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Jun 4, 2020

Uncertainty in Air Travel Potentially Means Smaller Tourism Market Share

The Prime Minister has announced an initiative to tackle the foreign exchange crunch triggered by the halt of tourism activities which bring in significant foreign exchange.  But the grounding of air travel and the uncertainty as to when flights will resume at the P.G.I.A. is having a huge impact on the economy and putting air travel in jeopardy. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The future of air travel in Belize remains uncertain despite a number of Caribbean countries, including St. Lucia, US Virgin Islands, and Antigua & Barbuda, opening up to international arrivals.  Without a fixed date for the reopening of the PGIA, Belize may be risking an opportunity to capitalize on market share once tourism begins to pick up regionally.


Ravei Nunez

Ravei Nunez, Deputy Director of Operations, Tropic Air

“Those countries have done their risk assessments, they’ve put the protocols in place and put the policing measures in place to ensure that those protocols are maintained and abided by the stakeholders in the industry.  They’ve also, more importantly, made the determination likely, and they’ve not made this known publicly, but they’ve also likely made the determination that the long-term economic impact of remaining closed may be too much of a price to pay, as opposed to opening up their airports.”


Belize and several other Caribbean islands were fairly prompt in closing down borders and enforcing countrywide lockdowns while the number of COVID-19 cases were still small.  In total, Belize only had eighteen reported cases with two fatalities.  The region’s count is presently less than half a percent of all global cases, and now, it is one the first tourist destinations this side of the world that’s ready for visitors to return.  Except for Belize.


Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“They would need to present upon arrival a negative COVID-19 PCR test result; and they would need to have obtained that negative result no earlier than seventy-two hours before traveling.  We checked via our embassy in Washington and our consulates in Miami, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, on the ease or otherwise of getting tests in the U.S. in preparation for travel.  It became clear that the processes differed widely from state to state and even among different counties in the same state.  Still, the requirement for travelers to test remained a sine qua non for us as we sought to protect our coronavirus-free record in the midst of any external reopening.”


That essential condition taken into consideration, touting Belize’s coronavirus-free record as a selling point to bring travelers back is somewhat a double-edged sword.


Ravei Nunez

“We can’t sell that to anybody because nobody can come here.  So the tourists are in their home country looking at Belize, wanting to come to Belize but because we’ve placed such an emphasis on being COVID-free, not having the coronavirus, it has sort of stifled the debate to looking at plausible, alternate course of action.  It has stifled the debate in terms of moving forward and looking at the long-term economic and social consequences of a continued shutdown.  It has also made it a little bit more difficult now to change the narrative.”


Other Caribbean islands that are reopening are doing so cautiously, trying their best to revive tourism while maintaining the safety of residents and visitors.  The U.S. Virgin Islands has led the region’s reopening, allowing leisure visitors back into St. Thomas and St. Croix via American Airlines on Monday.


Ravei Nunez

“In terms of the aviation side of it, the airlines that come to Belize: United Airlines, Delta, Southwest, and this is public information as well, are strapped for cash.  They’ve had to make significant cuts, they’ve parked huge portions of their fleets.  So just as Belize as a country has phases for determining when they will open up and how they will open up, these companies as well have different phases that they will work through.”


In the USVI, Delta has committed to add flights at travelers’ increasing request.  Theoretically, this positioning would allow for a larger market share since that territory is leading the charge in reopening.


Ravei Nunez

“So let’s take United Airlines, for example, they may determine that in their first phase which may last six months they will utilize at least twenty-five percent of their assets.  If you’re not on the list of countries that have opened up, you may not make it on that first twenty-five percent.  You may have to wait until phase two [and] you don’t know when that’s going to be.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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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