During their recent visit to San Pedro, the San Pedro Sun had an opportunity to meet the General Manager of CUBANA de Aviacion (Cuban Airlines) in Paraguay, and a delegation of tour operators from Brazil representing Belize Viagens e Turismo (Belize Travel & Tour). CUBANA and Belize Viagens e Turismo are combining to bring over one thousand Brazilian tourists to Belize every year, with San Pedro being the main destination, commencing with arrivals before May 1999.
Although based in Asuncion, capital of Paraguay Aranzazu Duarte (CUBANA) has responsibility for the airline's operations in Chile too. She has been assigned the task of investigating the possibility of making several flights weekly via Belize City en route to and from Havana, the airline's worldwide hub in Cuba. "Initially we are prepared to consider scheduling our regular twice weekly (Saturday Ilyushin II-62 aircraft and Sunday DC-10 aircraft) between Havana and Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and on its same day return segment, to stop in both directions at Philip Goldson International Airport, and turn around within an hour to off load and on load passengers and their baggage," she volunteered.
Sao Paulo is South America's largest city with a population of 11 million while the Cuban capital is only an hour and a half by jet from Belize. Flying time from Brazil to Havana to Belize City is approximately seven hours. Prior to this arrangement the few South American visitors thus far to San Pedro and Belize in general flew an extra 21-26 hours (including layovers) via Miami, USA, or by all-day ground transportation from Cancun, Mexico.
Should the Brazilian experiment be successful and cost effective for them, the Cuban airline is then fully prepared to expand operations by scheduling their twice weekly Buenos Aires (Friday and Sunday) inbound and outbound flights using McDonnell Douglas DC-10 equipment, with a 320 passenger load, to make similar stops in Belize City while on the way to and from Havana.
This venture will open the market to equally affluent Brazilians and Argentines, as well as Cubans, to make Isla Bonita all or part of their holiday. Altogether CUBANA flies seven return flights a week to South America from Havana. Other destination points are to Santiago, Chile; Montevideo, Uruguay; Lima, Peru and Quito, Ecuador.
If all goes well then the affluent European marketplace can be easily accessible to Belize too, with one stop in Havana before a same day connection on to Belize City and San Pedro. Previously European travelers to this island had to spend either a five-hour layover or elect to stay one night in Florida before continuing on to here.
Maria Olivia Ramos, spokesperson for the newly established Belize Viagens e Turismo, accompanied by Augusto Gil Sanchez, Director, previously visited Belize on a familiarity trip in February 1997. Encouraged, they returned to Brazil and at their own expense arranged for an impressive series of magazine and television reports on the country. The media coverage resulted in some two dozens visitors making the arduous trip to Belize.
"The earlier visitor's feedback was most informative for us. Most of the kinks have been ironed out of the system, and bar a complete lack of cooperation in San Pedro, we will be ready to commence our marketing plans immediately to greatly increase the numbers of people coming to Belize," she said. "But before setting a fixed final package holiday price for our customers, Mr. Sanchez and I would like to hear forthwith from the hotels, dive shops and others in the hospitality industry on Ambergris Caye that we never got to see while we were here."
The general meeting held December 7th, was well attended by a cross section of local tourism establishments and officials of Casa de San Pedro, Messrs. Denis and Ruben Pierre-Francois. The Mayor of San Pedro Hon. Alberto Nuñez and Hon. Eiden Salazar, Deputy Mayor, formally welcomed and introduced the panel to the audience.
It was learned that more than 60,000 Brazilian tourists visited nearby Cancun in 1997 while a further 65,000 South Americans also went to the Mexican resort city. For good measure an additional 250,000 European holiday makers chose it for their annual vacation.
By making us aware again of these figures Ms. Ramos said she was in San Pedro to find out who in the business really wanted to accomplish the same here. "I've been trying for almost two years to gather usable data from this Belizean island and would like to attain a similar goal. By coming here and calling for this meeting, and having attended appointments all over town in the past week, I'm learning who wants to attract Brazilian tourists and who doesn't. Brazil already has beaches and jungles but it doesn't have atolls and the longest living coral barrier reef in the world. In San Pedro there's also a lack of freely given specific information. For example, hotels here need to classify themselves for comprehensive understanding by overseas visitors. Not only Brazilians, but all international travelers want to know if the hospice has a television in the room with cable or satellite access, an in-house bar or dining area - indoor or outdoor; a pool for lap swimming in or for lazing in; air conditioning or fan - ceiling or portable; a recommended dive shop on the hotel's pier; is breakfast included in the price - or not?"
Translating her Portuguese into English was Denis Pierre-Francois, who voiced, "Brazilians converse well in either Spanish or English or both, so coming to Belize represents no linguistic problems. The numbers required to make this proposed project work for both Cuban Airlines and the Brazilian tour operators is minimum 30 passengers a flight getting off at Belize City and transferring on to San Pedro. From this figure the maximum numbers potentially are limitless. Statistics likewise show that each Brazilian person takes an average of a one to three month holiday per year and spends US$700 a week, not counting the round-trip airfare which - according to CUBANA - should not reasonably exceed US$700 from any South American city to here. Belize should not miss the wonderful opportunity this marketing concept presents."
For immediate consideration for inclusion in CUBANA's and Belize Viagens e Turismo's upcoming Brazilian package holiday brochure - which will be printed early in 1999 and circulated in February - managers in San Pedro's tourism-related trade are requested to please send promotional literature and prices in confidence to them c/o the San Pedro Tourist Committee: Casa de San Pedro, P.O. Box 95, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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