Posted: Wednesday, June 17, 2020. 1:18 pm CST.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
By Peter Gair: Is the GOB and Immigration Services Killing The Golden Egg?
Covid-19 has highlighted what all Belizeans already knew, the economy is reliant on tourism, it is our golden egg and without it, there is simply not enough money for the country to survive, so with that at the forefront of our mind, let’s look at what we are doing and consider, are we about to crack that egg and ruin it?
There are two areas of concern, firstly the GOB increase in visa fees: now personally I do not believe this increase will have much impact on the number of short term visitors to our beautiful country; there is a ripple effect to consider, contrary to many people’s beliefs the people who visit us do not actually have unlimited cash to spend, the majority have saved and worked within a ‘vacation budget’, visa fees are normally included in the flight fees by the airlines, so this means flight prices have increased, so the actual amount of spending money a tourist has available after paying for an airline ticket has decreased. Let’s look at this in more detail, working on 2019 figures from the BTB, Belize welcomed a record 503,177 overnight visitors. Now from May 2020 these visitors would have paid an additional BZD $100 for their visit, many that have gone directly to the government of Belize, so they are unaffected, in fact, GOB revenue has increased. So who is actually being affected? It’s the restaurants, tour companies, and higher-end accommodations because the tourists spending money have been reduced by BZD$100 per person, that is BZD $50 million per year lost to the industry, that’s over BZD $4M every single month, so if you work in the tourism industry, panic – how safe is your job?
So how does immigration affect things? The answer here is, their service levels! We have a number of North American visitors, known as snowbirds who come down 3 months of the year to escape the extreme winters in the North. Yes, their visa fees have increased but there is a more important factor that is impacting these visitors – or should I correctly say, causing us to lose these visitors. On entering Belize you are given a one month visa (regardless of the date on your return ticket) and you must present yourself at immigration to renew this visa after the first month, and this is where service levels become the problem. When Diana Locke was Director of Immigration she introduced a ‘booking’ service for visa renewals (and other services), you could simply text or phone immigration, book an appointment for your renewal and come in at the specific time. Nice and easy, great service.
Since her retirement the department appears to have done away with this facility, so things have gone back to the way they were several years ago. Arrive at 3 a.m., join a line and hope to get a ‘low’ number (issued around 6 a.m.) and be seen early. Now, these ‘snowbirds’ were quite happy to pop to immigration at their appointed time, pay for the visa and be on their way, now they must waste a whole day waiting for the visa, and many say they will not be visiting Belize because of this. Now that’s the regulars who know the system, bear a thought for those who don’t know the way it ‘works’, who will happily go and visit Herman’s Cave in the morning thinking they can renew their visa in the afternoon only to arrive at immigration and be told there are no more numbers, come back tomorrow. What wonderful service? What impression have we given this visitor (guest) to our country? How many will come back and visit again – and what will they tell their friends when they get back home? We are killing the golden egg!
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