the law firm of Barrow and Williams. Moving from the courtroom to politics, he was elected Secretary General (1997-1998), appointed Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister (1998–1999), and Attorney General (1999 – 2003).

According to the Strategic Vision for Belize Tourism in the New Millennium, Belize tourism is guided by the concept of “responsibility,” which calls for an ethical response to the tourism product, whether it is ecotourism or mass tourism. The goal is to assure that the industry benefits all stakeholders. There is a definite challenge in Belize, to upgrade the tourism product, while maintaining the pristine quality of its environment. While other destinations have lost this battle, the appointment of a new tourism minister for Belize brings hope for a victorious turn-around.

Minister Smith prides himself on being very open to his new world of hospitality, travel and tourism. Looking at the industry from an economic perspective, he is actively seeking foreign investments for enrichment and expansion of the entire industry and would like to see an increase in the number of hotels – which currently total 506, running at 40.7 percent occupancy. Many visitors discover Belize by arriving on cruise ships, and the minister would like to see an increase in this visitor count. He is also interested in starting a new reclamation project along the Belize coast, thereby modernizing the waterfront near the Radisson Hotel. Included on his to-do list is the development of “private tourism” focusing on increasing Belize access to aircraft clubs and yacht owners.

With a background in criminal justice, the new minister is supportive of the Belize Tourism Police Unit that reports to the Belize Tourism Board. This unit was developed with the recognition that crime issues relating to tourism require immediate resolution, since the traveler is in the country for a very limited period of time. The recruits experience a three-month training program at the National Police Training Academy in Belmopan, the capital of Belize, which is followed by a two-week training patrol exercise on the streets of Belize City. When this phase is completed, the unit is deployed to key tourist destinations throughout the country. New policing stations will be located in Cayo, Stann Creek, Placencia, Cay Caulker, and San Pedro.

The new ministers’ agenda also includes continuation of training and education for students interested in developing a hospitality, travel and tourism career path. The University of Belize currently offers a hospitality program leading to a BS degree.

Minister Smith is bringing tourism under his umbrella at a very propitious time. Tourist arrivals have never been higher, with over 1,082,268 visitor arrivals in 2004 by air, land and sea, reflecting an increase of 36 percent over 2003. Americans lead the way to Belize with all other countries trailing far behind.

The money exchange in Belize is two Belize dollars to one US dollar, but there is no need to change money as US dollars are accepted everywhere. Traveler’s Cheques are a problem, and most establishments do not like to accept them for they take six weeks to clear. It is recommended that travelers carry cash for most transactions.

Once landed, where do the tourists go? According to Belize tourism statistics, the visitors are heading for the Hoi Chan Marine Reserve, the Community Baboon Sanctuary, followed by the Blue Hole National Park, Half Moon Caye, and the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Belize is a country rich in natural resources, of great interest to moms, traveling with families from tots to teenagers, for the diving, snorkeling, and fishing, as well as hiking, birding and caving are abundant in this Central American destination. Adapting to Belize-time may not be easy for Type-A personalities. Looking at the travel experience as an adventure, tour operators encourage everyone to make a sincere effort to recognize and accept the differences between the countries they departed, and the new destination they are visiting, claiming that different latitudes require different attitudes.

Belize is a democratic English-speaking country that lies west of the Caribbean Sea, on the Central American isthmus. With a mix of over ten different cultures, Belize offers tourists an interesting array of customs, ceremonies, arts and culture. It has a population of 260,000, about the same as Anchorage, Alaska, and not bigger than New Hampshire. The climate is sub-tropical, similar to South Florida, with temperatures in the ‘70s to mid-‘90s. There are wet and dry seasons, with the dry season running from late November through May. The water is safe to drink in most areas, and the standard of health care is among the highest in Central America.

By Elinor Garely

BELIZE CITY, Belize (eTurboNews)