Tourism: The Future Is Now
Be a part of it!
Hoping and praying I was suitably attired for the occasion, my sister Diane and I sashayed into the Princess Hotel this morning, eager to attend the Belize Tourism Board’s 8th Annual Tourism Industry Presentation. Aside from it being a chance for the BTB to share its accomplishments and future goal planning, this event is always an opportunity for some excellent networking between public and private sector industry participants. The sea of familiar faces that greeted us starting at the lobby was proof enough that today’s event would be a successful one. Heck, we could hardly find a parking space.
With a distinguished panel of presenters on board, Master of Ceremonies, Anthony Mahler, was excellent in his execution of his assignment. The event started right on time and flowed smoothly, from the superb rendition of the National Anthem by Ms. Jenny Lovell right through to the closing remarks by Chairperson of the BTB Board of Directors, Mrs. Therese Rath. I am sure that the press release by the Belize Tourism Board will include all the major highlights. However, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the other non-budgetary items I found interesting.
Special guest speaker for the event was Mr. Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO). If anyone had any previous doubts as to Mr. Vanderpool-Wallace’s ability to lead such a large regional organization, those doubts were quickly erased the moment this learned gentleman started his utterly captivating presentation. 25% of all the workers in Belize are employed by the tourism industry. Contrary to popular belief that this industry is a fickle industry, Mr. Vanderpool-Wallace insisted that Caribbean tourism has endured for decades and is here to stay. He urged that we be forever mindful of the customer experience, as word-of-mouth recommendation plays a large role in getting repeat visitors to our shores. It is his belief that people are willing to spend more on life experiences than on material things. Hence, our need to ensure that the visitor experience in Belize is a positive one. People do not need another Ferrari (expensive car), or another home, or another boat. “What people need is the Caribbean!” he said in ending his powerful presentation.
The Hon. Said Musa, Prime Minister of Belize, gave the keynote address. Again, I am certain that the press release issued by the BTB will address the main points addressed by the Prime Minister, especially as it relates to budgetary and tax matters, but a few of his other comments stand out in my mind. Noteworthy is that he and his cabinet will make the tourism industry, especially overnight tourism, a national priority. Highly commendable is that a tourism master plan will be drafted which will be used to shape future tourism policy. The international airport runway expansion is currently underway. Within eighteen months, it is expected that larger aircrafts now in use for trans-Atlantic travel will be able to land safely in Belize thereby opening the European and Asian markets to us. Last but not least, it was nice to note that the BTB has taken note of the marketability of the La Ruta Maya Canoe Race and will now work with the organizers to put the Belize brand name on it somehow, while also expanding the race.
Interesting also was Ms. Tracy Taegar-Panton’s mention in her presentation that the American Girl company, a high-end U.S. merchandising retailer, has embraced Belize as the travel destination for their “Jess: Girl of the Year, 2006” doll. Belize is being featured on all the literature, books, advertising material, clothing, toys and accessories for this doll. It is a HUGE public relations bonanza for Belize, as the American Girl Company has several million eight-to-ten year olds as its club membership base.
Other presenters were the Hon. Godfrey Smith, Minister of Tourism, who gave the welcome address and Mrs. Therese Rath, Chairperson of the BTB who gave the Vote of Thanks. There was a strong Cayo showing as well, especially in the form of two women industry professionals - Mrs. Mariam Roberson, Chairperson of the Belize Hotel Association and Mrs. Lucy Flemming, Chairperson of the Belize Tourism Industry Association. Both ladies made presentations to the Prime Minister and the visiting guest respectively. A check for $25,000 to assist with BETEX, the Belize Tourism Expo (Marketplace and Expedition), a tradeshow for tourism industry wholesalers, was presented to the BTIA by Shakira Oxley, BTB’s Director of Marketing and Public Relations.
Most importantly, the audience was as distinguished a panel of professionals as the presenters, and as worthy a group as I will probably ever have the opportunity to be around. It was great to see (and be in the company of) friends, industry friends, potential industry friends and potential friends.
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