BTIA Wants tourist Red Tape Rolled Back
Last night, we told you about the letter that the Belize Tourism Industry Association sent to Prime Minister Dean Barrow on Independence Day. In it, they are asking him, the National Oversight Committee, and the Government to reconsider all the restrictions that international tourists will face next week Thursday when the Philip Goldson International Airport is reopened.
For months, we've been telling you about the strict COVID protocols that all visitors will have to observe. But, the BTIA is publicly asking whether it is time to reconsider all the red-tape.
They reason that the virus is already here and that the tourists are just as likely to catch it from Belizeans, as they are likely to bring it into the country. Secondly, they say that our tourism industry is competing for tourists with other regional tourism powerhouses, and all that red tape will make the Belize package less attractive.
This evening, we spoke via teleconference with 2 senior personalities from the BTIA about their concerns for the tourist experience starting next Thursday. Here's how they put it:
John Burgos - Executive Director, BTIA
"When these protocols, strategies, and standards were developed, they were developed in June/July, when the COVID-19 situation in Belize was very well under control. And at the time, that is what led to what we thought would be the best approach in terms of recovering the tourism industry and creating economic activity for all tourism stakeholders. So, that's the key thing that people need to understand. We have seen what has happened in Belize since August, and we have seen that the SI's keep coming every other week, with new updates, new things being implemented. But, I think that they're not being looked at the way they should. I think their views are a little bit outdated. I think we really have to look at what are we trying to achieve with those standards, and those protocols. Who are we protecting? If a tourist who doesn't have COVID-19 comes into the country, he's going to be exposed to COVID-19 in Belize. And he could put himself at risk just by coming to Belize. So, we're saying that some of the arrival protocols need to be reviewed with an objective mind."
Stuart Krohn - 2nd VP, BTIA
"The airlift initially coming into Belize is going to be very small, only maybe 2 flights a day. So, let's say there's going to be a hundred bonafide tourists that come into the country every day."
"So, at any given time, you'll have 400 tourists, at least for October and November. At any given time, 400 tourists in the country, most of those tourists would have arrived with a negative PCR test, or be tested at the airport. At the same, you have 400,000 Belizeans who, for the most part, have not been tested. So, 400,000 vs. 400. So, why are we focusing all these resources on 400 people who are the least risky people to have in your country?"
"We have to recognize what is the Belize experience. We have to recognize that we're competing regionally and globally to attract tourists into Belize. We are hanging on by a threat, a very thin thread that cannot be sustained."
"The process of coming into Belize as a tourist, why are we making it so complicated? I think it is easy. I think the recommendation we're making is very easy. We're just trying to say listen, if the person tests, or brings a negative test, they should be allowed freedom of travel, and then they should be able to abide by all the laws that our local population is abiding by. Why do you want the hotels and resorts to serve as a prison? Because that's basically what it is. The moment they tell you [that] you cannot take a walk down the beach in Hopkins, Placencia, in Caye Caulker, or in San Pedro, you're basically telling me you're a prisoner. You can only go on tour. That's it. You come back, and then, you stay here."
"Looking at what we're implementing right now, let me tell you, what we're implementing right now is not going to motivate anyone to choose Belize as a tourist destination."
Among other suggestions, the BTIA is recommending that the arrival process at the PGIA should be simplified. If a visitor arrives with a negative test, they are processed through immigration or given a rapid test upon arrival with results given on-the-spot or sent to the visitor or hotel. International visitors who are confirmed to be COVID-free should be allowed full freedom of movement around the country, but they should be required to abide by the same COVID-19 health and safety protocols that Belizeans are mandated to follow.