The Belize Tourism Industry Association today celebrated its 25th anniversary. It's an important benchmark for this organization that started out humble enough in 1975. But the core issues then still prevail today - except that those two decades ago - no one knew where Belize was.

Steve Maestre, Founding Member, BTIA,
From zero to over 600 members. From 'Where is Belize?' to 'I've been there.' or 'I am planning to go.' From a nation that never took tourism seriously to depending on tourism as a major contributor to the economy. All in a short 25 years of BTIA's leadership.

Jules Vasquez, Reporting
But even with the strides made in this industry, what's old is still new.

Steve Maestre, Founding Member, BTIA,
"I believe if you take the minutes of 1980 and 1990, they are probably quite the same as the minutes of 2010."

Dionne Miranda, BTIA President,
"But it also means that the existence of the BTIA is even more important because we have to stay on top of these things. We are a lobby advocacy organization. And we have to ensure that we have the collective voice of the private sector."

Jules Vasquez, Reporting
And now the BTIA says that at 25, it must change.

Dionne Miranda, BTIA President,
"This must be a year of transformation. We are 25 years old. We can't party any longer. We must take our lives seriously and deliver something by the time we're 30, we have to know that we have made that impact."

Jules Vasquez,
And looking forward, consultant Chris Inman says Belize has to identify and commit to its core values which are not in line with mega development.

Chris Inman, Ecotourism Consultant,
"When you build your coastline up like what most of the planet has done right now, if you're in close proximity to major markets, you're coastline is under pressure to look like every other coastline that's in close proximity to major markets. On a practical, economic development level, I have reason to believe that Belize's best interests are going to be met by avoiding these pressures. Why do these things called values matter? On the negative side or the risk side, they matter because if you don't have them to begin with you cant resist the pressure on your beautiful coastline. Global forces are so strong, wanting to build these massive structures on your beautiful coastline. You may not be aware and you may not see it yet but those forces are busily working even now."

Jules Vasquez Reporting,
"Which direction are we going? And is the industry itself clear on it?"

Dionne Miranda, BTIA President,
"The industry is very clear on the position. Like I said, we will have members that we will have to disagree with at times. We will have members that we agree with at times. The reality though is that we have to be respected."

Jules Vasquez,
"But are you all able to commit to core values which state that, you know what, we are a conservation-based country and we do not want mega-developments like Cancun and like Playa sitting on the beach front."

Dionne Miranda, BTIA President,
"We definitely can. In fact, we have a membership of 600 plus members and we have committed to the fact that we are going to be having a sustainable movement towards the way how we handle our tourism on a whole."

Jules Vasquez
"Right now, handling tourism means managing the longest sustained downturn in probably its entire history."

Dionne Miranda, BTIA President,
"We meet today as we start to leave behind one of the most difficult periods of recent history -- an unprecedented global economic crisis coupled with the mounting environmental challenges and aggravated by the uncertainty arising from an H1N1 pandemic, which turned 2009 into one of the toughest years for the tourism industry. Results of recent months however, suggests that recuperation is underway."

"I don't think that the malaise or the attendance is really representative of the organization. It's actually representative of the fact that many people have had to lower staff levels to the point where they are the cook, the bottle-washer and the manager at the same time. They cant leave to come to an event like this during the day. Come tonight to the cocktail at the ITVET, and they'll be there because some of them have told me, 'I can't come to two. I am running the hotel; I'm cooking the food; I'm massaging the guests; I'm doing everything.'"

"That is indicative of the recession we're dealing with. People have had to cut down staff a lot. That's why unemployment in this country has risen. It is directly indicative of what we're dealing with within the tourism environment right now. But what we're trying to do is keep our shirts on our backs. We're trying to keep the loan payments going on. We're trying to fight even though the taxes are rising and making sure that we are able to keep our business operational. That is where tourism people are right now. They are actually working, Jules. They are not able to enjoy some of the functions that some of us can take the little bit of time off to do."

Channel 7