Members of Caribbean Flying Adventures descend on Ambergris Caye
Friday, February 21st, 2014
A group of pilots from Caribbean Flying Adventures were on a reconnaissance trip to Belize in search of new tourism destinations. The pilots and some family members came to the island onboard 16 private planes from various parts of the United States. They first landed at the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA) after which they flew over to Ambergris Caye on Friday February 21st. The continuous landing of the private aircrafts captivated the attention of several curious island residents who were eager to find out more.
Heading the group of adventurers was private pilot Jim Parker, President of the Caribbean Flying Adventures which is based in California, USA. According to Parker, the organization helps their member pilots with the necessary tools to fly around the Caribbean easily. “We [also] do a series of escorted tours throughout the year to try and introduce pilots to new markets in the Caribbean. Most US pilots are happy to fly around the US and I guess they are afraid of fly over open water and even go through Customs and other procedures internationally, and my job is to attract and guide them into these new markets.”
According to Caribbean Flying Adventures, annually, they fly and contribute economically to destinations such as the Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cayman Islands and the Bahamas. For the first time, the group considered coming to Belize as well as to Guatemala, on a quest to scout for new potential markets. “I wanted to bring some of these pilots and planes to Belize. The response from the pilots was fantastic because when I put out the announcement about coming to Belize, within 48 hours we had over 21 planes that had signed up. Obviously there is a lot of interest in Belize and I plan to work with the Belize Tourism Industry (BTB) to look at this market.” For Parker, Belize as a destination will offer something fresh for the US private pilots and plane owners who want to experience a new destination in the tropics.
“There are 150,000 small piston family-sized private aircrafts in the US alone, and every year they fly about 40 thousand times to the Bahamas where they spend half-a-billion US dollars. You can count the number of these planes that fly down from the US to Belize because they don’t know what is here or they think it is too difficult to come into the country. We want to build up on the potential of them coming to Belize over the next three or four years. This can contribute significantly to the tourism industry, positively impacting the Belize economy,” added Parker who has flown his plane to Belize on several occasions.
Parker said that as part of their organized excursions, the pilots and their guests get to enjoy the camaraderie of flying and hanging out together as a group at some of the best destinations where they spend on accommodation, group meals, and guided tours to various parts of the country, socialize and even shop, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. “There is no reason why Belize can’t take advantage of this. It’s a small market, but one that leaves a place like the Bahamas with hundreds of millions in tourism revenue. We want to attract some of those pilots to come to Belize and leave some tourism money in the country,” highlighted Parker.
While in the country, most of the pilots came to Ambergris Caye, while a few chose the western part of mainland Belize. The group stayed for a total of three days, enjoying guided trips to places such as the Blue Hole, Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley, and group meals at various establishments on the cayes. “There is something special about this island. We walked along the beach for a few hours and the experience is something different from other places we have been to – a special and unique ‘something’ that will appeal to the pilots,” commented Parker who was a part of the group of 36 who chose Ambergris Caye.
For the pilots, the first impression about a country always plays an important role for the group who fly to various parts of the Caribbean. “The most important thing for these pilots is for them to feel welcome,” explained Parker. And while they received a warm welcome by the staff at Belize Tourism Board and the Civil Aviation Authority, the same cannot be said for the Customs Department. According to Parker, the pilots all had a three-hour stay-over at the PGIA where they were subjected to a vigorous search by Customs and Immigration authorities. “One of the things we will have to work along with the Government of Belize is the airport procedures for private pilots. It takes over three hours to process these private planes and for one of the pilots, dogs were brought in that damaged his aircraft, which is not good. Places like the Bahamas do not have significant deterrents and so we have to work on it, especially the Customs Department, if we want to attract private pilots to this new tourism market,” noted Parker.
Despite their experience at the PGIA, the adventurers were happy to be on the island. They stayed at Ramon’s Village and Sunbreeze Hotel and Sunbreeze Suites where they were hosted to a small welcome social by Julia Edwards. While spending the weekend on the island, they took in the sun, breeze and sea and just enjoyed the La Isla Bonita experience. After their three-day stay in Belize, the group of over 40 flew to Flores, Petén, Guatemala, where they explored Tikal as another possible new market option.