La Isla Cariñosa may have taken a hit from COVID-19, but the island is rebounding fast. Today, News Five checked out the tourist action that is bringing back the economic recovery and raising residents’ spirits.
Duane Moody, Reporting
The once bustling island of Caye Caulker, a highly visited tourist destination in Belize, was not spared the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. But today, eighteen months after, there is a lot of activity.
Seleny Villanueva-Pott, Chairlady, Caye Caulker Village Council
“It’s taken Caye Caulker a little longer than other destinations across the country to see the visiting overnight tourists, but they are here now and we’re just starting to bubble, if I may. We very much appreciate the visits that we are getting right now.”
Maria Vega, B.T.I.A. Chair, Caye Caulker Chapter
“The opening of the airport did help a lot and we started getting repeat visitors and visiting friends and family coming in by the Philip Goldson [International Airport] connection and now that the vaccination campaign has started globally, people have a comfort level to travel so we are seeing the numbers increasing. It’s all been slow. So it’s a slow comeback and it will continue slow.”
While there were a number of properties as well as tour companies on the island that have closed down, sold their assets and will not be reopening, others have made the necessary investments to get Gold Standard certified. The Barefoot Hotel, which is located in the heart, has seen an uptick in bookings and guests. Manager Yvan Roberts says that on weekends, they are usually fully booked.
Yvan Roberts, Manager, Barefoot Caye Caulker Hotel
“Right before the Easter holidays, we started noticing much traffic. Thankfully, we have a good support from our very own local tourism and we have gotten good support from them when it comes to travelling to Caye Caulker for a day for a couple days and we have been pretty steady with bookings when it comes to weekends especially. We have had a lot of foreign travellers as well; of course these were people that had already booked pre-COVID and then decided to return.”
We headed over to the popular Split at the northern tip of the south side of the island where international tourists alighted from a number of boats. They were from the cruise ship that called to port today and had booked tours with Exotic Shores Excursions that does both terrestrial and marine tours. Operations Manager Jonathan Mulligan says that twenty-four tour guides alone were booked for today and this is good news for the economy.
Jonathan Mulligan, Operations Manager, Exotic ShoresExcursions
“We’ve been operating since 2013 from inside the Fort Street Tourist Village; currently we are doing both terrestrial and marine tours. We do tours to Lamanai, Xunantunich, Golf’s Caye and Caye Caulker. Currently we have about roughly two hundred passengers coming to Caye Caulker to do sharks and ray and obviously snorkel the second largest barrier reef in the world. Apart from that, we’ve hired about twenty-four maybe twenty-six tour guides today and it is healthy for the entire economy. More money spreading around the island and for everyone. The more ships come the better. More jobs for everybody, more money circulating around for everybody. So we are excited to be getting back on track and showing people a good time.”
Caye Caulker Village Chairlady, Seleny Villanueva-Pott says that with zero major crimes over the last year and no recorded positive COVID-19 case, the island is ideal for domestic and international tourists.
“Even though we are seeing an increase in number of tourists, both local and international, we are happy to say that we have not had any positive cases. That’s all community effort; it is the effort being put out by everyone trying to get vaccine. We continue to ask the business community to be vigilant. It is definitely a plus for us. We are a destination that has nil major crime and zero COVID-19 cases, it is pretty good for Caye Caulker. So we invite everybody to caye caulker to come and visit; we just ask that you follow the guidelines and we can all have a good time while you’re here.”