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Open Letter to Minister of Tourism: "People Need Answers"

Open Letter to the Minister of Tourism
June 19th 2020
Manuel Heredia
Minister of Tourism & Civil Aviation
City of Belmopan, Cayo

Dear Minister Heredia,

Since the end of March, the overnight tourism sector has had no business with the airport and land borders closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  As has been reported, the tourism industry accounts for 1 in 4 jobs and contributes approximately 40% of the GDP.  The residents of Belize Rural South which includes Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye can attest to the devastating and direct impact this has had on the livelihoods of thousands since March.  It is getting worse with each passing week and a possible humanitarian crisis is developing.

I write to register my deep concern that as  you are the Area Representative for Belize Rural South and the Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, there has been no public address by you, the Director of Tourism and the Director of Civil Aviation on the most devastating tourism crisis to hit Belize.    After 3 months, at minimum, one should have heard from your Ministry on what plans, procedures or processes are being worked on to help with a slow restart of the industry, to guide the industry on preparing for the coming difficult months and since you are the current Area Representative, to help the residents of Belize Rural South for which tourism is the core of the revenue generation for the community.

The devastating impact is seen with the thousands of persons who have been laid off from hotels, restaurants, local airlines, tour companies and other tourism related services.  Many people have fled the islands in search of work on the mainland of Belize which is also feeling the impact of no tourism. Unemployment in Belize Rural South and across the country are at its highest levels.   In addition to this, your government has hiked the butane and fuel prices which compounds the problem for residents and businesses. The few who remain with a job are on significantly reduced wages and the cost of basic living necessities is proving difficult to meet each week.  Health care access is even more unaffordable during these times and the ability to hold on to house mortgages is becoming increasingly difficult.  It is unacceptable that the community of Belize Rural South has not heard from you and that the tourism business sector and
thousands unemployed have not heard from the Director of Tourism or the Director of Civil Aviation on what is being done to address this.

There has to be a coordinated effort with tourism authorities and health authorities to address when the industry can reasonably expect a limited, phased approach to re-opening the Phillip Goldson International Airport.  We all fully appreciate that the land borders cannot be opened but it is time to establish a firm date for the limited reopening of the PGIA. Those in the industry and Belizeans on a whole recognize that this has to involve parameters required to make this a phased approach that considers the interest of the health of the people to mitigate the risk of spread as well as the economic hardships that also threaten the health of all Belizeans.

I find it hard to believe that, after this crisis hit this nation three months ago, the BTB, the Belize Airport Authority and its private management company have not been working on plans for the new operating procedures.  And if it is that they have, it is completely insufferable that those in the industry who depend on tourism for their day to day living have not heard from any of you on the status of these plans.

All the major airlines have significantly cut their flights and fleet to Belize and many of the accommodations in Belize will remain closed for some time. Therefore, arrivals at the PGIA will be limited. If the industry is to rebound, it has to start even in a limited manner and with all the necessary protocols to mitigate and manage risks since it will take considerable time to build visitor confidence in traveling to Belize and to market Belize as ready for business.   The BTIA and the BHA as tourism associations as well as the many other tourism business sectors should be consulted as there are many ideas on how this can be done in a phased approach and in as safe a manner as possible.   

The continued silence from you, the Director of Tourism and the Director of Civil Aviation cannot go on and is an insult to the thousands of Belizeans who depend on this industry.  The people of Belize Rural South demand better, especially since the island of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker contribute the lion’s share of the tourism taxes.  The thousands of Belizeans across the length and breadth of Belize expect better from their leaders in this industry, and even more so in times of crisis.  

I call on you, as the Area Representative of Belize Rural South and the Minister of Tourism and on the Director of Tourism and the Director of Civil Aviation to face the nation and address the many questions and concerns. Your lack of action and response on the biggest crisis that has hit this industry and Belize Rural South is unacceptable.  

Andre Perez
PUP Standard Bearer/Belize Rural South

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