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TripSavvy: Emulating the Jewel’s response to COVID-19

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Posted: Friday, November 6, 2020. 12:41 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: TripSavvy recently awarded Belize one of its editor’s choice awards as an industry leader for putting in place measures that restricted the spread of COVID-19 among tourists while being flexible enough to maintain the Belizean tourist experience.

The four-point plan is as follows: tight pre-entry protocols; a tourism safe corridor: “gold standard” certified hotels and tour operators; enjoying Belize’s outdoors amid COVID-19; and supporting Belize as a visitor.

Tourism contributes 41 percent of gross domestic product and 37 percent of employment, direct or indirect. Belize recorded more than a half-million overnight visitors in 2019 and twice that many cruise visitors.

But delays have caused Belize to become one of the last Caribbean destinations to reopen as of October 1, after a resurgence of cases around August 15 which had been the originally planned date. As of this writing, active COVID-19 cases are past 1,500, mostly in the North and Belize District including Ambergris Caye.

But the Government led by the Ministries of Health and Tourism has learned from its counterparts and put together a system and standards that can be emulated by others.

It is required of visitors to download the Belize Health App and fill out their information before their departure date and while in-country used for daily health monitoring and contact tracing in case of infection. On arriving at the airport tourists go through no less than seven checkpoints (Health, Immigration, Customs etc.) before being escorted to their pre-booked Gold Standard certified hotel. The negative PCR test is optional but rapid tests are available if the visitor doesn’t have any. Should a visitor turn out to be positive at the airport, they will be taken to a designated hotel in Belize City or a government facility for a mandatory, minimum 14-day quarantine at their expense.

The Safe Corridor was formally introduced on October 1 in which Gold Standard certified hotels, restaurants, tours, and attractions must be previously approved to welcome tourists and keep them on a monitored travel track during their vacation. Travelers were not allowed to leave their hotel grounds unless they were on a certified tour, and they were required to wear a “safe corridor” wristband. This is now optional and tourists can rent cars on presenting a clear itinerary, and their car will have an installed GPS tracking device.

So far, just over 100 hotels have been approved to reopen to visitors, which the Belize Tourism Board has placed on a continuously updated list. Other standard national health protocols in the country include mandatory mask-wearing in public and observance of social distancing in public spaces. Hotels will also be in charge of organizing and managing their guests’ activities daily, either on-site or with a “Tourism Gold Standard” certified tour operator. The process for licensed tour guides is similar to hotels; they must also observe a one to 15 ratio of tour guides to visitors.

While archaeological sites are open and caves and offshore marine excursions, cultural experiences in Mayan communities remain closed for now.

Notably, the Belize Audubon Society has recorded negative impacts on conservation and wildlife in its managed protected areas, such as increased hunting and logging at St. Herman’s Cave/Blue Hole National Park. The Audubon plans on re-opening its premier attraction, Cockscomb Wildlife Basin Sanctuary or Jaguar Preserve to Tourism Gold Standard tour guides and their customers, any day now.

Belize stopped being Mother Nature’s best-kept secret long ago, but it hopes to continue offering its best – medicinal rainforests and caves ideal for hiking to snorkeling and diving off its 180-mile long Reef – to all who will come depending on the pandemic’s progress.

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