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Tourism Up In Belize In 2012

What’s Driving The Growth In Belize?

The Belize Tourism Board recently touted the country’s 2012 to-date tourism statistics. They confirmed what those of us on the ground, living in Belize, have been observing. There’s been a noticeable uptrend in tourists visiting this country, in both 2011 and to-date in 2012. Specifically, tourism is up 7.4% the first half of this year over last.

What’s driving the growth?

Heaven knows, Belize isn’t perfect. This is a Third World country, but speaking as an expat with more than four years’ experience living here full-time, I can tell you that most of the negative press about Belize is overblown or downright inaccurate.

Still, all that negative press is out there. Yet, in the face of it, more visitors are coming to Belize than ever…and more of them than ever are deciding to stay long-term, as well…to retire and to invest.

Here’s my take on why:

This is the year the Mayan Calendar ends. That is, we’re facing the end of the world. Probably not, in fact, but certainly here in Belize everyone is preparing–not so much for the end of the world as for the End Of The World parties everyone is planning…

Tourists are bypassing Mexico for Belize. This trend is significant, and it is likely long-term. Belize suffers its share of bad press, but Mexico is suffering more, and, so, many tourists are heading to Belize instead of the country to its north. It’s also worth noting that more Mexican tourists are visiting Belize than ever…

It’s easier to get to Belize thanks to more flight options to and from the country. Delta’s entrée into the market has made a difference. And, once the airport in Placencia opens, we can look forward to direct flights from Europe…

All of this has resulted in expanding tourism, even in the off-season. This is the first year in my memory when resort owners have been busy and booked in the off-season months. Some have told me that they are already booked through year-end. Typically, tourism drops off precipitously in Belize after May and doesn’t pick up until November, when the rainy season transitions. This year has seen a notable change in this pattern.

As I’ve mentioned, though, it’s not only tourists who are coming in greater numbers but retirees and investors, too. What’s driving this growth?

The U.S. HIRE Act. This legislation is driving growing numbers of U.S. citizens to move at least part of their assets beyond U.S. borders. Belize is a friendly jurisdiction for banking, IBCs, and trusts. Plus, it’s English-speaking, making it a user-friendly choice for Americans looking for a place to “go offshore”…

Recent commitment to improving medical care and to developing a medical tourism industry. The Belize government is in the process of developing a sustainable medical tourism plan. It would be risky to predict how long it will take to jump start this new industry, but I know several investment groups in the process of applying for the necessary permits. These groups have the funds ready to move forward when they get the green light. Meantime, health care options in this country have improved significantly since I moved here more than four years ago. More specialists and more equipment are available, and 250 young Belizeans are now training overseas to become physicians. And a hospital is finally being planned for Ambergris Caye…

The Four Seasons is coming to Belize. To date, the best accommodation in Belize has been high-end boutique resorts and hotels (mostly on Ambergris Caye). There is currently no five-star international chain resort in the country. That is about to change. The Four Seasons recently bought Caye Chapel. The plan is to build a major resort and conference center on this small “golf island.” Bill Gates and the Qatar Sovereign Fund are the investors, so this seems to be the real deal, and it is bolstering investor confidence in this country in general…

Ann Kuffner

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