Flying the Skies with Southwest Airlines
On Saturday afternoon, Southwest Airlines gave Belizean tourism officials a “Rocky Mountain High.” But it was not the kind induced by marijuana, though that is also legal in the state of Colorado. The airline, already connected to Belize from Houston, Texas, inaugurated its first direct flight to Belize’s Philip Goldson International Airport from Denver, Colorado, which industry figures say gives Belize a new route to promote the country in an area that otherwise has few connections to Belize. But as News Five found out in the following story, the Jewel may have stumbled on a new strategy to lure ever more tourists to its open secret.
Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation
“Most of them, it’s their first time to Belize; so they were anxious to see and they were asking questions, while we were there, asking questions in the plane as to what are the good destinations, what they expect in Belize; but I believe it is a wonderful experience for them. It is a milestone for Belize again, that that again will help us to increase our numbers.”
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
Who better than the Jewel’s Tourism Minister to introduce one hundred and thirty-one new passengers to the delights of Belize? It was a role Manuel Heredia Junior took on with pride, as he was first off the steps of the red-and-blue iron bird of Southwest Airlines, which had just landed from Denver, Colorado, U.S.A. In the seventeen months since Southwest began operations between Belize and Houston, Texas, it has earned rave reviews for lower prices and upgraded service to its competitors – and the challenge, according to local manager Linda Neal, is to maintain that position.
Linda Neal, Local Manager, Southwest Airlines
“I lead the team here in Belize who keeps our flights on time and treats you with warm Southwest hospitality. We are proud to offer Denver as our newest destination in the United States for Belizean travellers. You all are making history today with Southwest Airlines. This flight will be not only Southwest’s first international trip to Belize City from Denver, but Southwest is the only carrier at Denver International Airport to offer this route. We are excited that in addition to this Denver flight today, we’re offering daily service to Belize from our new international gateway in Fort Lauderdale beginning in June. With this we will offer service to the West, the heartland and the Eastern U.S. this summer, all on America’s low-fare and most-loved airline.”
Unusually, earlier there was already a Southwest jet on the ground, leaving Belize with passengers an hour and a half before the flight in from Denver touched down at the P.G.I.A. But it hardly mattered to the smiling visitors greeted by three youthful dancers in Belize garb and a bag of goodies to mark the occasion. Chief Tourism Officer Abil Castaneda says the new flight brings the Rocky Mountain and western region of the U.S. closer to Belize.
Abil Castaneda, Chief Tourism Officer
“Today does solidify what we would like to describe and what we believe to be a very viable and very mutual partnership that we have with Southwest Airlines. I think I can say on behalf of the Minister that it is a great honor, it is a great privilege, that together we are continuing to make Belize, our little Jewel, our little paradise, a little bit more accessible to our visitors, our guests, in this case from the southwest United States and of course the larger North American market; but also for our very own Belizeans who are avid travellers, for them to have another convenient connection between Belize and the U.S.”
According to U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Adrienne Galanek, Belize-U.S. tourism remains a key foreign exchange earner, and Southwest’s expansion to Denver unites two areas that have a lot more in common than you may think.
Adrienne Galanek, Chargé d’Affaires/Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy
“Particularly in lean times, Belize’s tourism industry is likely to become even more critical. And Belize’s tourism industry relies on its American customers. Belize and Denver have a lot in common: both are known as eco-friendly tourist havens, with mountains, forests, waterfalls, eco-friendly hotels and skiing – though in Belize it is skiing of the water kind. Colorado is one of the leaders in renewable energy, an industry of great interest to Belize, so this is a very natural partnership.”
For the Minister, Southwest’s value is in action – reducing rates and improving customer service with aggressive competition. It is all about expanding both the airline’s and the country’s brand.
“Southwest has been a very good partner with Civil Aviation and the Government of Belize; I see them as a very aggressive airline, that they don’t talk too much, it’s action. When it comes to people living in Denver and elsewhere in the surroundings over there, it is very important because those are new visitors to Belize; new people that will make a difference in arrivals and so forth. And I believe that that is what we need; we are searching with the existing airlines and we are looking also at alternative airlines also.”
Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.