Belize's tourism industry ground to a halt in March of 2020 when San Pedro reported the first case of Covid 19.
For 6 months Belize welcomed no tourists, until October, when the airport reopened. Since then it's been a slow crawl from the pit created by Covid, and Belize's tourism numbers have yet to reach half of what they were before the COVId crash.
Still, we wanted to see what tourism looked like on the islands. And our Lance Howard and James Ayala took a trip to the cayes this weekend to see just how much things have changed since the prime minister cancelled easter.
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "Travel across district lines is curtailed and Easter is cancelled."
Indeed Easter weekend 2020 was a sobering one. San Pedro, was a ghost town, locked down and locked off from the rest of the country.
But Now, a little more than a year later, things seemed slow, but on their way to normalcy.
We spoke to one resort manager who says Covid has been a drastic change for his business.
Einer Gomez, Manager, Ramon's Village "We were shutdown on March 23rd of 2020 due to covid and had to painfully lay off a lot of our staff for at least a few months, but now we are back again and we are learning to live with covid upon us and I think that the staff have been doing an excellent job now that we have open since October 1st. I'm glad to say that we have called in most of that staff back, we are about two-thirds where staff is concerned and so we are delighted to know that business is picking up."
But in Caye Caulker things weren't so optimistic. The streets, which would normally be packed like market day, were oddly empty.
And when compared to our footage from march of 2015, the difference is stark .
At the tropical paradise hotel, we were told that they're really only half open.
Tracy Young, Office Manager, Tropical Paradise Hotel "90% of our staff was on for low and we still haven't gotten them back as yet, so it is still affecting us. In end of July we saw hopes because we started to get reservations in. With the airport opened we have seen a little bit of foreigners that come in to do come and stay, but not as much as we would expect. On the weekdays we have zero people. On the weekends we get a couple Belizean guests who want to come to the island, but apart from that we're really hoping that we can get back to some normalcy."
And it seems most hotels and resorts aren't actually making money. Many are just trying to keep their staff employed and maintain their property.
Alina Saldivar, Owner/Manager, Island Magic Beach Resort "It's nothing like what it used to be. When we opened in October, we opened with 7 staff, now we are up to 11. I don't think any hotel owner is in a position to make money with the conditions right now because of course the number are still so low of international travelers. We are able to be open. We are able to have a handful of staff, we are able to use the property. The tourists that are here are happy, because they have the island to themselves, so that's been nice. Its slow, it's still tough."
And what about the tourists? Well, The few we met had rave reviews about Belize.
But what does the future have in store?
Well, with the tourism sector being vaccinated and entry made easier, the hope is that we can get those numbers up very soon.
Einer Gomez, Manager, Ramon's Village "I think Belize has done an excellent job in making sure that the country is safe and that we are welcoming tourists back again in exercising safe protocols, we're diligently making sure that our staff gets vaccinated and I'm hoping as we are a tourist destination that most of our population would get vaccinated so we can use it even as a marketing tool."
Ted Tejada, President, Belize Hotel Association "Our rate is very low, the opportunity of someone coming from abroad and getting contaminated in Belize is close to zero."
Alina Saldivar, Owner/Manager, Island Magic Beach Resort "In the coming months I see it, because of the vaccination, I see the numbers going up. So I think it will get better."
Ted Tejada, President, Belize Hotel Association "This is the only country in Central America and the Caribbean that has announced that any individual that has been vaccinated is easily to come to Belize without having go through the testing that we require. That is a big plus for any tourist."
For the most part, stakeholders are optimistic.
Einer Gomez, Manager, Ramon's Village "The tourism industry community as a whole is a very resilient community. We go through hurricanes and other natural disasters and we bounce back. I know that we all love our country and we want to showcase it and that's the best thing that we can do."
Join us tomorrow for our companion story on what it's like to be a Belizean tourist on the islands.
Last night we showed you how hotels and resorts on Caye Caulker and San Pedro are faring during the depression caused by covid-19. Right now our numbers are still less than half of what they were last year around this time, and it seems that Belizean's have been instrumental in keeping the industry going.
Our Lance Howard wanted to catalogue what it's like for Belizeans traveling to the islands, and find out first-hand, just how crucial the Belizean traveller is for tourism cash flow.
He, took the trip along with Cherisse Halsall and James Ayala, and here's what they saw.