Thank you…..Your Excellency the Prime Minister, Honorable Minister, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, a very pleasant good morning to each of you. It is a privilege and an honor for me to be here with you today.
In 1991, less than one year after the word ecotourism was officially defined, Belize hosted the first ecotourism conference in the northern hemisphere (Australia hosted a conference in the southern hemisphere that same year.) Then, 20 years ago (1992), Belize held the first-ever World Congress on Tourism and the Environment. Indeed, there are tour operators today offering trips to Belize to celebrate this 20-year anniversary. With all respect to our friendly neighbor to the south – Costa Rica – who has received a lot of attention for their ecotourism efforts, it was here in Belize that the world first gathered to discuss the issues of tourism, benefits to local people, and protection of cultural and natural heritage in what today we call sustainable tourism..
So what does this mean? Last year, the World Travel and Tourism Council declared that sustainable tourism may be the most significant transformation in the history of modern travel. Belize played a key role in giving birth to this global transformation. And it is time for Belize to reclaim its mantle of ecotourism leadership in the world.
There is a saying that people always think “the grass is greener on the other side.” I can tell you from my own experience of traveling to more than 100 countries across six continents that, when it comes to rich cultural heritage, incredible nature – both land and sea, spectacular beauty and a truly warm and friendly people, the grass is greener right here in Belize!
This country has all of the finest ingredients to be a world leader among tourism destinations – not just in the Caribbean, not just in the region, but globally. And the new BTB is building the road to take us there. On a planet where one hotel increasingly looks the same as another, where pristine nature is increasingly rare, and where culture has often become homogenized, authenticity is now the new luxury in travel. And Belize is all about authenticity.
Today’s global tourism market has shifted dramatically, meaning experiential travel, sense of place, and natural beauty are key drivers of tourism destinations and their marketing efforts (we are seeing this at National Geographic Traveler, where I serve as an editor, in our research and reporting on emerging destinations and tourism market trends). This is a moment in history for Belize to seize, as it marks its 20 Anniversary in helping give birth to sustainable tourism and changing tourism development forever around the world.
My job as Global Ambassador is to help Belize to shine on the world stage of tourism, to assist BTB in reaching its strategic marketing goals, and to position Belize as a leader among tourism destinations worldwide. Ladies and gentlemen, Belize is “Nature’s Best Kept Secret,” and it is time to let that secret out! Let the world to discover this country’s treasures, along with Belize’s sustainable tourism leadership in protecting these treasures for future generations of Belizeans and travelers who come to enjoy this wonderful country. Thank you.