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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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)
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.
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 🙂 )
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.