After publishing the editorial that “Maga Season Has Come Early” and showing that the average percentage of room occupancy for San Pedro in April 2009 was about 45%, I came across an article which stated that Caribbean tourism is suffering from economic fallout. Interestingly enough the statistics show that, with the exception of Jamaica and Cuba, all Caribbean nations have reported a decline in tourist arrivals to their islands for the first quarter of 2009. And surprisingly Belize only reported a decline of just 2.4%.
The latest data released this week by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) shows that out of 12 countries reporting latest statistics for the first two months of this year, five reported double digit losses.
Anguilla suffered the biggest blow out of the twelve, reporting a drop by 18.8%, followed closely by Antigua and Barbuda which reported losses of 14.3%. St. Lucia is hoping to turn around its fortunes with its jazz festival as the report showed the island suffered a 13.7% drop in tourist levels for the first quarter of 2009.
Jamaica and Cuba, however, reported gains over the past winter season. Cuba saw a 4.5 per cent tourism growth while the industry in Jamaica grew by 3.2 per cent. There was no data available for other Caribbean nations, the report indicated.
The Caribbean tourism industry has been taking a beating since the global economic recession hit the US, the region's biggest market.
The drop-off also comes as the countdown continues for the full implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which will require that all US residents travelling to the Caribbean, Bermuda, Canada and Mexico have a passport in order to return to the country. That will take effect on June 1st.
Tourism accommodations continue to rise on Ambergris Caye
San Pedro Warden for the US Embassy Dr. Wil Lala also just release his biannual gathering of location and contact information for the resorts, hotels and other vacation rentals on Ambergris Caye which indicate that accommodations continue to rise on the island.
Ambergris Caye now has 1,957 units. (A unit is a guest accommodation that can range from a single room to a 5 bedroom villa.)
* Between 2005 and 2007 there were approximately 300 new units added to Ambergris Caye.
* Between 2007 and 2009 there were approximately 400 new units added.
There are now 680 additional units under construction. This figure does not includ those developments that have been approved but have not started construction yet, such as South Beach.
Dr. Lala indicated that his gathered information will be used for disaster planning and locating tourists in the event of an emergency.
Are We in Troubled Times?
If residents are complaining that tourism is very slow on the island, but statistics are showing that the decline in tourist arrivals for Belize during the first quarter were down only 2.4%, then what is the deal?
There are 1957 units to fill on the island and we also have to compete with the lure of eco-tourism in and around the country. Could most visitors be looking for cheaper deals on the mainland during these tough economic times where they are normally offered better deals? Generally, the cost of living on Ambergris Caye is higher than most parts of the country, thus accommodations are generally pricier.
Are we overcrowding our island with too many condos, villas and hotels which are spreading the visitors thin all around the place? Will mega resorts like South Beach add to this problem? Maybe there should be some control as to how many resorts the island should have, or maybe just slow things down a bit.
Another solution could be a proper and extensive marketing plan for Belize which the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) could prepare and heavily advertise our country abroad. This has proven to be very effective in the past. Just a couple weeks back, we met with members of the BTB who were on the island with a film crew working on a promotional video for Belize to market abroad. These are the things we need to see more of and kudos to the BTB for attending all those tradeshows as well.
In their Travel Section last week, The Miami Herald indicated that this year, with the world economy still soft, even Caribbean islands typically beyond the budget are offering reasonable rates and free nights. Some are even throwing in deals on dining and activities. Under the headline: “Island time: The Caribbean is more affordable than ever” the article promotes that never has a bargain been more coveted by US residents to head to the Caribbean. Another online publication is indicating that Caribbean destinations are reporting an unexpected jump in tourism as vacationers once bound for Mexico's sunny shores turn to new destinations amid worries about the Influenza A (H1N1) flu. We should take note and offer those great bargains as well. We need to do a little more in times of ‘Maga’ (slow) season to help pick up tourism in our own country.