Belize’s BETEX Trade Show Reflects Eco-Tourism Growth
This year’s Belize Tourism Expo, BETEX 2014, held May 7 to 12, highlighted the little country’s increasing range of tourism options and confirms Belize’s maturity as a world class travel destination, according the owners of the Lodge at Chaa Creek.
“Compared to the first expo, BETEX 2014 reflects how far Belize has come in terms of sophistication, service delivery, infrastructure and continuous improvement,” co-founder and GM Lucy Fleming said from the Chaa Creek display at the Princess Ramada Hotel in Belize City.
“For to those of us who have been involved with the evolution of Belize’s eco-tourism industry from its very beginnings, it’s very gratifying to see how quickly it’s grown without compromising the environmental and social obligations we identified early on,” she added.
BETEX is an initiative of the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA), Belize’s main private sector tourism association. Ms Fleming, as past president of the association, said the cooperation between the private sector and government of Belize has been a key factor in Belize’s rapid rise as a desirable travel destination.
“In the early days, we were all working on unfamiliar ground, as Belize had just become independent in 1981 and we were well under the radar as a tourism destination, even though we have so much to offer. So the tagline, ‘Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret,’ was developed and we used a variety of low cost strategies to market ourselves,” Ms Fleming said, citing the rise of social media as a major component in Belize’s success.
“Since we were the new kid on the block and did not have the sort of marketing budgets, name recognition and clout that our competitors did, we had to do things differently.
“One of our real strengths was word of mouth. When people came to Belize, they invariably loved it, and then with the rise of social media, the word got out, and suddenly we were seeing celebrities, travel professionals and other trend setters, if you will, spreading the word,” she explained.
Only some 170 miles (274 km) long by 68 miles (109 km) wide, Belize nonetheless contains a wide variety of geographical features and natural attractions, including the world’s second largest barrier reef protecting hundreds of small islands known as cayes, the world’s largest atolls, vast tracts of protected wilderness, and thousands of remnants of Belize’s ancient Maya civilisation such as the huge metropolis of Caracol, the well preserved temples of Xunantunich and Altun Ha and many other sites.
Ms Fleming said the nascent tourism industry’s main task was to let the world know what Belize had to offer, and to then build training opportunities and an infrastructure to ensure the level of quality travellers were coming to expect.
“When you consider how grass-roots everything was, and to a certain extent still is, the growth we’ve seen is phenomenal. The fact that Belizeans are primarily English speaking and naturally warm and friendly certainly helped, as did the stunning natural environment, but the learning curve was very steep in the early days. When you walk through this year BETEX you can see how far the level of professionalism has risen over the years,” she said.
First organised in 1996, BETEX is held every two years, with this year’s event attracting some 350 local and international tourism professionals. It is an opportunity for travel agents and wholesalers to meet with Belizean resort and hotel owners and tourism stakeholders and experience Belize firsthand, Ms Fleming said.
BTIA President Herbert Haylock said that this year’s BETEX had a whole-of-Belize focus. “You have properties represented from all different parts of the country; from San Pedro, Placencia, Cayo, Orange Walk as well, Caye Caulker, Toledo… Essentially they are here today to… talk one on one in terms of business and sell what they have to offer,” he said.
Ms Fleming added that while the focus of BETEX was business, in true Belizean style the Expo was also designed to be fun and relaxing for the participants and overseas guests.
“You see people really enjoying themselves here. It wouldn’t be a true Belizean event otherwise,” she said.
BETEX 2014 runs from May 7 to 12, and further information can be found on the BTIA’s Facebook page.
(Photos courtesy of our friend Rebecca over at The San Pedro Scoop)