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Belize Is Not A Destination, It Is A Lifestyle

Posted: Thursday, May 11, 2017. 7:29 p.m. CST.

By Charles Leslie Jr.: Something to ponder, if you are a Belize tourism stakeholder:

How much of the $166 billion global travel is Belize tapping into?

I don’t know – really – the Belize Tourism Board which collects taxes from me (which I consider extortion), does not send me an annual financial report that I can peruse.

Actually, I haven’t found one person in the Belize accommodation sector that gets full access to this data.

TRAVEL TRENDS

Experiential:

The travel trends across the world are showing that more and more people, especially millennials, are traveling anywhere from one to three times a year.

The vast majority of them are traveling to have memorable experiences.

One of the top experience is cultural, instead of hiding away in all-inclusive resorts…

…don’t get me wrong, there are still a lot of travelers looking for such experience.

Finding Unique Destinations:

Over 70% of this demographic are finding their destinations via peer recommendations, social media, and targeted online ads, such as Facebook promotional ads and Google AdWords.

Peer recommendation is one of the reasons AirBnB has exploded. But, AirBnB went further: they allowed hosts to review guests as well, and basically built into their website and mobile app, a very powerful Property Management System.

In 2016 there were 2.34 billion social media users worldwide. Which is expected to reach 2.95 billion by 2020.

Facebook alone has 1.94 billion monthly active users worldwide.

With social media platforms developing more and more powerful tools to precisely target users you want to attract to your business/country…

an important question pops up: What is the breakdown of the marketing budget of the BTB? What is their marketing strategy?

Please, read the 3rd and 4th paragraph above.

What you may find interesting, is that surveys are showing that less and fewer people are using travel agents.

Why?

More travelers just don’t believe that they can get authentic, unique insights about destinations from travel agents.

Imagine this: Visit a travel agent in any major US City, and chances are you will never be told about the Cashewfest in Crooked Tree or the many “Village Life” events that happen all over Belize, each very unique, and culturally rich.

You will find out about these events by doing extensive internet searches.

One of the biggest obstacles for travelers is the fact that they have to spend hours upon hours searching for information before they are confident enough to make a booking. How do we deal with this obstacle when it comes to selling Belize’s tourism product?

Technology!

Belize has about 191 villages. Imagine all the unique experiences visitors can have?

Is BTB identifying this multitude of events and incorporating them into their marketing strategy as USPs (Unique Selling Points) for Belize? Your guess is a good as mine.

We, the taxpayers, do not get to see this data first hand. Nor do we get to decide how our tax dollars are spent.

IT’S TIME TO HOLD BTB TO TASK

Since BTB is collecting our tax dollars, without having to answer to us the tourism stakeholders, it is time we hold them to task.

Technology

Our tax dollars should be focused on developing technology that helps travelers find authentic, culturally rich experiences in Belize.

Every nuanced place, activities, identified unique experiences across Belize, should be curated and listed in this booking engine, with powerful tools to make finding and booking an experience as easy as possible.

The Maya family who wants to sell a “Live with a real Maya family for 3 days” package, should be able to easily list that ‘experience’ on this booking engine and get bookings, keep track of bookings, get payments, keep track of payments, communicate with guests, get reviews, leave reviews etc… right from any app-capable phone.

Content Curation

The content is already being generated every day: people from all over Belize are sharing pictures, videos, blogs: showcasing the many unique experiences Belize has to offer…

…all BTB needs to do, is to curate this content and use it to market Belize’s many USPs.

Standard Infrastructure

Medical Facilities

How is it that we continue to boast about San Pedro being our # 1 tourism destination and there is still no proper medical facility on the island?

On March 14th, 2017, 23-year-old Jordanie Olivera, collapses to her death while waiting for a flight to Belize City.

Why was her life cut so short?

A week earlier, Jordanie underwent a procedure at the San Pedro Polyclinic. Apparently, it went wrong. Dead wrong.

She ended up battling health complications.

After getting really ill, she revisited the clinic the same day of her death.

The polyclinic was not able to help her…

…so, she was advised to travel from San Pedro, the largest tourist destination in Belize to Belize city for better medical care.

She was a ‘normal’ Belizean therefore she was unable to charter a special flight to take her to Belize City.

While waiting for the normal 4 p.m. flight to take her to Belize City, she collapsed and died.

This is sad. This is frightening. This is terrifying that this can happen to a human being in the largest tourist destination in Belize, because…

…there was not sufficient medical care in San Pedro.

Are you kidding me?!

To add insult to injury, this young woman’s death did not trigger the leaders of San Pedro to focus energies on building a proper medical facility, with a trauma center…

…what did this trigger the leaders to do?

Build a morgue.

This is astonishing, mind-numbing tourism development retardation.

How out of touch and clueless does the area representative and the Town Council of San Pedro has to be, that it is 2017 and these standard infrastructures are not in place?

Every major tourist destination should have state of the art facility to provide for local residents and visitors.

Signage

I drove to San Ignacio yesterday for a Ministry of Tourism meeting, and my wife pointed out to me how horribly dilapidated the road was from Belmopan to San Ignacio.

I am sure I need a new right front shock after slamming into a huge pothole that I could not escape.

She also pointed out that as a tourist it was impossible to know that along the road to San Ignacio that there are lots of points-of-interests that tourists would find interesting to stop for a few minutes and visit.

However, most of these POI are not demarcated. A tourist driving down the road would not have a clue they exist.

Yet, Cayo is considered the # 2 tourist destination in Belize.

Driving down the beautiful and picturesque Hummingbird Highway is the same reality.

If a tourist is not driving with a tour guide, they would have a very hard time figuring where they could stop and experience something interesting.

Why can’t these simple signage be installed, promptly? I see here in Belmopan they have brand new signage to demarcate a “BUMP” on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere.

Again, this is why proportional budgetary allocation is necessary.

Each destination would be able to make these demarcations themselves without having to wait for Central Government to have a billion meetings to make such decisions.

Roads

Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve is one of our most prized tourism product.

It is 2017 and the road is still unpaved.

Caracol is one of our most prized tourism product.

It is 2017 and the road is still unpaved.

In Mexico, right in Quintanoo Roo, they play no political games and waste no time finding excuses.

They make sure that they continuously make traveling to tourist sites as easy, comfortable and convenient as possible.

China builds entire cities in the same time frame that we build a bridge…the new bridge that will link San Ignacio and Santa Elena is still not completed.

Belize is becoming more and more dependent on tourism, and we are doing very little to make sure that we have quality assurance in these standard infrastructures.

Proportional Budgetary Allocation

If Cayo is pumping $20 million a year into the system, they should get a percentage back.

Guaranteed.

And this should be the case for each tourist destination.

There is no reason Ladyville, for example, has hundreds of millions flowing through their village via the Philip Goldson International Airport and they get nothing guaranteed back to them to develop their local economy.

Mexico implemented such an initiative around 1994 and it is one of the main contributing factors as to why their tourism industry is light years ahead of ours.

Proportional budgetary allocation in the Belize tourism industry will create a competitive incentive, and will also give each destination resources that they can use to develop their tourism product, without having to beg the Government for everything.

Acute Seasonality: Making Belize Tourism Product More Competitive

This term “Acute Seasonality” was developed by the Placencia BTIA Chapter to describe the off-season, slow-season; and for some; the dead-season.

As Chairman of Placencia, I personally did a survey between 2010 – 2013 of tour guides, tour operators, hoteliers and other tourism stakeholders, and these are the concerns and recommendations that came up:

  • Capital: Many local stakeholders find that they are unable to compete fairly, since many foreign-owned businesses have access to cheap capital, and they do not.

○     Recommendation: lobby the banks to consolidate loans – this was identified as problematic for many businesses, as banks were being ambiguous in the reasons given for resistance to assisting with the consolidation of loans, allowing businesses to better control their debt.

○     Use the National Bank of Belize to provide low-interest loans.

○     Place a moratorium on foreclosures.

○     Pass usury, truth in lending and predatory lending laws.

  • Fuel: Local stakeholders noted that they would be able to survive and be regionally competitive if they could get access to cheaper fuel during the off-season since this would allow them to charge less and still keep a comfortable profit margin.

○     Recommendation: since the GOB owns the company that imports fuel and has direct control over fuel prices via taxation, they should reduce taxes so that the industry can have access to cheaper fuel during the off-season.

 

  • Taxes – Hotel tax, GST and business tax, Import Duties: high taxes and the continued adding of additional taxes and fees, are causing operational costs to go through the roof. This is especially true, where many feel like, if they are not politically connected, they can’t get help from Beltraide, and getting equipment into the country, which is obviously not made in Belize, is very costly.

○     Recommendation: government should reduce hotel tax, GST and business taxes during the off-season, so those tour operators, tour guides, hotels can be competitive by charging lower rates and still maintain a respectable profit margin.

○     This would also help to keep businesses open and employees employed during the off-season, instead of closing doors and laying off staff for a minimum of three months per year.

○     A proper, fair, equitable system in purchasing equipment – vehicles, outboard engines, fishing gear, diving gear etc – should be developed and implemented.

  • Marketing: Local stakeholders complained that BTB seemed to only market San Pedro and large resorts across the country. Belize is NOT only an island, beach, sea and reef destination, it is very diverse and our local and international marketing should reflect this fact.

○     Recommendation: BTB should provide a Marketing Team to assist in how each destination could better identify their Unique Selling Points and market themselves, with emphasis on small, locally owned businesses.

○     Marketing budget should be equitable to all Belize tourist destinations (this is linked to proportional budgetary allocation).

  • Communication: Local stakeholders noted that it is very difficult to communicate with clients due to expensive and regionally comparable slow internet access. Example: most apps and software are now cloud-based, having such slow and expensive internet access, makes it very difficult for businesses to keep using the most updated technology available on the market.

○     Recommendation: Since the people of Belize owns BTL, communication cost and speed should become more competitive in relation to regional prices and speeds.

  • Decision Making: Local stakeholders complain that BTB is too arbitrary, and believe that they simply pay taxes, and get little to no say on how and what BTB does with their tax dollars.

○     Recommendation: Implement and utilize the Belize National Tourism Council Act (CAP. 276) promptly.

○     Roll out proportional budgetary allocation, promptly.

  • Investors: Belize tourism stakeholders noted that, as a destination, we should be more proactive in the type of investors we attract. We have been attracting a lot of unsavory investors, such as Nanes Schnitzer, William Mason, Puerto Azul investors just to name a few, which have caused significant damage to our tourism product’s reputation.

○     Recommendation: develop an initiative in which a portfolio would be compiled to give Belize the ability to target the type of investors we want.

○     Placencia already went ahead on did this on their own with the Peninsula 2020 white paper.

  • Cruise tourism: though the National Tourism Master Plan called for no mass cruise tourism in southern Belize, and the fact that GOB still pushed it through, leaving a huge void in the Belize District area, where a lot of tour guides and operators are facing bankruptcy due to a prompt reduction in business with not much to fill the void, leaves stakeholders in the Belize tourism industry with a feeling that the National Tourism Master Plan isn’t worth the paper it is written on, since GOB does not abide by it anyways.

○     Recommendation: GOB, if you create a National Tourism Master Plan, created via consultation from the Belize tourism stakeholders input, then stick to it.

  • Commercial fishing: after Belize’s tourism high-season, commercial fishing is the life sustenance activity for at least 3 months of the year. Traditional Belizean commercial fishermen complained that Guatemalan fishermen (licensed and unlicensed) are heavily competing with them, and since they do not respect our local laws, they fish during the off-season for conch and lobster.

○     Recommendation: Define “Traditional Fisherman” as a native Belizean who has been fishing all their lives in Belize’s waters, and this tradition being passed down from at least 3 generations of native Belizean forefathers.

○     A Special committee of local traditional fishermen to be setup to proactively identify who are all current traditional fishermen. Anyone who did not make this list would have to go through a vetting process by the committee, which would ultimately decide if they should get”traditional fisherman” status and thus, a fishing license.

○     Enforce illegal fishing, with emphasis on Guatemalans.

○     Ban gill nets NOW!

  • Bye-Laws: stakeholders believe that their communities will be able to adapt to changes much faster with a decentralized system of government, and access to their own local financial resources. Example: Monkey River is facing significant erosion, and they have little to no local resources to stave off their village from literally disappearing into the sea. Central Government has been impotent to act.

○     Recommendation: village bye-laws should be rolled out across the country, now.

○     The Village Council Act has been passed into law in the year 2000, and not one village has their full bye-laws to-date. This is unacceptable.

Sustainable Tourism

The Ministry of Tourism and the BTB is updating the National Tourism Master Plan For Belize 2030.

The core of this master plan, according to them, is sustainable tourism.

However, I find it spectacularly insane that we have a Government of Belize that is actually still considering offshore oil exploration, while at the same time pushing ‘sustainable tourism’ as part of our USP.

This is counter-productive, and just plain dangerous.

More and more travelers are conscious that they can be the cause of cultural and environmental destruction, or they can fight against it.

How?

By making travel choices that benefit the region they are visiting.

“Overnight travelers” are more so sensitive to this fact; which is why overnight tourism should be the main focus of the Ministry of Tourism and BTB.

Instead, there seems to be more and more emphasis on cruise tourism, since, to me, it makes the numbers look good and they can have junkets – sponsored by our tax dollars – so that they can pat themselves on the back.

Yet.

Study after study has shown that cruise tourism expenditure is significantly less than overnight tourism, and also it does not align well with sustainable tourism efforts…especially their negative impact on the environment, and tourist sites.

With the doors remaining open for offshore oil exploration in Belize and increasing cruise tourism, how can we actually call and market ourselves as a truly sustainable tourist destination?

The reality is:

Cruise tourism is already here. It needs proper legislation, enforcement, and taxation.

Offshore oil exploration should be taken off the table. Period. No exceptions.

With a focus on:

More political will and resources being pumped into developing alternative energy, starting with creating powerful, strategic investment incentives for the tourism sector.

For example: Where is the net metering initiative? It is 2017!

WHERE ARE WE?

Until:

  • We take offshore oil exploration off the table;
  • We focus on becoming truly energy-independent via alternative energy investments;
  • We focus on truly developing and protecting our overnight tourism sector;
  • We focus on truly protecting our environment (our natural assets);
  • We create proper legislation for the cruise sector, and properly taxing it;

We are NOT a ‘sustainable’ tourism destination.

Currently, we are selling a lie. I don’t want to be part of selling this lie? Do you?

CALL TO ACTION

I call on ALL hotel owners to demand that BTB releases detailed financial reports, going as far back as possible, so as to be independently scrutinized.

I call on ALL tour operators and tour guides, to support this CTA.

I call on the BNTU, especially, to support this CTA, since the vast majority of students graduating from tertiary level educational institutions; their main sources of getting a job are with the government or in the tourism sector, which is the main job creator and sector propping up the nation…

…since that is the case, the Belize tourism stakeholders should control what is happening in this sector, instead of having people sitting in offices, far away from the realities and experiences of our tourism product, making decisions that affect how we di eat.

I am personally sick and tired of paying BTB taxes for absolutely no reason. I get no value for my taxes.

I don’t need them to do anything for me.

NOTHING! They are simply extorting my hard earned money to do as they please!

When I could simply be paying a flat tax, and investing my net earnings into further developing my business and providing more jobs, putting more money into government coffers, without going into debt.

BTB is stifling growth, more than they are nurturing growth. BTB serves no purpose…than to extort money from us.

If the BTB does not comply:

I call on the BTIA, BHA, BNTU, other unions, OCEANA, Coalition To Save Our Natural Heritage, PCSD, other NGOs, interest groups, to use their muscles and draft and call for civil disobedience.

LET’S PROTEST WITH OUR WALLETS!

The time is over for playing games with our tax dollars, which is being extorted from us, and no one answering to US, THE TAXPAYERS!

Let’s turn Belize into a REAL sustainable tourism destination…

…one where we are proud to pronounce to the world – “Belize: It is not only a destination, it is a lifestyle…and we want to invite you into our homes.”

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

Charles Leslie Jr.  is the Chairman of the Belize Unity Alliance and the former independent Chairman of Placencia Village (2010 – 2013). He holds an Associates degree in business, accounting and economics and has over 20 years business experience.

© 2017, BreakingBelizeNews.com. This article is the copyrighted property of Breaking Belize News. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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