Tourism Minister Talks Opening Borders
Government was on the defensive after prominent figures in the medical community expressed grave reservations about opening up the country's land and sea borders in 3 days.
The medical professionals are concerned that with the resurgence of COVID cases in neighboring countries, the potential public health risks outweigh the benefits of an increase in tourism traffic.
This morning, the Minister of Tourism spoke on those concerns today:
Hon. Anthony Mahler - Minister of Tourism
"I know that this is a touchy situation or a touchy point for people. I too am concerned about the reopening of the borders. But, I am confident that with the standard operating procedures and the protocols we are putting in place, we will have a safe reopening. If you at the reopening of the airport that some were opposed to in October, and you look at the numbers coming through the airport, you will see the number of positive cases through the airport is minimal. The airport represents about 75% of the overnight arrivals coming into this country. The land borders then - and the seaports altogether [represents] the other 25%. So, you're dealing with much smaller numbers than through the airport, but the protocols will be a little bit more stringent."
"And I want to stress this to the Belizean public. We are not opening the borders for a free-for-all. It is only for tourists who are passing through, or coming into this country, staying at a gold standard hotel, and moving through the country with a gold standard tour operator. It is not for Belizeans wanting to go to Chetumal to party or to hang out."
"Against some critics, we opened the Free Zone that is now providing 1,200 jobs for Belizeans making a decent living to take home to their families. Those people were never working at the time. Tell me how many cases of COVID have been reported because of that interaction with people from Quintana Roo into the Free Zone. There have been at least 77,000 -78,000 people passing through, since the reopening, and there has been no spike, no spread in Corozal or the northern districts."
Tourism Minister Talks Increasing Airlift
There are a few more topics of urgent national attention that came up in today's House Meeting. During the segment on questions to ministers, UDP Area Rep. Tracy Taegar-Panton asked the Tourism Minister for updates on the recovery of this important industry.
Today, he responded by saying that his Ministry is working hard to convince the airline companies to resume their flights to Belize:
Hon. Anthony Mahler - Minister of Tourism & Diaspora Relations
"Madam Speaker, I just want to go back a little bit with regards to the airlines that we have reached out to, and we are working [with]. And like I said, we're at about 50% of where we were. It is important for me to tell the Belizean people about how far we have come because there were no airlines coming in. So, the resumption of American Airlines from Los Angeles, the resumption of American Airlines from Charlotte, resumption of American Airlines from Dallas, resumption of United Airline from Chicago, resumption of United from Newark, announcement and commencement of a Saturday-only flight from Denver, resumption of Delta Service from Atlanta, the announcement of Delta from Minneapolis. Copa is going to start flying back in June or July. Alaska Airlines will start back later this year. Southwest will be back later on this year, and Southwest represents 25% of the capacity coming into the country. So, it is very important. West Jet out of Canada will start flying back later on this year, and we're talking to Air Canada to resume their flights, if not later on this year, early next year. We are in consultation and discussion with European carriers, and we're excited about one specifically, and so, we're working hard. And, we're talking to some of the low-cost carriers out of the United States. As I said, airlift into Belize is the lifeblood of the industry, and we're working to get those back."
When is Cruise Coming Back?
Minister Mahler also discussed the latest attempts from his Ministry to also restart the local cruise tourism industry. He told his colleagues that some of the cruise companies have responded favorably to ongoing talks:
Hon. Anthony Mahler - Minister of Tourism
"We've had extensive discussions with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association, and specific lines. We were advised by Norwegian that their first voyage to Belize would be a test run on August 4th, and the first official voyage to Belize would be a test run on August 4th, and the first official voyage to Belize with passengers would be on August 7th out of Montego Bay. They're looking to change out of Montego Bay and go back to one of the home ports in the United States. We've spoken recently to Carnival, and Carnival represents over 70% of the capacity in the country. And they were saying to us initially that they would have returned later on this year. It is good to note that they will start in July with 4 voyages, 4 in August and 6 in September. It is just a start, but it is a good start, and I believe that by the end of the year, with robust bookings that the cruise lines have been talking about, that will have cruise tourism back to its full capacity sometime early next year."