Andrew Doherty speaks to Karen Bevans, director of tourism for the Belize Tourism Board, about the country’s offering for UK travellersEN
What makes Belize a winter sun hot spot?
The weather in Belize is warm and sunny all year round. However, many people tend to visit between November and March when the weather is drier, as it makes for a perfect escape from the UK winter. Many visitors enjoy our festivals and events during this period. Belizeans are a fun-loving people, and there are plenty of celebrations throughout the year.
Why should people visit?
Belize is a fantastic mix of Latin American culture, with beautiful Caribbean beaches and year-round tropical weather. We also have the largest coral reef system in the northern hemisphere – the Belize Barrier Reef. Snorkelling and diving are popular here, but tourists cannot visit without permission and must wear sunscreen that won’t damage the coral. We also have a number of ethnic groups such as the Maya, Creole and Mestizo, and we offer a Maya homestay programme where clients will live with a local family for a week. Our diverse bird population and wildlife are a big draw too – we have the only jaguar reserve in the world.
What measures is the country taking to promote sustainable tourism?
Tourism is vital to the economic stability of Belize, and many hotels are focusing on preserving the country’s idyllic natural habitat. Luxury beach resort Matachica reuses natural materials for the comfort of guests, such as eco-friendly sofa mattresses, while eco-resort Ka’ana Resort & Spa uses environmentally friendly organic soaps and cleansers. The government is also working to phase out single-use disposable bags and plastic utensils, while a ban on single-use disposable Styrofoam started in April this year.
How can clients reach Belize from the UK?
There are no direct flights from the UK, but clients can reach Belize from Heathrow via Miami with British Airways. There are also Delta flights from the UK via Atlanta with timings similar to BA’s. UK visitors don’t need a visa and, as we were once a British colony, we offer a level of familiarity and comfort to UK travellers.
What are today’s UK visitors experiencing?
UK travellers like to spend a few days on the beach but also seek our active product. They are looking for local experiences, yet like to stay in luxury hotels. Many backpackers also incorporate Belize into a multi-centre Central American adventure.
How is the UK market performing?
Despite being a relatively unknown destination to UK travellers, it’s becoming clear that people are curious to explore our beautiful country, and we’ve seen amazing growth. This year, from January to April, UK visitor numbers were up 9% in comparison to the same period in 2018. This shows there is a great appetite for the incredible experiences people can have in Belize including cuisine, diving, culture, adventure or just watching the world go by.
Are there any new hotel openings in the pipeline?
New properties slated for 2020 include Alia on Ambergris Caye, Four Seasons, Caye Chapel and a Wyndham hotel. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio is developing a property on Blackadore Caye, which he claims will be the world’s biggest eco-resort. We have close to 9,000 rooms, and the developments will provide 2,000 more.
How are you working with the UK travel trade?
We are revamping our OTT online training programme with 10 new modules more relevant to UK agents. They will focus on Belize’s seven regions, their key attractions and accommodation. We are also doing the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) roadshows in Guildford, Tonbridge, Nottingham and Leeds in September, and hosting three fam trips this month with Journey Latin America, Caribbean Fun Travel and Trailfinders.
Who are your top sellers?
The top-five trade-facing tour operators are Journey Latin America, Cox & Kings, Azure, Explore and Rainbow Tours.