Belize needs another major way besides tourism to earn foreign exchange. The Cruise Lines International Association announced that its members — which include nearly every cruise line with ships sailing out of American ports (Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Group (RCL), Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Disney (DIS), and MSC Cruises, etc.) — will be suspending trips until at least November 1, 2020.
Cruise arrivals surpassed a million for four consecutive years since 2016. In 2019, Belize had 503,177 overnight visitors, according to the Belize Tourism Board.
Total cruise visitors from January to June 2020 were 343,099, while overnight visitors for that same period were 124,262. This is less than half the number of tourists who visited Belize in 2019.
Almost 3/4 of tourists to Belize, usually, are from the USA, followed by Europeans at 12%, and Canadians at 7%.
Gross domestic product for the US from April to June plunged 32.9% on an annualized basis, according to the US Commerce Department.
Neither the Great Depression nor the Great Recession nor any other slump over the past two centuries has ever caused such a drastic decline in the US economy, so more than likely, tourist arrivals from the US, our main market, will be very low for the foreseeable future.
Both Europe and Canada are in a deep recession, so the number of tourists to Belize in general will be small whenever we open up. With the diminished market, increased cost of testing, monitoring and other restrictions for COVID-19, will tourism be a viable venture in the medium-term?
A virtual tour of several Maya ruins, cayes and caves can be sold online as an appetizer for tourists who might want to experience the real thing in the future.
I suggest organic farming, a natural derivative of our ecotourism eminence. There is a high demand for organic food globally. The market for organic food usually consists of people in the upper middle class or higher socioeconomic bracket, which is the least affected by the current economic downturn.
We need to build our digital economy, including, for example, several varieties of e-commerce, app stores, online advertising, cloud computing, participative networked platforms, high-speed trading, and online payment services.
A Belizean payment service, through which Belizeans can send money via a cell phone locally, and eventually, through which Belizeans can send money to their loved ones in Belize from all over the world, is viable.
Walla (from dollar) would be a good name. It will have regulatory hurdles, but since initially it will be small, it will not be perceived as a threat. This payment service can be expanded to Central America (thousands of Central American immigrants reside in Belize) and the Caribbean.
We have not fully capitalized on our membership in the Central America Integration System (SICA) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). To be successful, it would need government support, similar to what is given to American Sugar Refining Inc.
The Government of Belize, from independence, has shown preference to foreign investors over Belizean entrepreneurs. Let our government demonstrate patriotism and help develop Belizean enterprises. It is time for trailblazing thinking.
There is an international demand for agricultural products like soybeans, mangoes and rice. We need to make our international diplomats work overtime to open up markets for Belizean products.
Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, and corn is the seventh most traded commodity in the world. There is more demand for both commodities than there is for sugar, our most important export.
Our leadership needs to get active and innovative and expand. It is time to do, or die. Government needs to support and grant incentives for Belizean entrepreneurs to create new industries.
Please don’t forget agro-processing. This is what the most advanced economies do. For example, the oil industry has the backing of their respective governments.
I could write a dissertation on this topic, but the essentials have been expounded. It is time for Belize to get serious about development. Belize has been a mediocre nation, but we can do infinitely better.
I translate: no longer shall we be hewers of wood, as it is about being the best at our endeavors, even menial labor.
Brian Ellis Plummer