By Richard Harrison

Domestic Easter tourism expenditures is the biggest for Belizeans of all levels of income. This year Belizeans spent an estimated $60 million on domestic and foreign travel…to vacation spots, to visit families/friends in a different part of the country, to meet new people in a new place, or for parties with family and friends at home.

Most of the foreign travel is to Mexico’s Riviera Maya beaches…where Belizeans who can afford it perceive better value for money…wider variety of entertainment choices, newness, difference…more safety….better and more reliable services.

Domestic travel is mainly to the islands, principally San Pedro and Caye Caulker, with Placencia and Hopkins catching up fast. San Ignacio, a scenic inland town, has traditionally attracted large numbers as well, but it seems to be in decline.

The sun, sea and sand gives natural advantage to the coastal areas during these summer days, with the very pleasant weather resulting from the north-easterly winds and Easter full-moon effects…so the inland destinations wanting to grow their share of this pie have to work much harder to make their offers more attractive for vacation planners.

San Ignacio used to have a very popular horse race in the 1970’s and 80’s which attracted large crowds from across the country. Since then, while the capacity and capability of the tourism offers in the islands and Placencia has increased significantly, San Ignacio has settled for an Easter fair that features the same old, same old…ferris wheel, food, drinks and games. It has not found a way to attract more than food/drinks sales from the large following of the annual cross country cycling classic…which appears and disappears rapidly. It needs to re-invent its Easter offer if it plans to see its declining market share turn around. The community leaders need to take their job more seriously, and become more creative and entrepreneurial…working more closely with the private sector to make cohesive plans and then advertise them appropriately…instead of disappearing themselves to the Riviera Maya and coastal areas…sleeping with the competition.

Belizean Easter vacationers are looking for fun activities for singles….others for families. They search for good deals that offer value for money in terms of room, food, drinks and tours…and for a safe place to socialize with existing friends or to meet new ones.

The vast majority (about 70%) of vacationers are between the ages of 16-30….and “entertainment” offers focus mostly on liquor and sex…wrongly assuming, in my opinion, that this is what this group is looking for. These younger vacationers usually pool their resources to arrange for rooms, meals and tours…however, the most dollars are spent by those over 30 years who travel with their families and/or partners. There is not much there for families traveling with children. So what happens, is “confused” parents suck in the gory stage acts cheering alongside their now-not-so-innocent children. There is not much creativity in terms of decent “entertainment”.

Both coastal and inland tourism vacation providers need to do a better job at planning to receive the growing numbers of Easter vacationers, if Belize is to avoid sinking further into the dark pits of drunken gory tattoo-exposing sexiness…and not much more.

There is obviously a rapidly growing appetite among the Guatemalan elite to vacation in Belize during Easter week. A small, well executed budget for promotions in Guatemala leading up to Easter could grow the revenues for this weekend significantly in the years ahead.

Much more domestic vacation travel would take place if the public transportation system did not shut down for the weekend. Not only those who have a private vehicle want to vacation and there are also many tourists in the country who want to move around. There should be a reliable schedule of sufficient, safe public transportation throughout the vacation weekend.

Inspections need to be carried out before the Easter…of piers/marinas, ferries, water taxis, planes, buses and other public infrastructure and transport vehicles that are important to public safety during this period of heavy-load traffic. The transport department and police should facilitate smooth, orderly and safe travel throughout the weekend…not only on Saturday.

Belize’s unique public and bank holiday of “Easter Monday” is a spectacle that adds revenues to the weekend and allows for easing the crowds back home over a longer period without the drunken Sunday night rush that can be seen in other countries. Am starting to think we should make “Easter Thursday” a public and bank holiday as well…LOL

In short…..Easter tourism is already big business for Belize…with an even bigger potential….both from a domestic and foreign tourist perspective….and our community planners should put more into planning and execution….not depend solely on the Belize Tourism Board. They cannot be all things to all people….especially when the Minister in charge is from the coastal region. The key words, I would suggest, are “differentiation”, “segmentation”, “value-for-money” and “advertising”.

The Belize Times