BELIZE CITY, Wed. July 22, 2020– At the end of June, Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced at a press conference that the government would be opening the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA) to international travelers on August 15. The decision was made in light of the disastrous effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the country’s tourism industry, which accounts for more than half of the country’s revenue.
At the press conference the Prime Minister stated that extending the waiting period before the reopening of the airport would not make a significant-enough difference in the prevention of the entry of the Coronavirus into the country prior to the restart of the tourism industry.
“In the circumstances and with the experts confirming that there is no end to this sea of corona trouble in sight, it seemed to us futile to hope that waiting any longer would provide a more favorable launching pad for our tourism restart. So, we fixed on our August 15 date. We decided that any further delay would likely gain us nothing for safety standards,” stated Barrow.
The decision, while seemingly made in what the Prime Minister sees to be the best interest of the country, has received mixed reactions, and several members of the tourism industry have gone on record to say that while the economy is ailing, opening the country up for international travel on August 15 may not be the best move.
One such individual is Mr. Ian Anderson, owner of the Cave Branch Jungle Lodge. Anderson has announced that his lodge will only be catering to Belizean residents at this time until the U.S. has made notable improvements in handling the pandemic.
In an interview on Wednesday, July 22, Anderson said that he feels that now is not the time to primarily seek visitors from the United States while the number of COVID-19 cases in that country continues to soar:
Anderson emphasized that his stance is a temporary one, based on the current circumstances in the US, and that what he has been stating is that it is best “to not open to American tourists ‘at this time!’ while the infection rate is out of control.”
“I would totally support opening to Canada, Europe, Taiwan now. These are all countries with minimal infections,” he then noted.
Amandala asked Anderson, “Aren’t you concerned at all about the loss in revenue you may incur given that you’re temporarily not catering to a large portion of your market?”
Anderson replied, “Yes, absolutely. It’s a huge loss in revenue and no business can function beyond a certain time on 50% percent of their revenue. So, to answer your question, yes, we do have concerns, but we’ve always given huge discounts to our local market, and we have a great relationship with our local market. Thanks to the Belizean public, this opportunity has allowed us to take advantage of the large savings we have over the past three months…luckily for us, we don’t have any outstanding loans or high expenses like that to worry about. My main concern is my staff…. but there are a lot of hotels that aren’t open for the same reason. We just don’t think that the airport should be open to American tourists at this time when things are out of control. On Friday there will be a PGIA meeting and when I go to the meeting, I will voice that.”
Last week, The Beach Club at Caye Caulker also posted via their business page on Facebook that they too will only be catering to Belizeans. This decision, however, was made as a strategic move, as the owner of the establishment, Jay Gould, explained in an interview with another media house:
“We do not have a restaurant and we’re not really an all-inclusive resort, so that is one of the decisions, and two, if we had to close down to all Belizeans and only let foreign tourists in, we’re taking a big gamble that anyone would even show up and right now we have been kind of on the forefront at the Beach Club at Caye Caulker on welcoming the Belizeans since the very first second that they said that Belizeans could travel within the country and so we’ve really built a really good clientele of Belizean guests and we want to keep it going as long as we can so that they can come and enjoy Caye Caulker. With the current rules of quarantining guests on the property and those kinds of things Caye Caulker, at least where we’re located, would almost be impossible to keep someone on our property, “Gould further said.
Other Belizeans staged a small protest at the Battlefield Park on Wednesday, July 15, led by activist Yaya Marin Coleman. The group chanted that government should postpone the reopening of the airport, as they feel it will throw Belize into a more severe and uncontrollable wave of COVID-19 that the country is not prepared to handle.