September 27th is World Tourism Day… didn’t you know? I didn’t either until this morning when I opened an email from the Belize Tourism Board describing a 2 day expo in the city.
Apparently, World Tourism Day has been a thing since 1980. I didn’t know! And each year there’s a different theme; this year’s slogan is “Tourism and Jobs: A better future for all.” I looked up past themes which have included sustainability and the digital transformation. The purpose of World Tourism Day is to “foster awareness among the global community of tourism’s social, cultural, political and economic value and the contribution the sector can make” site: UNWTO 2019 World Tourism Day
I’ve only just recently began thinking about tourism and the impact it makes on a small scale (in communities) and on a larger scale (in a county’s economy). As a small guesthouse owner, our contribution is a drop in the bucket but each drop creates a ripple across the water (the indirect impact of tourism on other sectors) and enough drops can overflow that bucket (what was once not even a gross domestic product is now a pillar of the economy). Traditionally Belize’s economy has been driven by exports- lumber in the past, stripping the country of all that lovely Mahogany that Europe couldn’t get enough of in the 18th century. And now its citrus, sugar, and bananas. But recently, tourism has become Belize’s number one “export” earner. A BTB report estimates the tourism sector is directly responsible for nearly 20% of Belize’s GDP. That’s pretty incredible considering Belize really only started to pay attention to the tourism sector in the late 1990s. Of course, who wouldn’t want to come here? It wasn’t going to stay a secret for long.
The expo today will host students from all over Belize and discuss the indirect impacts of tourism; there will be a debate on whether or not sustainable tourism in one area is beneficial to it’s surrounding communities. I’d love to be a fly on the wall to hear what the students say about environmental and socioeconomic impacts of tourism destination border towns. I wonder if any students from Placencia’s surrounding communities will be in attendance. I’d love to get their take on what they see as tourism’s beneficial (or not) impact on the communities of Independence, Siene Bight, Santa Cruz.
Tomorrow the expo is open to the public and focused on offering greatly discounted travel deals to Belizeans. They want locals to be tourists in their own country and I LOVE that! Belizeans already have so much pride in their home, they’re excited to share their joy and knowledge with visitors but often you find they haven’t ventured too far outside their own village. They haven’t experienced all that this tiny, 9000 square-mile, country has to offer. And that is a real shame! Why should a week-long holiday maker get to snorkel the reef, zipline in the jungle, trek a jaguar reserve, explore caves and visit Mayan ruins that most native Belizeans haven’t seen or experienced?! I hope the expo is a smashing success and we see a lot more locals traveling around Belize this year. I know, I personally, am going to make an effort to see and do more in the southern district specifically.
So this is a call to action! On World Tourism Day what are you going to do? Start planning a trip! You can go anywhere of course but may I suggest… Belize?