BETEX is next week from Wednesday, April 25th, to Friday, April 27th. It's the big tourism exposition held every other year to bring together international travel agents and Belizean businesses. The BTIA organizes the event, and gives quite a few informational presentations about Belize.
The Belize Tourism Expo (BETEX) is an initiative of the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA), Belize's leading national private sector tourism association. BTIA represents a unified voice, and advocates for issues that benefit its members. BTIA also influences tourism policy, legislation and marketing for the sustainable development of the industry and improved quality of the visitor experience. BETEX was first organized in 1996 and now takes place every two years, attracting approximately 300 - 350 local and international tourism professionals and press representatives.
BETEX Opening Night is Belize's tourism event of the year
The BETEX Opening Night is Belize's tourism event of the year. BETEX registered delegates, members of the local and international press, and special invited guests will enjoy an evening filled with cultural food displays, live performances and lots of entertainment. Belize's key tourism stakeholders that are BETEX registered Exhibitors will welcome and mingle with international wholesalers and travel agents for a vibrant evening of networking, fun and dance.
The BETEX 2012 Welcome Reception and Opening Ceremony is sponsored by the Belize Tourism Board and will be held on April 25, from 6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. at The House of Culture in Belize City. The night's Maya 2012 theme will honor Belize's Maya heritage and celebrate the Maya civilization that flourished in Belize and the region from around 1800 BC to 1600 AD.
Traditional Marimba music will be featured, along with other Mayan cultural performances, with an ambiance to complement the Maya-inspired dinner menu. Since 2012 is the "Year of the Maya", travelers are excited about the many activities this year, particularly the Winter Solstice event in December. Even though BETEX will highlight the diversity of Belizean cultures, it has dedicated an entire Post Tour focused on Maya 2012 for enthusiasts.
Guests will be received by the Minister of Tourism, Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr, the team at the Belize Tourism Board, as well as the Belize Tourism Industry Association President, Mr. Jim Scott, the BTIA Board of Directors and the BTIA-BETEX Committee.
You still have time to register. For travel information, including discounted airfare for BETEX, click here.
Turning now to some lighter news - the ninth annual Belize Tourism Expo opened today at the Princess Hotel and Casino.
It's good news because, this year - tourism numbers are up sharply. Call it the Mayan Apocalypse bump, or purposeful marketing - but when we visited BETX 2012 today we found not too many reason to complain.
Here's the report:..
Jim Scott - President BTIA "Are we ready? Buenos dias."
Jules Vasquez reporting
And with that, BTEX 2012 was officially opened. If you don't know what BETEX is, don't feel left out most folks outside the industry don't and that's because it's an tourism trade show held in Belize for foreign buyers. Now there are trade shows like this all over the world - but BETEX is Belize's attempt to get a home court advantage:
Jim Scott - President BTIA "We are home. Where better can you promote your product? Where better can you promote your culture and your destination than at home?"
That means all these meet and greets are not casual encounters; there's business happening here:
Jim Scott - President BTIA "The basic terms we used for the agents that come here we call them buyers and we call us vendors. We are selling - it's not a panades shop but we got good panades here."
Not quite Panades prices though - many of these resorts represent the ultra-high end and can offer rooms for as much as three to 400 US dollars a night. But, right now, with tourism numbers up and 2012 hysteria everywhere, it's a seller's market:
Hon. Manuel Heredia, Minister of Tourism "8.1% better than last year; last year was a record year. First quarter is 8.1% better in particularly January. For ten years we have never ever broken that 10 year record until this year. In March the figures were over 32,000 overnight visitors for the month of March."
Jules Vasquez "Might this be a natural 2012 bump that you all might start saying that we are geniuses, we have solve the tourism thing but it's really a Mundo Maya bump."
Hon. Manuel Heredia, Minister of Tourism "We are doing great work marketing Belize for that Mundo Maya thing but that is not what is bringing these numbers together, without that, you will see that even after this Mundo Maya thing is over we will still continue to have good numbers."
And so this year, BETEX drew a good crowd - with buyers who had more than a causal interest:
Javier Williams, Asst. Mgr - Victoria House "The contracts we have made with them is many a times long term because they come and see the property and they realized what great deals they can get out of here and so meeting the new ones that come is really good because they get hook on Belize as we say."
Jim Scott - President BTIA "Why wouldn't they come to BETEX, because they get to learn about Belize; about our culture, about our natural resources, things to do while they are here and of course all these brilliant products that are here; the hotels, tour operators, sites, restaurants, smells and so many good things. Things that you have pride in as a Belizean."
The Tradeshow session finished this afternoon - and visiting buyers are now on familiarization trips to prime tourism locations.
The Belize Tourism Industry Association is staging its biggest show for the year, hoping to grow tourism numbers. The event has attracted international travel agents and writers, who attended a marketplace day at the Princess Hotel today. New and established tourism stakeholders are taking the opportunity to network and promote the Belizean product. News Five's Andrea Polanco reports.
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
Over thirty exhibitors gathered at the biggest trade show organized by the BTIA. Hoteliers and tour operators from across the country set up booth displays in an effort to network with international travel agents and writers:
Jim Scott, President, BTIA
"It allows us to display our tourism products from around Belize in one location today. We take our show on the road and we start going to some of the destinations around the country. We have invited travel agents, wholesalers, and travel writers to come just to Belize to highlight our country; as opposed to going to other travel shows where there will be other destinations, other countries, displaying their products."
It's Avon-Divers first time at BETEX. Proprietor, Ann-Marie McNeil owner of the award winning tour operator, has been to many trade shows; but she says BETEX offers a unique opportunity:
Anne-Marie McNeil, Avadon Divers
"It's a kind of interesting show to me because I am kinda used to going to larger trade shows with a much higher volume of suppliers walking the shows and a much higher volume of booths and normally there is a lot of noise and a lot of people that you don't end up connecting with or you might just give a business card to or might not make a sale with them. This show, they have set it up with the personalized appointments, you get people face to face and you get to work out some details in a quiet structured environment and your likelihood for closing a sale, and I mean not just closing a sale, a partnership of supplying is much higher in my opinion and I can already tell that I will be getting quite a few sales out of this and that pleases me very much. It's also interesting because I don't just represent Avadon Divers because I am a community member in Placencia. We are very interested to make sure we open that community to more and more tourism. I think that the response to Placencia and southern Belize is high in general to the suppliers that are coming to this show."
Also at the trade show is Bonnier Travel & Epicurean Group; they are a repeat partner at the BETEX. Their publications which include Caribbean Travel & Life and Destination Weddings have featured Belize:
John Graham, Bonnier Corporation
"We've been serving Latin America and the Caribbean with Caribbean traveling life, islands, and destination weddings for a number of years. The response has been great. We have a long relationship with Belize; we do a lot of co-ops in our islands and in Caribbean travelling life, they are very interested in the destination wedding market in North America which is growing leaps and bounds each year. So the response from the suppliers has been great. Our publications are enthusiasts-type books. We have great websites and we actually have a TV show called the Best of the Caribbean that airs on the discovery channel. They are all niched focused; they all have a paid circulation. Islands have been coming out thirty years, Caribbean Travel Life twenty-five years and our readers do travel to the Caribbean and Latin America. So the response from the suppliers has been great. Belize has been featured in many of the publications: Islands, Caribbean Travel Life and Destination weddings. So they have been long time partners supporters. It is a beautiful country and we're happy to be here."
And with less than a year since opening their doors for business, the Belizean Nirvana out of Placencia is at the BETEX for the first time and the opportunities are knocking at their doors:
Barbara Hall, Co-owner, Belizean Nirvana
"We are right on the beach in the heart of Placencia Village; very luxurious accommodation; it's absolutely beautiful; we built it with some eco tourism in mind; we don't have a septic, we built a waste treatment system. We also have an elevator for those folks who need a little bit of help to get to the roof top. We also built a walkway from the road to our hotel for our guests not to trudge through the sand; because it tends to be very high in Placencia. We are very excited so this is our very first trade show; BETEX. So far It's been very responsive and we have met with a lot of travel of agents so we feel like this will be a very good outcome for us, so very nice."
At the end of the day, there's one main objective:
Jim Scott, President,
"We're hoping that today the wholesalers will send more of the wholesalers will send more of their clients to Belize; that they will choose Belize as a primary destination and they will go back and promote our country and product. Ladies and gentlemen, tune into your conch shell and say, 'si, podemos.'"
Reporting for News Five, I'm Andrea Polanco.
There are other activities planned, including a Caribbean night in San Pedro and training workshops.
Belize's BETEX Tourism Expo: Gaining a New Respect for Travel Agents
This past week I spent traveling throughout Belize with a group of travel agents as press on behalf of the Belize Tourism Expo (BETEX), a travel industry event designed for wholesalers and some retail travel agents. Following the two-day conference, there were post tours available that attendees could sign up for that specialized in different aspects of Belize travel.
BETEX 2012 was held April 25th to April 27th in Belize City
Admittedly, I am one who books my own travel outright versus going through a travel agent. I am also one who is guilty of the belief that booking through an agent is more expensive or that I can do everything easier on my own. Going into the conference, I knew it would be an interesting experience given my pre-conceived notions on travel agents as a whole.
After the conference, we spent the four days traipsing around different parts of Belize on what it is commonly referred to as a "FAM" trip. I lost count of how many hotel site inspections we did, how many mosquito bites I have, and the number of blisters still on my feet. But one thing I've taken away from this trip is a newfound respect for travel agents.
This was really a FAM trip on steroids as I started every day with a 5am wake up and usually ended the night drooling on my keyboard while passing out at 11pm after failed attempts to get any work done.
7am breakfast and site tour of Victoria House Resort after the conference party the night before
So many people think travel is glamorous and all we writers/bloggers do is lay on the beach, sipping umbrella drinks and working on our tans. I photographed some of the most beautiful pools in Belize this trip�and set foot in none.
Despite spending more nights in hotels versus my own bed on a regular basis and being used to busy itineraries, this trip knocked me on my behind. I'm the one who tried to keep up with these guys who managed to stay active and engaged after looking at 10 different properties in a day, taking notes, while still handling work issues and client calls throughout the day, never once uttering more than an occasional I am tired and/or sore.
I've learned a lot about the travel agent business, how wholesalers work, and what dedication and passion these people have for their job. They weren’t there because it was a free trip - they paid to be there and voluntarily put themselves through this rigorous itinerary in order to better understand how to serve their clients.
Our group learning about the Belizean blue morpho butterfly at The Lodge at Chaa Creek in Cayo
While I may travel to Belize far more often than these guys, they definitely know the country. And listening to the questions they ask, it's certainly opened my eyes to new things I should be looking for and including when I feature properties, or write up hotel reviews, for various sites.
These agents and wholesalers know their clientele and they recognize them as people, not merely as a commission they received. There was genuine excitement when they realized they could book a property for a specific client, or when they received an email from a client who just returned from a successful trip. Many times throughout the day, they would tell their travel partners, "I just received a message from Mr. and Mrs. X and they had a fabulous time on their trip."
While some may assume we all are independent travelers, the fact remains not everyone is and a large percentage of the population utilizes travel agents. The internet did not kill the industry as many speculated, and in speaking with some agents, they did not even feel a hiccup during the recent economic downturn. That comes not only from a strong business plan, but primarily from the loyal following they built by giving their clients the vacation of their dreams.
This trip was been one of the most eye-opening experiences I've had in my career. There was a press group trip, but that was for people who work in the wholesale trade industry itself. I am the only consumer writer who followed these agents and I think my experience was far more authentic versus spending a few additional days with other members of the media.
While our ties to the industry are quite different, ultimately we are all just puzzle pieces that fit together in the gigantic world of travel. Our roles are unique, yet we unknowingly depend on each other to get people out and traveling the world. During our time together, we touched a lot of lives in Belize, and the passion we share for our jobs, travel in general, and certainly the country of Belize, was immediately and genuinely evident.
Last night's post-tour dinner with whole group at San Ignacio Resort Hotel in Cayo
We did a lot of networking and we all found successes in our time together, despite different agendas. I've developed new relationships with properties and companies, and these people have truly become friends. I already began missing them after parting ways only hours before.
Reef and Rainforest group I traveled with (photo courtesy of Patty Ramirez, Splash Dive Shop)
Going forward, I am more likely to utilize a travel agent when booking a trip to an unfamiliar destination as I have tremendous respect and faith that these guys are going to steer me in the right direction. And if you ever need a recommendation for an agent who specializes in Belize, shoot me an email as I now have a list of people who will literally work day and night to make sure your Belize vacation is everything you dreamed it would be.