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Dec 16, 2008

Tourism industry feeling the pinch from U.S. recession

Story PictureIt’s the beginning of the peak tourism season and for some in the industry it has gotten off to a rocky start. A picture is beginning to emerge on the effects of the recession in the U.S. and there is a significant decline in the number of visitors coming to the jewel. And as predicted, tonight there are reports from around the country of layoffs at various hotels and resorts. In the south in Placencia, it is known that at least three hotels have sent home about one hundred employees in the past week and a half. In the west, there are also reports of layoffs and in San Pedro A.C. many resorts are cutting back on staff. The Belize Hotel Association is tallying the numbers and the Belize Tourism Board is currently conducting its own survey to see which tourism destinations are experiencing the slump.

Laura Esquivel, Dir., Marketing, B.T.B.
“We are working with hotels, we are doing our own survey of what their booking figures are looking like. What we’re seeing right now is a trend of not so much advanced booking. We’re seeing a lot of bookings that’s coming in the last two to three weeks before people will be arriving. In the past we saw people booking like six months in advance, four months in advance. Right now we’re not really seeing that so we’re looking at our surveys. There are some properties that are for some reason, are doing worse than others. We actually have—I just went and I checked with some of the staff about the surveys—we have some hotels that are saying that they have numbers higher than last year. So it’s just a question of the demographics of where you’re marketing to and those kinds of things that are playing a role right now in the kind of tourism that each individual property is seeing.”

“What we are seeing is that again, majority of the places in San Pedro are saying that they haven’t been laying off anybody. We are still conducting the survey in the San Ignacio area and of course down south. What’s happening now is that they’re reporting that maybe it’s not exactly a lay-off but it’s an extended leave that people are being put on. So while it doesn’t solve their immediate issues, it’s not a firing that has occurred.”

Marion Ali
“They’re not making any income for the next few weeks.”

Laura Esquivel

Marion Ali
“Christmas is here.”

Laura Esquivel
“That’s what I’m saying, it’s not a relief for them immediately but it’s not a long term situation for them either.”

Esquivel says that while a global trend influenced by the economic crisis in the U.S is hurting the industry, there could be some shifts in the not-too-distant future.

Laura Esquivel
“We still have on record some record months this year. In addition, we’ve had three bad months; we’ve had April, September and October which have seen more than a ten percent decrease in arrivals at the international airport. When we look back at what was going on in April, I think that’s when we started to have the issue with the Fanny May and Freddie Mac issue in the United States and in September and October, as you know, that’s when all the banks and all the mortgage companies and those kind of companies were crashing and needing the bail out as such. We know that the residential market has also been very bad in terms of people losing their houses also in the September and October months is when it was at the peak of that happening. So as you know any of the countries—all the Caribbean countries that primarily focus their marketing on the United States market are really seeing declines. Some countries are seeing as much as twenty percent decline in their numbers. Out numbers are not that dismal as yet. In fact, in November, we were only down by one point one percent which, I know that that still hurts the industry but in comparison to the other countries that are seeing fifteen percent, twenty percent, having a one percent down in November, which is the beginning of our season, isn’t all that bad considering where we focus our marketing. On the other hand, I need to tell you that we have seen an increase in our European and Canadian visitors. So that is helping a bit to kind of balance it out and the Belize Tourism Board is working along with our advisory committee along with the board of directors and several other agencies to try and focus more on the European market a little bit. We are working with the Caribbean Tourism Organization and also working closer with the Central American countries that are neighbors. We feel that we can pull a lot more tourists out of our neighboring countries so we are looking at those other avenues to focus on.

“The real, real peak of the season actually happens around February, March when the weather is even better here and it’s even colder over there. We’ve been doing a lot of pushing in the European market. Like I said, we’ve also been pushing in our Central American countries, primarily Mexico is one of the countries we feel we can get a lot more tourists to come down from. And so we’re hoping that within the next year or two we can off-balance any trends that are happening within the United States.”

But according to others in the industry, many more employees can be sent home immediately following the New Year’s Day when visitors begin to head back.

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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