Stewart Krohn, President, BTIA opposes the no vax, no dining in rule that was introduced in the latest SI. Basically, if you're not fully vaccinated, you can't eat inside a restaurant. This has a major effect on the tourism industry since you don't need to be vaccinated to enter the country. So for those tourists who have a negative test, while they can visit different destinations, they can't sit down and enjoy a meal. Krohn says it's a contradiction and one he hopes the government will remedy.
Stewart Krohn, President, BTIA "Obviously if you're inviting tourists to come into the country and enjoy the great attractions of Belize and you're telling them you can come to Belize either with a vaccination or with a negative test but you don't have to be vaccinated, if you invite them in like that and then you turn around and tell them oh you can come in but you can't eat at a restaurant, that doesn't really make sense, I just think that sometimes regulations like that are not thought through by the people who make up those rules so obviously the reaction in the industry particularly from independent restaurants and restaurants in hotels is that this just doesn't make sense and through this medium I would certainly like to appeal to the Ministry of Health to the government to Cabinet, let's alter this particular regulation to make it consistent with what we're telling people at the airport. The regulation as it exists is not tremendously effective in stopping COVID and I think we would be a lot better off if that regulation could be relaxed and abolished shortly."
Should Restaurants Expect Visitors to Show Proof of Vaccination?
While on Open Your Eyes, the Director of the Belize Tourist Board, Evan Tillett said bringing visitors back remains the big challenge. He says vaccination remains key, and the sector’s front line workers have stepped up to get their jabs. But CEO Solano says what works to protect local Belizeans may not work for tourism and requiring visitors to show proof of vaccination before entering a restaurant has been a source of contention for stakeholders.
Evan Tillett, Director, BTB
“Definitely COVID remains the major challenge of tourism. At the end of the day, if you are a tourist, you want to know that where you are going is safe. In May, June, July, we were trending really good, in terms of our arrival numbers and tourism was doing well. However, because of the Delta variant and the fears caused by the Delta variant, we see where August and September kinds struggled. As the Delta variant fears subside, we should see an improvement in terms of numbers going into the high season. It is critical for us to continue to push the vaccination mandate. I think we have an opportunity in Belize because we have access to the vaccines for us to try and get people vaccinated, so we can return to some sense of normalcy. The tourism industry, I know are doing their part. Initially, through the lobbying of our Minister, we have gotten about eight thousand vaccines, specifically for frontline tourism workers in a very short time. That eight thousand was taken up and surpassed in terms of the people in the tourism sector.”
Nicole Solano, C.E.O, Ministry of Tourism and Diaspora Relations
“The ease of travel, the ease of entry, tourists are still looking for destinations where you don’t have so many restrictions. As Mr. Tillett mentioned, they don’t want to be under any strict rules. They will simply look for a destination that does not have a long list of requirements that are needed. So, absolutely, from the Ministry of Tourism standpoint, we are in constant communication with the Ministry of Health as we have from the beginning of the year, trying to see how we can strike that delicate balance. Right now, the fact of the matter is that there is a regulation in place where only vaccinated tourists can enter restaurants. We believe that that is not going to be a long term solution. We know our Minister is in constant contact with the Minister of Health and other ministers in cabinet to try to get some relief in that area because we have made the decision that we will not limit entry to only vaccinated tourists. Therefore, unvaccinated tourists need to be able to have access to these facilities. And this is something that is being raised, it is something under consideration. The private sector has raised that point over and over and over again. Both Mr. Tillett and I and everybody at BTB, in terms of our customer relations, we have been getting tons of questions and fielding tons of questions related to this and we are trying to find a balance because much of what you currently see in the regulations, trying to stem COVID for the general public in Belize, just simply doesn’t work for tourism.”
PM Holds Firm on Vaccination Proof at Restaurants—No Exemption for Tourists
Also by the end of the year, frontline workers will be required to be vaccinated. It is an incoming regulation, according to PM Bricneo, that will no longer give these people the option to present a negative COVID-19 test every two weeks. He also addressed the push back from the tourism sector over the vaccine mandate for restaurants.
Prime Minister of Belize, John Briceno
“We will have by the end of this year, one of the recommendations are, is that all the frontline workers will have to be vaccinated. This about go and get test and come back, you now have to be vaccinated to go into the work place, to go into the restaurants. As it is right now restaurants are, inside dining are fifty percent but they must be vaccinated.”
“I am sure you know the tourism sector is concerned about this issue.”
Prime Minister of Belize, John Briceno
“Well, I am sorry about that, but they have to. Well, when you go to the United States and you go to a restaurant, you have to be vaccinated. You have to show your card or else you can’t go in. The President from Brazil, they refused his entrance into a restaurant, actually they have a picture of him eating pizza on the street side. So, if the tourist back home in the U.S has to be vaccinated back home to go into a restaurant, why should we make it any different here?”
Restaurant Vaccine Mandate Blindsided Tourism Industry
The Statutory Instrument that requires restaurants to accommodate only vaccinated people who can show their cards has begun to impact hotel restaurants. Restaurants presently can only accommodate fifty percent of their maximum capacity, but with the cancellations that hotels have started to see, President of the Belize Hotel Association, Alina Saldivar says their worry is that if this SI remains in effect, they will begin to suffer serious impacts once again. For context, we repeat the Prime Minister’s comments on the matter when he appeared on Channel five’s Open Your Eyes on Wednesday, followed by Saldivar’s take on what the requirement is doing to tourism. And she says that tourism stakeholders are going to be strict with enforcing mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing during the upcoming high season.
Prime Minister John Briceno
“When you go to the United States and you go to a restaurant, you have to be vaccinated. You have to show your card or else you can’t go in. The President from Brazil, they refused his entrance into a restaurant, actually they have a picture of him eating pizza on the street side. So, if the tourist back home in the U.S has to be vaccinated back home to go into a restaurant, why should we make it any different here?”
Alina Saldivar, President, BHA
“My answer to that is it should be different here because here we depend on tourism. The US doesn’t depend on tourism as heavily as we do here. We have quite a few reservations from November onwards, especially through March, but then out of left field we were completely blown away when the SI came out saying that restaurants could only serve vaccinated customers. We had no idea that was coming. I can’t speak for local restaurants; I don’t know how much it is affecting them, but that affected us right away. I don’t think it was well-thought out in terms of how much that would affect a tourist that wants to come to this country that has chosen not to be vaccinated. We’re not requiring vaccination to enter the country, yet we’re saying when you get here it’s going to be difficult to find food; it’s going to be difficult to eat. It is already affecting us. We have one resort in San Pedro that made the announcement to their future guests and they got six cancellations in a matter of twenty-four hours. They got six cancellations. We have these new airlines coming in November and December and everyone is very excited and hopeful. Unfortunately, some of the cities of those airlines are servicing are cities in the US that have a high anti-vax rate so we probably will be seeing some guests there that are not vaccinated and we – the resorts have a responsibility to let them know because it’s going to be chaotic if we don’t say anything in favour of the cancellations and then we have them come and learn about that when they’re here. That wouldn’t be right. So we really hope that this is going to be a regulation that will have an expiration date before we get into the thick of the high season.”