Today's conversation with Tropic Air's president gave us an opportunity to discuss the current state of Belize's aviation industry, which directly tied to the performance of the country's tourism.

Greif opened up to us about what his own company was facing, and how things have changed over the last few months:

John Greif - President, Tropic Air
"One of my customers told me that so goes Tropic, so goes tourism, so goes tourism, so goes Belize. So, there is a very direct link between Tropic and Maya's health and the health of the country."

"Tropic got as bad as 98% off. In other words, we were doing 2% of the business that we normally did. But, it's gone up drastically, and we're getting close to being able to break even, which is a lot more than most airlines can say. And remember, we did this, unlike the American Airline [companies], and a lot of the South American, and even some of the Central American Airlines, we did this without any government help at all. We bootstrapped ourselves up on this."

"One of our options, my partner and I in Tropic, was to just pull out, and we're both at an age where we don't need the work. We don't need the money, so, let's stay at home and watch our grandkids grow up. But, we decided not to do that. We decided to stay in the fight and fight the fight. And like I said, our business was off 98% and had it not been for an excellent accounting division, and an excellent CFO, we wouldn't have survived because our CFO had our cash flow figured out. We had plenty of cash reserves."

"Neither we nor Maya got any help at all from the government, not even an easing from the taxes or anything. The success that we've seen, and like I said, we're very near being able to break even, and that's the magic number for aviation these days. If you can break even, then you can kind of keep your place until things get better."

Greif told us that he is seeing encouraging signs of improvement with the slight return of local tourism:

John Greif - President, Tropic Air
"We see an attitude in our North American travelers, and to some extent, in our Belizean travelers that COVID is a new way of life. We're gonna protect our elderly, protect the people with pre-existing conditions, and we're gonna go on living our lives. We're not gonna shelter in place - for a lack of a better term - to try to get away from this. And like said, we've seen that reflected in our passenger numbers and our operation."

"Tourists are coming. I live next door to a resort, and I saw a group of tourists out on the end of the dock. And I got so excited. I almost went out and took their pictures, but there are tourists on the island. I got some change for my panades the other day, and I got 5 dollars Belize and two 1-dollar US bills. So not only are the tourists here, but their money is trickling down."

"Tropic has never had strong future bookings. In other words, people make their reservations with us last minute. So, it's hard for us to look at our future bookings, and see what's going to happen. But, I can certainly look at what happened last week, and the week before, and the business is increasing dramatically."

"Sir, so what happens with your flight to Cancun?"

John Greif
"Believe it or not, since the border closed, our Cancun flight is doing better than ever. You have to call a week in advance to get a ticket with us to Cancun."

"We're doing probably twice the business we were doing pre-COVID to Cancun, and then, that that trickles down like I said because some of those passengers are going to Placencia. Some are going to San Pedro. Some of them are spending the night in Belize, and going on to Honduras, Salvador, [and] Guatemala. So, right now, for Tropic and for parts of Belize, it's a vital link. It's the only link, actually, between Southern Mexico and the rest of Central America, with the land borders being closed."

"I think that by the end of this coming year, I think we'll be profitable, and I think we'll be close to our 2019 levels in the season of 2022."

Tropic May Re-Hire After COVID Layoffs

We also asked the Tropic Air president about all those employees that they had to lay off earlier this year. He said that the hope is that the company's finances will rebound enough that they may be able to rehire those who have not moved on:

John Greif - President, Tropic Air
"Well I don't think its a secret that we had to fire a third of our employees. We had 316 employees and we had to fire 120 and it made me physically ill. I couldn't come to work for a few weeks because these people are not just my employees, they're literally figuratively my family. It was very difficult and we are bringing them back as quickly as we can. From the worst that it got we probably got back a dozen employees, so hopefully we are able to bring all or most of them back if they haven't moved on."

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