Tourism is a significant (along with agriculture) source of foreign exchange for Belize yet tourism to Belize has still to reach its potential as a tool for sustainable socio-economic development and poverty reduction.
Nature based tourism and adventure tourism are fast growing global tourism segments and if property harnessed can generate significant, alternative income for communities living near or adjacent to biodiversity hot spots and protected areas.
Currently the focus on cruise ship tourism, casinos, condo developments and larger scale resorts is failing to drive sustainable economic development to the vast majority of Belize’s rural populations. The result of this mass tourism strategy will inevitably impact the environment, well-being of local communities, water resources and ultimately Belize’s biodiversity.
Nurture Belize hopes to help bring interested stakeholders together to promote Belize as a sustainable tourism destination focused on conserving, protecting and when appropriate restoring it’s natural and cultural assets. If we ‘talk the talk‘ we need to ‘walk the walk‘ and become more serious about long term sustainability and the type of tourism that delivers on the 4 C’s of Commerce, Conservation, Community and Culture.
Currently less than 10 hotels in Belize are verified or certified by second or third parties for their sustainable tourism practices. It’s an amazingly small figure and shows the challenge that sustainable tourism in belize is facing.
How do we create a sustainable destination?
By adopting a Value Chain Approach to sustainable tourism development we will better understand what the market wants and how we can meaningfully involve a wide range of needy stakeholders. By adopting a Value Chain Approach we will attract sophisticated, high-value clients with whom a conservation tourism approach with authentic experiences resonates.
If we are to protect Belize’s biodiversity we as tourism stakeholders must work hand-in-hand with local communities and NGOs in order to alleviate poverty and create willing stewards who have a vested interest in protecting the environment and cultural sites that are close to their communities.
If we fail to provide viable economic alternatives to rural communities then the environment will continue to be degraded and the poverty cycle will remain.
If we are to re-create a high-value, low impact sustainable nature based and adventure tourism destination we must adapt and enhance Belize’s brand strategy so that we compete more aggressively with Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Ecuador and the emerging ‘Adventure’ campaign being run by Mexico.
The tourism private sector must work with NGOs, biodiversity researchers, rural communities, concerned citizens groups, tour guides associations and in the process pressure the GOB / BTB to invest more resources in sustainable nature and adventure based tourism and at the same time enforce strict carrying capacity limits.
In every District of Belize there are successful small-scale lodges and service providers yet business has significantly declined for them since the economic downturn ( I’m happy to say that overnight tourism arrivals are so far up approx. 10% for 2013 which is encouraging). For those that are not veterans of the industry they may not be able to remember the boom years in the early 1990’s when Belize was a true global leader in the ecotourism, nature and special interest segments of the market. The days when NGOs could fill their research stations with University, College or School groups has gone – but it’s a niche that we can return to and thrive in. International Expeditions Inc. used to run 40+ small natural historian and Maya archaeology groups (16 persons per group) a year to Belize in the early to mid-1990’s yet today Belize has disappeared from their small group destination portfolio.
Belize retains huge potential in the fields of nature, adventure and special interest travel yet we will only manage to grasp this opportunity if only we can work together to tell the amazing story of Belize’s biodiversity, its conservation efforts and its fascinating cultural heritage.
I recently saw a very interesting project that involved an already successful eco-lodge re-branding itself in order to widen the scope of their operations and better harness the natural assets they control. This project will if successful employ more people in a rural region through a field to market strategy for its organic farm produce. It goes one step forward from The Lodge at Chaa Creek’s organic Maya Farm and Blancaneaux Lodge’s organic produce gardens. As the organic produce will carry the Belcampo brand for coffee, chocolate and rum it more closely draws comparisons with Chan Chich Lodge and the Gallon Jug Estate, offering exciting possibilities as a ‘best case’ study for other enlightened land owners in Belize.
Learn more about what Belcampo Belize (ex-Machaca Hill Lodge) and their ground breaking project in Toledo District.