|BTB officials and Chamber members at the meeting on Thursday, March 12th. |
The Ambergris Caye Chamber of Commerce held their regular meeting on Thursday, March 12th at the Blue Water Grill. During the meeting, the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) was invited to respond to the many concerns voiced by members at past meetings. Concerns brought up ranged from fishing to the effects of the current economic world crises on tourism to funding allocations to projects on Ambergris Caye.
The BTB officials present were Director of Tourism Tracy Panton, Director of Product Development Laura Esquivel, Registrar of Hotels Lloyd Enriquez, Shakira Tsai, Director of Marketing, Administrative Manager Amy Leiva, BTB Chairman Gach Guerrero and BTB Board Member Elito Arceo. After the panel was introduced by the President of the Chamber, Tom Vidrine it was down to business.
The first concern brought up was whether or not BTB is involved in promoting fishing in tandem with the worldwide media coverage that Belize is receiving in respect to the landmark catch and release legislation for bonefish, tarpon and permit. According to Panton, BTB had partnered with Yellow Dog [Fly Fishing Adventures] to create a film on Belize. They are working with guides and are looking at a bigger presence in fishing magazines. They also have a fishing press kit available on their website. Many of the Chamber members present suggested that BTB represent the country at travel shows, especially the large show held in Costa Rica every year that markets Central and South America.
When BTB was asked to explain the connection to government, funding and purpose of the BTB, the officials explained the institution is a quasi-governmental organization. Its purpose is to market and promote Belize as a travel destination both locally and abroad. They stressed niche marketing, such as, weddings and longer term visitors. They are funded by the bed tax and a portion of the head tax on cruise ship visitors. Fifty percent of the funding goes to marketing and public relations, 30% to product development, and 20% to administration. San Pedro has the first BTB sub-office in the country and BTB is hoping to add more in the future.
In just one week, two stunning remarks were issued with direct effect on Tourism in Belize. The Prime Minister of Belize Honorable Dean Barrow announced that the global recession has contributed to a fall in revenue generated from tourism. In addition, the Caribbean Community (Caricom) announced that the world economic situation will have even a more direct effect in excess of $200 billion on the Caribbean. But how is the BTB intending to deal with this situation? According to BTB, most of Belize’s tourism comes from the United States of America and Canada. BTB reported that they have polled many of the tourists and found that some said they would stay for longer periods, others would be eliminating travel to Belize while some would not spend as much time here. BTB officials explained that Central America is one of the fastest growing tourism destinations and that Belize is trying to capitalize on that. In addition, the BTB claims that they are looking at ways to market Central, South and Latin America.
BTB also took the opportunity to announce that the government of Belize has negotiated a loan for a four year project to develop infrastructure in four locations: Belize City, San Pedro, Placencia, and San Ignacio. In Belize City, the waterfront where the cruise ship visitors disembark is to be revitalized, including the upgrading of North Front Street which will include repaving, installation of sidewalks and a boardwalk. BTB stated that they are also looking at passing legislation to create Tourism Zones that will allow local control over security, hiring and maintenance that will enhance tourism in Belize. According to BTB even though a larger portion of the funds have been allocated to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, neither project nor a Tourism Zone has been decided on yet.
The Chamber members also noted that many Belizeans prefer to travel to neighboring Mexico, especially for long weekends and vacation because they are under the impression that it is expensive to vacation in Belize, especially in San Pedro. BTB explained that they promote vacationing in Belize for Belizeans but it is up to local businesses to offer discounts and give incentives to Belizeans. BTB explained that for some reason, pricing on rooms and food in Belize are far higher that other destinations like Chetumal, which appeals to the pocket of Belizeans. BTB says that there is little they can do to encourage local business to make pricing more affordable for locals to visit.
The concern of BTB capitalizing on films and photo shoots that take place in Belize and famous movie stars visiting the country was also raised. According to Chamber members, BTB could track down some of the happenings and get the media to pick it up and in so doing, Belize can be advertised for free in the international press. BTB explained that while some of the events are organized through and with the BTB, those events are publicized and archived on the website. But when others are privately organized, it is too difficult for BTB to capitalize on the publicity that can generate international exposure. It was also noted that a recently released movie claims to have been filmed entirely in Mexico, but it was obviously by the different settings that part of the movie was actually filmed in Belize. BTB explained that because the last film commissioner passed away while in office, there was a period of time that the position was not filled. There is now a new commissioner and this should not happen in the future. BTB committed that since the Film Commissioner now falls under the BTB, they will be contacting the film producer and conduct an investigation into the matter.
In her closing remarks Tracy Panton referred to the topics discussed and stated that it appears that the people need to be better informed about the activities and responsibilities of the BTB. Panton said that BTB would be willing to visit with the Chamber more regularly and give a proper presentation about the BTB.