Headline — 05 December 2015 — by Adele Ramos
BTIA president urges GOB to tackle tourism challenges

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Dec. 3, 2015–Like any other tourism destination in the world, Belize has its share of obstacles hampering the delivery of the best tourism product that can be offered, and today, on the occasion of the annual general meeting held at the 30th anniversary of the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA), BTIA president Osmany Salas highlighted the many challenges and needs which need to be forthrightly addressed.

“There has been a spate of robberies in Hopkins recently, partly as a result of poor police presence, inadequate street lighting, and bad streets… We feel that the authorities have taken too long to address the situation. We are concerned that if we don’t act very soon, the industry in Hopkins may suffer greatly and people will feel an economic pinch,” Salas warned.
He asked for the Government to urgently address the problems being faced in Hopkins.

Secondly, he pointed to the terrible condition of the road to Caracol – one of the country’s major tourist attractions.

“The road is in one of the worst conditions that I have ever seen and Belizean tour operators now prefer to take tours to Tikal [Guatemala] rather than our very own Caracol, and in a way, who can blame them?” Salas conveyed.

He said they are willing to work with the Government to find ways to upgrade the Caracol Road “to a quality commensurate with the tremendous importance of that destination.”

There are several other users of the area, such as the military and timber operators, and the Caracol Road, he said, is important to Belize’s national security, given the repeated incursions by Guatemalans into the area—poachers, looters and farmers from the neighboring country.

Salas said that the solutions often seem too long in coming, and he pledged the association’s support to work hand in hand with Government to resolve the challenges.

He said that BTIA members have also been clamoring, as they work together, to seeks ways to combat the adverse effects of the sargassum (seaweed) invasion on the tourism industry. Salas pointed out that across the region, there has been extreme economic loss due to hotel and tour cancellations.

“The private sector will not be able to tackle this problem alone. Regional governments have stepped in to assist the private sector in designing and implementing solutions to find ways to respond to the sargassum problem,” he said. On Thursday afternoon, the BTIA hosted a forum to look at practical solutions.

Salas also noted that by the time the BTIA meets next year, they will have developed their 2020 strategic plan and the new Destination Belize publication is due to be launched in 2016 with new features.

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Tanya McNab of McNab Publishing said that to mark the 20th year since the magazine was first published, there will not only be the 16,500 standard letter-sized glossy-paged publication, but also 25,000 pocket versions, an e-book and an app, which will allow users to make calls and reservations from within the app.

Today’s guest speaker, Hugh Riley, the Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), painted a picture of where Belize could be 30 years from now, in 2045. Going back 30 years, to the founding of the BTIA under its first president Jean Shaw, the successes being celebrated today would have been unimaginable; and so what seems unattainable today, actually is, he posited.

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“If we are to get to where we want to be in another 30 years, we really must start now… We must recognize that border security and economic security go hand in hand,” Riley said.

He urged the region to make their destinations tourism satellite account (TSA) ready, so as to multiply the impact of the travel and tourism sector.

Riley also said that in the months ahead, the region will be seen to move forward in other areas as well, such as expanding the customer base of members. He assured the BTIA of the CTO’s continuing support in building Belize’s tourism sector.

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