Monday, July 22, 2024

Despite COVID-19 challenges, tourism is bouncing back


The current high tourism season is reportedly experiencing a good reception, with many stakeholders across the country reporting one of the busiest periods since the pandemic began in 2020. Although businesswise, things may be looking better, the new COVID-19 variants are a growing concern once again. With the increase in infections, potential visitors may think twice and hold off on making reservations or postpone their trips. There is also the concern to keep staff COVID-19 free. Stakeholders have been discussing better ways to deal with tourists testing positive, suggesting new ideas that would benefit both visitors and hotels.

According to Ted Tejada, former president and now a director of the Belize Hotel Association, December 2021, saw a 70% overall increase in tourism compared to 2019. He highlighted the increase in international air routes to Belize and the demand for tourism staff. To keep staff free of COVID-19, hotels and other tourism stakeholders are encouraged to randomly test their employees, even if they do not experience any symptoms. At this time, no hotels have been forced to close due to high rates of infections. While some hotels have reported one or two employees testing positive for the virus, Tejada added that guests were more infected. However, more employees could test positive in the next week or so, possibly crippling the services of hotels, restaurants, and tour companies.

Issues with positive cases at lodgings

One particular accommodation reported up to 20 positive cases within their guests, meaning they cannot travel back to their country of origin until tested negative. Tejada explained that this could cause issues with the hotel’s upcoming reservations, as some of these rooms may have been already booked. Management then needs to find additional rooms for the incoming guests. While some hotels can manage the situation when they get cancellations and have to extend the stay for the COVID-19 guests, others do not have the capacity for new customers when accommodating infected guests.

Health and Travel insurance proposed

When a guest tests positive for COVID-19, they cannot leave the country and must stay five or more days in their respective hotel at their own expense. President of the Belize Tourism Industry Association Stewart Krohn explained that each hotel deals with the issue in its own manner. “What a number of hotels have done is once a guest tests positive, the rate of the room is reduced by 50%,” he said. Krohn said that the Ministry of Tourism and the Belize Tourism Board is looking into the proposition of either a mandatory or voluntary health and travel insurance that visitors would have to purchase before traveling to Belize.

This new requirement could eliminate the financial burden on visitors and hotels if this new requirement is implemented. It would, perhaps, build people’s confidence knowing that their health and travel insurance will take care of their expenses if they need to extend their stay after testing positive for the virus. While many believe that tourists may contract the virus in Belize, there is the possibility the person could have become infected before arriving in Belize because the rapid test may not have detected the infection.

Both Tejada and Krohn encouraged stakeholders to treat their COVID-19 guests as best as possible. According to them, this is good marketing for the country when it comes to hospitality and addressing the inconveniences caused by this pandemic.

Several stakeholders on Ambergris Caye have reported a satisfying season so far. Many hoteliers, restaurants, and even taxi drivers have shared that December was a hectic month for them. They are aware of the recent COVID-19 variant, Omicron, and the increasing infection rate. However, most businesses have realized that the pandemic is nowhere near its end, and Belizeans need to adapt to survive this global health crisis. Stakeholders and the government understand that tourism is Belize’s biggest foreign exchange earner. It is one of the most critical industries in the country. At this time, the best people can do is follow the health protocols established two years ago, continue practicing proper hand hygiene, social distancing, wear face masks in public areas and get the vaccine against COVID-19.

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