Letters — 23 April 2016 — by Adele Ramos
Belize tourism sector fights Zika with proactive steps

BELIZE CITY, Tues. Apr. 19, 2016–Yesterday, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a level 2 travel alert for Belize, asking travelers to take “enhanced precautions” after an American woman who had recently visited Belize tested positive for Zika. However, that has not deterred visitors from coming to Belize. Director of the Belize Tourism Board (BTB), Karen Bevans, told Amandala today that Belize has seen substantial growth in overnight tourism for the first three months of 2016, and cruise arrivals, which had been depressed for 2015, are on the upswing.

Nervousness over the spread of Zika in the Caribbean had spurred fears across the Caribbean that the multi-billion-dollar industry, which Bevans said contributes 25% to Belize’s GDP, could be adversely impacted. Nonetheless, Belize has, at least to date, been spared from any adverse impact.

Bevans said that tourism stakeholders have been advised to take proactive measures to curb the possible spread of Zika by ensuring that premises are free of receptacles that may collect stagnant water and making insect repellant available to guests.

Although Belize health officials have yet to confirm local transmission of the virus, Belize’s Director of Health Services, Dr. Marvin Manzanero, had said as early as January that Zika could already be circulating in Belize, since most persons affected by the virus really don’t know they have it, because they do not have the symptomatic fever and rash associated with the mosquito-borne illness. The tourism sector has, consequently, been on the alert.

“It is something we are monitoring,” Bevans said, adding that the virus is not a widespread virus in Belize. She said that the CDC reported case is the first one she had heard of, associated with Belize, but noted that a direct tie to Belize has still not been confirmed by authorities here.

“We are still using the alerts issued by the Belize Ministry of Health to try to take precautionary measures,” she said.

The BTB has also been collaborating with the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) to channel updates on Zika to the sector.

Bevans said that they plan to continue promoting precautionary measures to combat the mosquito vector which transmits Zika.

Of note is that although the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) declared an international public health emergency due to Zika in February, amid the spread of Zika across the Americas, tourist travel to Belize has grown. Overnight tourism has seen double-digit growth for every month in the first quarter – 24% in January, 18% in February and a record 43,000 plus in March 2016. Meanwhile, cruise arrivals are showing an increase as well, and the BTB is aiming to see the number reach a million this year.

The BTB is intensifying its targeted marketing campaign to US, European and South American markets. Bevans told us that last month, they signed with the Brighter Group, based in London, UK, to market Belize to EU tourists, and they have also signed a contract with COPA to do marketing for Belize in the South American market.

Furthermore, the BTB is also working through the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association, with which it signed a contract this year, to target the US market.

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