Posted: Sunday, April 11, 2021. 3:48 pm CST.
By Rubén Morales Iglesias: Spanish newspaper El País today published an article describing how Belize is facing the pandemic and developing a diversified economic model that is more sustainable and inclusive.
The Barcelona daily starts out saying Belize, a country with a vast tropical forest and the second most valuable coral reef in the world, is accustomed to overcoming hurricanes and the effects of climate change.
Belize, says the article, is a country of 400,000 people and that before the pandemic, tourism contributed 40% of its Gross Domestic Product and 39% of its employment.
It says that apart from the great coral reef, Belize also has an extensive network of caves and underground caverns and that 80 % of the country is covered by a dense tropical forest.
The number of visitors dropped by 66 % as a result of the pandemic which affected 86,000 people who depended directly or indirectly on tourism says the article.
But it says that despite having a limited health sector, Belize has put up a good fight against the pandemic by limiting the number of infected to 12,485 cases and the number of deaths to 318 up to the beginning of April.
El País quotes Minister of Tourism Anthony Mahler saying that normally between 50,000 and 60,000 would have visited Belize by now, but Belize’s has had to come up with a plan showing its resiliency.
Belize opened its international airport in October and made tourism recovery its priority some much so that the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) awarded the Safe Travels seal to Belize’s Golden Standard tourism plan.
The El País article recounts how Belize with the help of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) developed a sustainable tourism program by financing its immediate health response to cut the effects of the pandemic while building a safe corridor to enable tourism.
El País quotes the IDB representative Ramiro Lopez Ghio saying that since Belize is very dependent on the United States market, once that market starts freeing up, Belize’s tourism will rebound to its previous levels.
Minister Mahler told El País that he expects tourism will rebound and the pandemic will not change Belize’s plan by much since Belize has always been respectful of the environment promoting ecotourism.
Mahler also said that in conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Belize is developing the first plan for the management of watersheds for the protection of its freshwaters.
“What this pandemic has taught us is the importance to protect the environment,” Mahler said. “After many years, we’ve seen how dolphins and many species of birds have returned to our coasts. In Belize, we believe that it’s fundamental to put in place mitigating measures to protect our natural resources. But we also know that to stop climate change, it not only depends on us but on the bigger countries.”
El País said that Mahler thinks that the worst is over.
“The growth and development of the tourism industry in Belize will start seeing the light within the next two months and many more people will again have their jobs back,” Mahler said to El País.
The article says that the total recovery of tourism will depend on the vaccination of Belize’s population while referring to Belize’s drive to get more vaccines through the COVAX facility and through an international loan.
The El País article says the pandemic exposed Belize’s overdependency on tourism and that for Belize to rebound, it has to diversify.
IDB’s Lopez Ghio said Belize has the advantage that it has a small population and vast areas of fertile land which it can dedicate to agriculture. Lopez Ghio said Belize has a very important market which includes México, Guatemala, Honduras, and the United States, and that once it can generate agriculture financing and improve its productivity, Belize can have an important economic development over the next few years.
The El País article concludes that tourism is still going to be fundamental for Belize’s future and that the challenges of sustainability mean that Belize has to continue being resilient in its plan to face natural disasters and has to make investments to reduce risks while preserving and protecting its natural resources and strengthening its agricultural systems and food security.
The El País article closes by saying Minister Mahler is optimistic Belize will come out stronger and will be better prepared to face other possible pandemics and says that to ensure the way forward in becoming a primary touristic destination, Belize must guarantee its sustainability and protect its natural resources.
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