A Belize Airline Discussion: Slow Season, Ticket Prices, Cruise Ships & The Placencia International Airport

Just a few HUGE topics that affect each and every one of our lives in Belize – whether we work directly with the tourism industry or not.  Tourism is estimated to make up just over 30% of employment in Belize and on Ambergris Caye?  That number is much higher.

So…just a few days ago, I was listing on my Facebook page the restaurants and hotels that were taking time off in September and October this year for renovations, for staff vacations or maybe just to save themselves from the dismal “slow season” P&L sheet.

I then received an email – and it got me thinking about the slow season.  Sure…it is “back to school time” around the world, the get-back-to-work season, and it is our rainy/storm time here in the tropics, but do we close because no one is here?  Or does the fact that we close influence potential vacationers decisions about visiting Belize?

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And that just leads to more questions…about tourism in Belize, about plane ticket prices, about…I could go on forever.

I sat down with Anthony Hunt yesterday, Chairman of the Aviation Development Committee for the BTB and Director of Marketing at Tropic Air and all around nice guy to ask some questions…

Some conclusions…some things up in the air…basically a discussion of topics that I think are super interesting.  Here it is.

LOWER PRICES CARRIERs IN BELIZE

We have all been hearing for years about low price airlines (it’s always JetBlue for some reason coming to Belize).  And hopefully turning our $700 ticket from the states to a $199 special like the airlines often do for places like Cancun.

Well?  It’s not going to happen just yet.  In fact, a carrier was here recently, on Ambergris Caye, and they loved Belize.  Love the destination.  Loved the demographic that we attract – in general, tourists that book a hotel first and then buy an airline ticket.  Travellers who are sold on Belize (many due to the marketing done directly by hotels) and what this country has to offer.

Celebrate12

IN GENERAL, travelers, as a whole, with a bit more money.  A group who has proven, over the past 7 or 8 years and a serious economic downturn, to be recession resilient.

Airlines like those tourists.  WE like those tourists.  So why isn’t JetBlue or Southwest or other airlines…why aren’t they coming down?

Two main reason:  1.  We don’t have the hotel capacity.  If our now 300,000 yearly overnight visitors…say it doubles.  We don’t have the room for them.  And 2.  We are closed for a few months a year.

According to Anthony, Copa Airlines, flying from Brazil, started a route (through Panama) a few years ago and at one point was flying 10,000 people A WEEK to the Bahamas.  We just don’t have the capacity for that sort of influx.  In September or any other part of the year.

Plus, when it comes to South American tourist, ONES WE WANT since their winter is our summer…Belize has only just removed the visa requirements for Brazil and Argentina and they are still in place for Colombia.

We’ve had additional routes come onboard over the last year or two.  There is now a direct Delta flight from Los Angeles to Belize.  There is now a flight to Chicago.  Things are moving in the right direction…in such a capital intensive industry, this is a slow process.

With a long time horizon.  Airlines, in fact, are now planning for 2016 and beyond.

Tropic air

TICKET PRICES

One of the favorite moaning topics for residents and frequent visitors to Belize is ticket prices.   I am always flying out of Cancun, trying to find new and interesting and less tedious ways to make this full day journey easier.

Why can I fly to Cancun (just 6 hours away by car) for $250 when the same day, the ticket price is $700 to Belize International.  How much can it really cost to fly that extra 300 miles?  What the hell sort of fees and taxes does the government of Belize tack on…

Well?  Cancun is not a good comparison.  Cancun is a MASSIVE International Airport serviced by consolidators and airlines from around the world.  Millions fly into it a year…millions.  And the Mexican government (and their own oil company, PEMEX) are able to give fuel subsidies.

For many airlines, Cancun is a loss leader.  They actually either break even or lose money on that route.  But they use it to advertise cheap fares to get more customers for other routes.

Who wants a frequent flyer card from an airline that doesn’t fly to CANCUN!

cancun

So let’s forget Cancun.  It’s an unfair comparison.  We need to compare Belize with similarly sized countries – tourist destinations.  Turks & Caicos, St Kitts…to see that prices are on par with the industry.

ALSO, the Belize government is not tacking on massive fees or taxes.  According to Anthony if you look at the break-down on your ticket, Belize is below the industry average.

ARE TOURISTS REALLY NOT COMING BECAUSE HOTELS CLOSE IN SEPTEMBER?

This is one that I am not so sure about.  Anthony gave me some examples – a person that called a hotel in Placencia to book in September and was basically told that “the whole town closes”.  A return tourist calling his favorite hotel on Ambergris and being told the same thing.

And if it is true…should hotels open and lose money?  Giving deeply discounted prices to fill rooms and support the community as a whole?

No.  No one should be forced to lose money.  But maybe the government could help.  Government of Belize, BTB…how about a tax free week or two or a month?  That coincides with September celebrations.

Show that this is an initiative that is important for tourism.

If you are not making money on taxes anyway (from businesses that are closed), why not give back?  Put that money into opening hotels, restaurants, keeping people employed and hopefully getting tourists down here.

Businesses that stay open in September get a CELEBRATE BELIZE TAX VACATION!

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Get hotels advertising our FANTASTIC September celebrations rather than saying “Sorry, the town is closed”.

THE PLACENCIA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Another thing that we’ve been hearing about for a few years (and probably weekly if you live on the peninsula) – there is an airport fully built in Placencia.  When is it going to be open?

Well…fully built is not exactly right.  According to Anthony, there is grass on the runway.  Hardly ready for 747s.

There is no official view on this.   But the situation boils down to – would the airlines flying into Belize right now like to split their routes?

It’s hard enough to make a profit…but if they are currently flying from Houston to Belize City.  And 25 of the people are going to Placencia and 75 to Ambergris Caye (to simplify), why would they want to split it in two?  Send up two flights at $35,000 an hour to lose money?

The same thing is happening in Quintana Roo.  A Tulum airport has been talked about for ages…about to get started but it hasn’t.  It’s about splitting routes with Cancun.  For many, it doesn’t make sense.

Placencia, right now, is a smaller destination.  It doesn’t seem possible that airlines can afford to do that in the near future…

Could it open as a smaller airport?  For private jets?  Who knows…

AND UGH…CRUISE SHIP TOURISM

We have an industry in Belize City – and that’s not going to change.  People want to visit Belize.  And cruise ships want to make lots of money running their own tours.

And now the building has started in the south, at Harvest Caye, for a cruise ship port down there.  And I hate it.  (Here’s my visit to Harvest Caye last year.)

How does this match up with the high end, savvy travelers that we are getting on our airlines?

Well?  It doesn’t.  Not one bit.  It makes no sense.  Bringing in tourists that stay for 6 hours…and many who don’t even leave the Norwegian Cruise Caye.

There are so many better models that could have been used instead of just selling out to NCL and allowing them to do, basically, what they wanted.

Bermuda, the epitome of Caribbean luxury travel, has a cruise ship industry.  They allow one ship, one ship that MUST STAY OVERNIGHT (to support the local economy) and they run it like an auction.  The highest bidder gets the spot.  So does it attract the budget ships?  No.  They get the most expensive ones.

And that trickles back to the economy.  There is a way to do cruise ship tourism without getting royally screwed.

Another topic that were discussed:  Tropic Air is going on a new system soon so that their international flights show up on bigger websites like Kayak, Orbitz, etc.

SO…lots of topics, few conclusion but, what I thought is a very interesting discussion.

I’d LOVE to hear from you….citizens, travelers, residents.  What do you think about all of this?

Please comment below!





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  • Dale

    I just priced a ticket from DFW for March 2015. Over $850. Looks like I might not be coming back soon.

  • Max

    In searching for lodging in AC and Placencia, there is minimal discounting for the off season. Only a few of the smaller places even mention reduced pricing for long term stays. And when they do, it’s still just a slight reduction on the high season rates. They either don’t care or they’re not hurting for room nights.

  • BOYMOMMIE

    I was there last weekend and my round-trip flight from Dallas to Belize City was $968US and I had to go via Miami to save money. We stayed at Cocoa Beach and the rooms were not discounted at all although we were told it was slow season. Plenty of restaurants around the resort were already closed too.

    • Belize Blog

      I’m looking at Coco Beach’s website and I can’t find their rates at all. Major pet peeve of mine. Why’s everything got to be so secretive!

      • Rob Franz

        All of their prices are listed on the website.
        Not sure where you were looking Rebecca?

        • Belize Blog

          Clearly not in the right spots! Where do you click? Which tab? I didn’t see it…seemed like I had to run dates to find prices. But I’ll try again.

          • Rob Franz

            I see. Yes, you do have to input dates. Most high end places on the island use ” dynamic” pricing. Similiar to airlines. They don’t stick to a schedule. Lots of rooms open.. Lower rates..places fills up..raise rates.

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  • mysteryboy

    Probably the best, well-written discussion I have ever seen on this subject! Kudos!!!!

    • Belize Blog

      Oh. Thanks. Of course it just leads to even more questions…but it’s an interesting topic.

  • Miranda

    I have gone to SP for the last three Sept.s. It is beautiful weather, and the Sept holidays are great. I am always disappointed by my favorite restaurants that are closed. If Jet Blue offerred a nice rate, they would get the lions share of the business.

    • Belize Blog

      It’s such a tricky topic…and I had no idea how tricky. But it does seem that we are going for the high end tourists, who can afford the high affair…so it is a bit…but then the cruise ships? I mean…it’s sending the exact opposite message. The country master plan of “pocket tourism” is certainly NOT being enacted.

  • Jim Beale

    Maybe the solution is to supplement ticket prices to a more stable, reduced rate. I travel to Belize often and my determining factor as to when is the current airfare. I’m watching them as we speak.

    • Belize Blog

      Let me know when you find something good…I want to go to Rhode Island. And the Belize government can’t afford to supplement airfare. It’s just not possible…

      • Jim Beale

        I spend at least 10 to 15 times my airfare when I visit Belize. I rent a car, take expensive gifts, room, board, shop of course with mom and pop type businesses.
        I do this 3 to 5 times a year . I have bought needed items for orphanages, I donate each Christmas to see that those children that might not get gifts otherwise, receive a gift . I love Belize and feel at home while there and have made many friends , both Belizean and expats . I also take medications and supplies from my pharmacy and medical clinic to distribute for free to those I know in need. I have asked numerous times about establishing a free or low cost private clinic in the underserved areas and as yet have not even received an acknowledgement from the ministry of heath . I donated Breathalyzer machine to the local police . I offered to donate an ambulance to Placencia village and was told I would have to pay 40% duty . I have a two friends in the banana business in Stann Creek, since the early 80’s, who have similar stories . That 40% duty is blocking progress . There would be newer, more dependable transportation, as well as goods shipped in for resale. A reasonable tax would allow for more goods and a larger tax revenue based on greater volume . The greasing of palms in the government and customs needs to be cleaned up . The United States government pours a lot of money into Belize for security and infrastructure . A lot of money pours into Belize from the USA . The money is there, its how its distributed that needs to change. If tourists stay at home, so stays the money .

        • Belize Blog

          I agree with you that so much needs to be cleaned up. The money does not trickle down to the people at all…so it’s hard to ask for a “bottoms up” approach to getting more air carriers there. The average hotel can not stay open, at a potential loss, without help. AND…duty on an ambulance is BEYOND ridiculous.

          • Jim Beale

            I believe in the tried and true method that says when business is down, have a sale ! A very successful man I know once told me that he would rather have 3 cents out of a dollar than none . He owns 5 car dealerships, 4 banks, and 460 convience stores. He must be doing something right .

          • Jim Beale

            Two minutes after I posted the above, I got a call from one of the Hotel’s I patronize in Belize . As we say down south, the squeeking wheel gets the grease . And as my father used to say,” I can’t” never did a damned thing but ” I’ll try” usually got it done.

  • Lisa Miller Marqueling

    I do not pay more than $695 to fly through Delta from Fort Wayne (a couple hour layover in Atlanta). However, what has deterred me into not coming in the past is that Sept and Oct is hurricane season. Without doing research, it scared the living jesus out of me LOL. Also, if you look at weather forecasts, they state that there are thunderstorms every day. Perhaps that is other people’s thinking too?

    The thing is.. The last two visits to Belize – we experienced nothing BUT perfect weather in October! If I didn’t risk coming despite my intuition… 🙂

    • Belize Blog

      It’s true…September and October weather can be perfectly gorgeous. Though today at about 1pm, we had a brief thunderstorm…

    • Susan Wtts

      We came down the last week of August knowing it was hurricane season and seeing for a solid month that there were daily storm warnings. However when I went to the live weather cam on San Pedro it was always beautiful, which lead me to believe that there was always just the possibility of a storm and that if it did happen wouldn’t be an all day affair…and would you rather be in the rain in beautiful Belize or in the rain in Fort Wayne?

  • Gillian Tuson Kirkwood

    Jet Blue, Ft Lauderdale to Cancun…. Just did a quick check… Nov 24 to Jan 24, 174$ plus 136$ total 310us$ plus ADO 40us one way is just under 400US$ total. And a chance to stop by Playa etc. Friends last year got last minute Jet Blue Ft Lauderdale to Cancun around Xmas for 49US$ each way. So the huge American Airlines fees can be by passed if you have time and inclination. You can catch a ferry (thunderbolt) from Corozul to San Pedro or a water taxi from Belize City to San Pedro, or alternative, fly from Cancun to Belize City and then San Pedro using Tropic Air. Good luck

    • Belize Blog

      Oh I’ve tried every single way travelling from Cancun to Belize and yes, it’s time. You really need a day of travel (unless you get very lucky with your flight times) to make the trip each way. For people with only a week off? That makes no sense.

  • pamela rider

    My husband and I have been going to Belize since 1988 and have seen a lot of changes. Of course our first visit was to San Pedro. But as it changed and become less of that little sleepy town we loved. We started going on the mainland and found a little fishing village called Placencia Village and stayed many times at Rum Point just outside town. We have come to love our little getaway and was upset to hear about NCL buying Harvest Caye. We just got back from Placencia and I can tell you the people who live in Placenia are not happy about it. Air fare from New Orleans is close to $850.00 to $900.00. Just a few years ago it use to run around $550 to $600.00. I hope the government of Belize realize that people who go to visit Belize does not want another Cancun. We love Belize because of the small resorts and the small villages where you feel welcome and come to know the people.

    • Belize Blog

      I agree. The cruise ship is a seriously HORRIBLE idea and though everyone seems to not like it, the voters aren’t doing much about it. Much at all…

      • StoneAge

        They try to and carry signs and write letters, but when you have a corrupt political situation (doesn’t matter what party) and cash offers are made…. Who cares what the public thinks. Nephew gets a new job… And daughter and son and wife etc…

        • Palustris

          Exactly! The voters are powerless in the face of such relentless corruption.

  • Deanne

    Our family of three flew to Belize City for $2,100 back in April/May. This compares to approximately $1,800 for us to fly WITHIN Canada from Calgary, AB to Toronto, ON. Travel within Canada is ridiculously expensive. We found the airfare to Belize to be completely reasonable compared to what we are used to paying in Canada!! It’s all relative…

    • Belize Blog

      It is all relative. Thanks for a different perspective. I need to get it out of my head too…not to compare to Cancun!

  • Gene

    We stay at captain morgans retreat and wanted to come down in October but we were told they close for that month and because I am going thru BELIZE withdrawels we just moved our trip to November.

  • Ruth McDonald

    Cancun alternative: Fly from Guatemala City…can get return flights for less than $250USD to Fort Lauderdale and other destinations, and from PG it’s a 1 hour water taxi followed by 5.5hr Luxury A/C bus journey from Puerto Barrios to Guatemala City. And you get to visit PG either side of your trip 🙂

    • Belize Blog

      Thanks…I’m going to add that to the mix. I consider myself an expert on Kayak and the other sites. Mixing and matching BZE, CUN, anywhere to get myself a cheaper flight. Maybe one way into or out of Guat City would be perfect – I’ve wanted to see Attilan AND Antigua. Thanks Ruth.

  • Rex

    Belize is expensive. Flights , rooms, food / drink etc. It is not a good value and not a good beach to be found. One is almost forced to stay at Pedros and eat off the side of the road But I love it and will return if I am not staying elsewhere at a 5 star all inclusive beach resort.

    • Beachgal 58

      I don’t know where you go in Belize but I find it very reasonable, other than the airfare down and back. Beaches in Placencia a beautiful and most of the time pretty empty. Never been to San Pedro and never will go, don’t like the whole island thing. One does not go to Belize for 5 star beach resorts, ones goes for the experience.

      • Rex

        Placencia is one of the best places to eat off the side of the road US 1$ tacos and 2$ burritos off the roadside cart. I love the belize and the experience but when I travel anywhere it is for vacation. If you dare layout a beach towel be prepared to get run over by a golf cart. Try Tulum for beautiful natural beach to play in. I have visited three times… Mainland, Key Calker, San Pedro. I love it but travel solo as my wife would fail to see the charm at 200 – 350 US a night and buy your own food and drink.

        • Palustris

          Why would you lay out your beach towel on the road? Golf carts are not allowed on the spectacular Placencia beach!

          • Rex

            Spectacular?

  • StoneAge

    Check out Taca Air as well. Good friends fly with them all the time and not only are their prices great, Perks and bennies are too – Food AND alcohol :-).

  • Sandi Smith

    I dearly love Belize and am moving there in a few months. On the one hand, I don’t want it to be cheaper or more accessible because I don’t want it to change. On the other hand, I suppose my very presence, like so many other expats, is bound to contribute to those changes I don’t want to see. Mostly, I am super upset about the Harvest Caye project! That never should have happened!

    • Belize Blog

      It should not happen and I so get the…almost confusion. I don’t want things to change…but I want the country to prosper. I want people to have jobs. Corruption really is the scourge…

  • Lionfish Louie

    Pretty much the same goes for Roatan. The larger resorts close for annual maintenance. It rains constantly some years and some years not, but folks generally believe it is going to rain. We are about to get another dock at the most historically important part of the island and although many hate it…it is coming. As far as the cruise ships are concerned, this aging industry is seeing a rebirth and will dominate for the following reasons. Our former beach house in the US rents for approximately $4,000 per week, comparable to every home on the ocean there. By the time a family of four buys the groceries, gas, wear and tear on the vehicle, the vacation can easily hot $6,000-$8,000. The cruise ships offer a much better value. Not to mention, you can pretty much turn your children loose on the ship with no worries. I do not know about the rest of the world, but Americans generally will opt for the easiest solution, which unfortunately is the cruise ships alternative. The problem we see is they dominate the tours, leaving us only the crumbs as they make their new ports exclusive and convince the islands are far too dangerous to venture out on your own. Of course this does not apply to the sophisticated, well traveled individual. Great article!

    • Rex

      Roatan ..now there’s a beach, packed with people but beautiful for sunning and funning and swimming, but some like I would die of starvation after more than 1 week.

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