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Mar 18, 2020

Caye Caulker a Ghost Town; the Economic Impact of COVID-19 on the Tourism Destination

Belize’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism so that the looming COVID-19 is presenting major shocks to the industry.  The Philip Goldson International Airport remains open, but the number of flights and passengers are dwindling. Hotel cancellations are fast and furious and cruise ships are not calling on port. Businesses all over are scaling down and as employees are being sent home, there is uncertainty as to when business will rebound. Today, News Five’s Duane Moody was in Caye Caulker where the once thriving destination has come to a standstill. Here is a report.


Duane Moody, Reporting

The economic impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry in Belize has been fast and furious across the country, even as there is still no laboratory confirmed case at this time within our borders. It is the peak of the tourism season where thousands of international visitors would flood the many destinations for the white sandy beaches and the breathtaking marine tours. A trip to the island of Caye Caulker, however, reveals a ghost town; there are only a handful of tourists on the island and many islanders have become jobless. So what to do when the lifeblood of a community is being severed?


Seleny Villanueva-Pott

Seleny Villanueva-Pott, Chairlady, Caye Caulker Village

“We’ve had people who had planned destination weddings; those are being cancelled. Being a tourist destination, the second most visited destination in Belize, we will feel the effects of that. Most businesses are already putting plans in place to do a skeleton staff; others are thinking and we are discouraging other businesses from laying off people. We don’t know how long this will be. The government said some relief will come for the tourism industry so we are hoping that our businesses here from the island will get some of that relief that they spoke about. We are preparing for the worst, meaning that we know the economic impacts will be felt widespread on the island because we depend and we live off tourism.”


Several restaurants were closed today and at least one international water taxi has discontinued services, triggering the unemployment of its entire staff.  Time is the only factor before managements take the tough decision to close their doors. In the case of Caye Caulker Plaza Hotel, in less than twenty-four hours, business will be shut down for a month, in the first instance.


Ivanie Chi

Ivanie Chi, Manager, Caye Caulker Plaza Hotel

“I have two rooms being occupied. These were two individuals that were here from February. I had one family that booked for actually nineteen nights so they have been here for a while, but these two rooms are actually checking out tomorrow and after that we are completely empty.”


Duane Moody

“So what happens next?”


Ivanie Chi

“Well because there won’t be anybody in the hotel, there is the need to close it down. I mean we won’t have the need to be open or operational if there are no tourists coming to the island or if our borders are closing down.  Our hotel has about ten employees at the moment so given that we have to close down, everybody has to be laid off. I think it is going to impact everyone if there is no job, no income. It’s not only going to affect the employees, but families and households.”


Duane Moody

“Do you know how long you guys will be closed for?”


Ivanie Chi

“For now, we have schedule to be closed for ten days, however, as the cancellations increase, there are possibilities that we are looking at a month.”


Dirty McNasty is a hostel on the island and in an effort to stimulate business; they are offering a place for tourists to stay for an extended period. Those international visitors, we are told, are choosing to remain in Belize and not travel back to their countries of origin, which have confirmed cases of COVID-19.


Benedict Lopez

Benedict Lopez, Dirty McNasty Hostel

“We have a lot of people that are stuck here that really can’t go back because they find out that it is there and they want to be on the safe side. So we will provide food, we will have their rooms, private; we’ll make sure that every day it is clean. All hand sanitizer; we provide everything that they need. We got a big playground here. So we will keep the people safe.  We are going to meet the people’s demands. We have people that have a budget; we have people who can handle this. We will talk to them and see what they can handle and we will meet their demands in any which way because this is not only about the money. This is a virus that is very serious.”


The Village Chairlady, Seleny Villanueva-Pott says that over the weekend, the council met with shopkeepers to address the issue of price gouging and to ensure that there is to some extent an equitable distribution of sanitary supplies.


Seleny Villanueva-Pott

“We’ve had the issue with price gouging; we had to call an emergency meeting on Sunday with shopkeepers and we reminded them that the issuance of liquor license comes from the village council and the Caye Caulker Liquor Licensing Board. So we reminded them that they need to come in for this license. So we asked them to please, in a time of need, for them not to take advantage of the people who need these items. And we ask them as well not to mass sell to one person, but to try and spread whatever supply they have.”


Duane Moody for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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