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?
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!