“Though recent news has been covering the hurricane destruction, we want to shift perceptions to remind travelers that the Caribbean remains open for business,” Karen Bevans, director of tourism for the Belize Tourism Board and vice chairman for the Board of Directors of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), told TMR.
While Belize, located on the eastern coast of Central America, was spared from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, a number of Caribbean countries in the northern Leeward Islands and the northern Caribbean were not as lucky – many of which are still recovering from the storms a month later.
Welcoming visitors, experiencing growth
“Because we are in a position to welcome visitors and are experiencing tourism growth, we want to use that bright spot to help others during this difficult time,” Bevans said.
In fact, overnight arrivals in Belize were up by 8.6 percent as of September 2017 and search traffic for the same period is up year-over-year. The country offers the best of both worlds: Caribbean Sea shorelines, which host the Belize Barrier Reef and a rich marine life; and the Central American jungles to the west, home to Mayan ruins like Caracol.
To accommodate the increase in demand, new air offerings have been added. A new direct route from Calgary to Belize via WestJet airlines began Nov. 3; and Air Canada is starting direct flights to Belize from Toronto on Dec. 15, 2017.
The country will also welcome two new luxury resorts: Mahogany Bay Village, a Hilton Curio brand, in San Pedro; and Itz’ana Resort & Residencies in Placencia. Both are slated to open in December.
“Tourism is vital to our economies and the livelihoods of many of our people. We do better when we all do better, and people continuing to travel to the region is a major way impacted countries are going to recover from this devastation," Bevans said.
A Dollar for the Caribbean campaign
The Belize Tourism Board (BTB), in collaboration with local tourism industry stakeholders, has launched the “Dollar for the Caribbean Relief Fund” to assist victims of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. BTB is donating $1 for every tourist arrival (overnight and cruise) toward the relief efforts throughout November. In addition, all participating local stakeholders will also donate a $1 for every tourist they engage via tour, accommodations, or transportation.
“Many have experienced widespread devastation, are facing the challenge of rebuilding and have a long road ahead of them. With that in mind, our goal is to pay our good fortune forward," Bevans said.
Funds will be donated to the Caribbean Tourism Organization, and used directly for food, medication, water, or materials for rebuilding.
Bevans said the most important thing the travel agent community can do is spread the message. "By reminding travelers that our doors are open, we’re able to increase donations to our Relief Fund, which benefits our Caribbean sisters and brothers that were impacted by the storms.
“Travel agents should know that the Caribbean is open and should encourage travelers to visit, now, next year, and in the future. They can talk to their friends and family – visit the Caribbean in order to help the Caribbean.