Teodoro Tejeda, president of the Belize Hotel Association is hoping for a tourism industry rebound starting in September, according to industry projections he revealed in a nationally televised interview today. Speaking on one of the local morning talk shows Friday 30 April, Mr. Tejeda reflected that the industry came crashing down on 23 March 2020 with the onset of the pandemic. But while this was not welcomed, good things have come about in the year of a national lock down in terms of market research and intelligence acquire.
Referring to an International Monetary Fund report developed by Oxford Economics Research and The World travel and Tourism Council, he BHA president stated that he was shocked to learn that out of 200 countries in the world, Belize is ranked at number 8 as countries most reliant on tourism. “We knew that Belize depends on tourism for 46.5% of its GDP. But when you realise that we are ranked number 8 in the world on this industry for our economic survival, it sends shock waves through our business and tourism sectors. It has dried up. It has not recovered.”
Mr. Tejeda criticised the government for not thinking out of the box to help the tourism industry. He pointed out that 1 May is Labour Day, and that the government has not as is customary, extended this holiday to a long weekend to encourage Belizeans to travel and patronize hotels and local tourism activities. “Many Belizeans would have taken the opportunity for more internal travel if there was an extended holiday and we should have done that to help stimulate local tourism. Government missed the boat on this one.”
Referring to airlift, the BHA president stated that as of April, Belize is still below 50% airlift capacity in terms of aircraft landings and that this shows that Belize is still far from out of the woods in its attempts of a tourism recovery. As of April 2021 Belize, had 920 registered hotels. But of these, only about half, 570 hotels are operational throughout the country. This he said reflects a casualty rate of about 300 hotels that are shuttered and no immediate hope that they will open anytime soon. He cited the Belize Tourism Board’s much vaunted Gold Standard Hotel Programme as being responsible for these casualties. “It was a mandatory process that has an expense added to it. About 10 to 20 thousand dollars to get prepared for reopening. Some hotels simply could not afford it. Out of 920 hotels, 87% of them are hotels of between 1 to 20 rooms.” The irony is that while the Gold Standard Health Hotel program is still in existence. It is not being enforced as it was never legislated to become law. It is being ignored by hotels and visitors alike.
Mr. Tejeda also explained one of the intricacies of the hotel industry. “Part of the bigger picture why many hotels have not reopened and why many of them may never reopen, is that in order for a hotel to operate and to be profitable, you must achieve at least a 30 to 35 percent occupancy rate. Our statistics show that as a country, our hotels are operating at between 10 and 15% occupancy. We have failed to reach that 30 to 35% occupancy rate.”
The BHA president shared that the smaller hotels are casualties. Larger hotels that invest in marketing are being quicker at recovering and managing to stay in business. One foreign branded hotel he stated, is opening in May and already has 70% occupancy secured thanks to aggressive marketing. “But these hotels are in the U.S.$400. and up for a night. Our research has also uncovered that isolated, offshore, off-the-grid tourism facilities are easily doing 65% occupancy. And the reason for this is that visitors have become more discriminating. In times of a pandemic, they want isolation. They want a private island. They shun crowds.”
Mr. Tejeda concluded that barring any unforeseen circumstances, tourism may experience a rebound in September. COPA airlines is starting flights from Panama this month, a weekly flight from Mexico city is in the works, addition of more flights from North America to raise airlift to 16 flights a day including a new flight from Minneapolis are in the works. But he warned that the government needs to invest more in acquiring high quality vaccines and encouraging more Belizeans to get vaccinated against COVID19. So far, the Belize government has only acquired the Astra Zeneca and Sinopharm vaccines that have been rejected by the US FDA for use in their population. The BHA president lauded Israel that has achieved an 80% vaccination rate and is now at herd immunity level. “We could have done the same. Paying a little more for high quality vaccines is an investment in the future. $7 for a vaccine is far cheaper compared to the hospitalisation expenses of taking care of a COVID19 patient.”