SouthWest Airlines is Coming to Belize – Hurray! But What Does It Really Mean?

Just about a month ago, Southwest Airlines, the largest carrier of US domestic passengers, announced it was flying to Belize.    More arrivals!  Lower fares!  Or at least those are the immediate thoughts/heartfelt wishes we all had when the proclamation was made.

But flights dates are not yet announced – and there is still some finalizing to do.  So yesterday I sat down with Anthony Hunt,  Chairman of the Aviation Development Committee for the Belize Tourism Board and Director of Marketing at Tropic Air and all around nice guy, to ask some questions.

And I did a bit of research on Southwest Airlines myself since, as a born & raised Jersey girl, I have never flown the airline…

So I asked myself:  What’s the deal with Southwest Airlines?  Most of you probably already have the answers.  But humor me.

The airline was started in 1967 as a local Texas airline – and their current headquarters is in Dallas, TX.

There top served cities as of November 2014 are:  Chicago-Midway, Baltimore-Washington, Las Vegas and Denver.

They love to jazz up their planes with “special liveries”.  Pizazz.  I like it.  Their stock ticker is LUV.  Totally loveable.

southwest

And most importantly, Southwest is very popular with flyers – and they top many “best” lists.   Here is the music to my ears:  Their additional fees are “the lowest in the industry” – according to US Today “The airline has no fees for checked bags (up to two) and the lowest per-bag fee for more than two bags.”

And, as of more recently, Southwest is opening up International travel – with spots in Mexico and the Caribbean and as just announced and coming soon…BELIZE!

34054-Bar Refaeli and SW plane 1

Bringing not just their planes to Belize – 7 days a week…but also vacation retailer SouthwestVacations.com – which puts together travel packages for its various locations.

Okay…let’s get down to business.  WHEN is Southwest coming?

Southwest will be flying 7 days a week from Houston to Belize City.  But unlike United, the carrier that is now flying the Houston-Belize route each day, Southwest uses Houston’s Hobby Airport – which is currently set up for just domestic flights.

The airlines that currently fly in and out of Hobby are:  AirTran, American, Branson Air, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest.

google map

 

Hobby Airport is in the midst of a transformation from a domestic airport to an International one – and that is set to be completed in the early fall.  September.

Southwest should be coming to Belize by…an estimate…mid-October.

What did Southwest do to choose Belize?  Why Belize?

According to Anthony, Southwest “scouts” have been down to Belize a number of times.  It’s an international team – not just employees from the US but consultants from South America, Africa…world travelers.  They have been all over the country and stayed at numerous hotels.  They even floated in the tubes off of Ambergris Caye’s famous Palapa Bar.

No…that’s not them.  It’s my friend Cindy.

palapa

They recognize the uniqueness of our country, they felt the case for Belize was very strong – and they want to work with the tourism industry here to best sell it.  An airline does not put this sort of investment into a country and then simply sit back and let planes fill (or not fill).

lamanai

Different airlines approach the issue in different ways.  Some work more with local (US) travel agents and consolidators…some focus on country specific advertising…some on vacation packages…

In February and March, Southwest will be in Belize conducting meetings (almost “townhall meetings”) with tourism folk – “help us sell your country”.

I can help!  I can help!  Sure we have beautiful beaches but we have SO MUCH MORE…

(If you like, you can read my post titled:  Why Belize? – Eight Reasons Belize Rocks)

sanctuary

Anthony sees Southwest as a very good partner going forward – they recognize that Belize brings in a different market than say Cancun or Las Vegas.

maya bags

What are the special issues/problems that additional airlines considering Belize might be finding?

Anthony brought up the “Bermuda problem”.  Nothing to do with the Bermuda triangle…but lack of hotel rooms in a desirable country.

Many people who book a vacation in Belize, book the hotel first.  Unlike Cancun or many other places, where you have 1000 or 10,000 like rooms  to chose from in the spot you want to visit, most locations in Belize have limited inventory that fits your standards.  (I’m a total 5-star girl myself 🙂 )

cave tubing

So at Christmas time…or February, hotels are sold out.  You love staying at The Phoenix in San Pedro?  Or Maya Beach Hotel on the Placencia Peninsula?  You might not be able to find a room…and you might put off your “Belize trip” to next year.

Carriers are losing that airfare to Belize.  And they are in the business to make money.  A business that is seasonal – so the money is made in the “high season” and then you break even in the “slow” or even lose money.

“Fixing” the “Bermuda Problem” – bringing more competitive carriers to Belize – means more good hotels rooms in Belize.  According to Anthony, demand is there for mid-to-upper level rooms in Belize.

We can not get anymore new carriers until there are more rooms.

How does this get done?  Well that’s a whole new discussion.  Government help?  Tax incentives for upgrades?  I’d love to hear your ideas.

SO, after all that…and in the end, Southwest entering the Belize market is a very good thing.  With Southwest’s help, this will grow the pie rather than further divide it.  Sure there will be some overlap but that is competition – and lower airfares.  Anthony said that airfares are already lower than they were last year for some markets.

Let’s make this work!

And Belize has NEVER lost air service from a carrier except for one example – and I bet you can’t guess it.

Air Jamaica.  They ran a Montego Bay to Belize City flight for only 6 months – 2002 and 2003.

Odd.

 






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  • Erik Terdal

    I’m excited! Will be very convenient for me. I hope they bring airfares down from Texas.

    • Belize Blog

      Absolutely.

  • Having spent many years in resort development, I believe the answer to your question “how does it get done?” is basically needed improvements to infrastructure – so Government basically. There is no shortage of people looking to develop and build hotel rooms; but the places that people want to be are severely lacking for the proper infrastructure. On the development side we need infrastructure and guests – Southwest coming is awesome cause it shows the demand is there. We can see some infrastructure is being improved, which means a few a these projects that keep falling apart, won’t fall apart so easily. I could talk about thoughts on this all day (it’s kinda why I’m here!) – but I won’t let me comment turn into a novel.

    • Belize Blog

      Hmmm…guest blogging opportunity? Where did you work?

      • A few places I can’t name for a few more years – but lets just say I did investment analysis and operational transitions for two capital groups in the US (I know…vague as heck!). Got tired of helping the “evil empires” and wanted to use my powers for good. I would LOVE to guest blog if you’re serious! I’m cheap – willing to work for Fanta.

    • Kennis K

      If they would pave the road to the south, it would make a big difference in what happens that direction.

  • prider

    It is bittersweet. I love Belize because it is not a tourist trap. My husband and I first trip to Belize was in 1988 to San Pedro. We still go back just about every year of so. We have stop going to San Pedro because it lost its charm. We now go on the mainland when we visit. It always feels like our second home, hard to get that feeling at a big resort.

    • Belize Blog

      I know what you mean. San Pedro has changed for sure…but I think there is still SO much to love. Plus, I like lots of options. I do love the mainland too 🙂

    • Don’t forget about the Lamanai area, often no tourists at all in the community of Indian Church right next door, the area is great offers tours and super Belizeans who can change your outlook on life!

  • Just think of all those rooms in “The Hotel” north of the bridge…still shaking my head over that one and wondering what the real scoop is/was….

  • 18°North

    The one thing that you might understand is that when Southwest starts flying to Belize is that United and American will drop their overly inflated prices to match. This has happened all throughout the United States. This is the big win for us frequent flyers and rental owners. BTW the LUV is for Love Field (SWA home base in Dallas)

    • Belize Blog

      Interesting…I did a quick search on LUV and couldn’t find the reason quickly. Whatever it’s for…I like it.

  • Sandi Smith

    I love Southwest Airlines and I cannot stand that G Bush International airport in Houston, so this is a Huge Win/Win for me! We are moving to Belize in a few weeks and this will make visiting so much easier and less expensive for us and our house guests. Thanks for The Scoop! You always do such a great job getting all the little details.

    • Belize Blog

      Thanks…and I’m glad for your winning sitch…now I need to really look into the Southwest connection flights. I go to Providence RI most….and I think that’s one of them. Let’s hope…

  • marysaunders

    As mostly a NOT 5-star kind of person, I am thinking Southwest might bring more people like me. I mean I have already come without cheap fares. For an airline, isn’t it about getting bodies on planes and then out the door? If the fliers want to go tubing and stay in Earthships and things, they will still spend good money. I’m having a hard time believing everything has to be five-starry-ness to work out for an airline, especially with the stunning customer-service I have found everywhere in Belize, no matter how many the stars. What I have found in Belize is a really smart and open populace. You don’t know what that means to this U.S. person. It’s everything. So many places in the world do not have this.

    • Belize Blog

      I hear you…and me being 5 star? Is a wish. But Belize can be an expensive place to visit…no matter what price range you are looking at.

      • marysaunders

        I hear that. It’s not that I don’t like trying to pretend I know 5 stars from 4. I spent more than I intended the last time I was there. Still, it’s not like some big northern city, expense-wise, which is part of why so many people want to come to Belize. Just not having to spend a lot to heat myself up (or die) sounds like paradise to me.

  • cayobwai

    I think is will be a good thing for our country. Yes the problem is the hotel rooms we don’t have a lot I think the Government should look for investor or people interested in building hotels. Give them a tax break, give them some kind of incentive I am not saying give it away for free but something to get them building more. One thing I would really declined to is have the hotel chain type hotel e.g Marriott, Hyatt, Fairmont and so forth. I can’t wait to see what or how the southwest plans affect pricing and what it is going to call for.