Low Airfares are Finally Here: Now What Do We Have to Do to Keep Them?
I moved to Belize 8 years ago and air fares (at least to the East Coast of the US) have remained about the same. Priced between $650 and $800 USD, I would POUNCE if prices dropped into the $500s and was always surprised to see fares around Christmas time top $2000.
As my funds dwindled over the years (as funds in Belize tend to do), I started travelling to Cancun to fly to the States. To save a few hundred dollars but at the same time, lessening my life-span by a few months each trip. The hassle of the boat to the bus, freezing your butt off, spending 9 long hours in Cancun McDonald’s, trudging through customs at 4am, and often, in my case, losing something valuable in a sleepy haze, made me pretty miserable.
But those days are OVER! FINALLY what we have all been begging for FOR YEARS is here. Low Cost Carriers are coming to Belize – most importantly, we have Southwest Airlines (America’s LARGEST carrier) flying from Houston’s Hobby on a daily flight starting October 15th. Woo HOOO!
And Copa Airlines (who have hubs around Central and South America) starting 2x a week flights (with smaller planes – 94 person) in December from Panama City.
Vive la Low Cost Carriers!
SO…fares are now low. Cheap Flights just put out another listing of low cost flights to/from Belize City…as low as $335 and this is BEFORE Southwest and Copa even start flying here. The #SoutwestEffect is in FULL effect.
Monday morning, I sat down with Anthony Hunt, a man with many titles (Marketing Consultant, Tropic Air, Chairman of the Aviation Development Committee and Principal at Yellowtail Creative) – it’s a wonder he had time to meet with me.
We were focused on on one topic: NOW THAT WE HAVE LOW COST CARRIERS COMING TO BELIZE, HOW CAN WE KEEP THEM (AND OTHERS) COMING TO BELIZE?
Sorry to shout, but it is an important question. If a route is not making money, an airline will pull out of the location. Southwest’s 737-300 planes burn (according to this article) about 750 gallons of fuel an hour. That ain’t cheap.
Before we think BIG PICTURE, the very first thing that needs to happen is that night-time lights need to be installed on the Placencia Air strip.
Southwest’s flight is going to touch down in Belize City at 4:45pm. By mid November, the sunset is around 5:20pm. That’s just not going to work. Apparently the lights are purchased but the installation hasn’t started.
That needs to begin. A three hour hotel shuttle ride or an overnight stay by the airport is not exactly user friendly.
The really big question that now arises is: HOW CAN WE MAKE BELIZE A YEAR-ROUND DESTINATION? If potential tourists, try to book hotels and find them unavailable (closed for September and October or both) – they will go else where. If they do research and find that the favorite restaurants and shops are also closed, they might go else where.
And Copa’s passengers, from South America, operate on a totally different “high season”. Their winter…their time to get away…is July, August and September.
We used to say that one of the reasons we couldn’t fill hotel rooms in the “slower season” because air fare was just too high for budget travelers. Well….now it’s not.
August and September and October have gorgeous weather. For divers’ it can be the best time of the year – calm waters, WARM waters and much more personalized service from your dive company. Yes, it is the “hurricane season” – that does NOT mean rain every day. It means there is a meteorological chance that a storm may come near us. And so far…so good.
Weather so far has been absolutely gorgeous. Here’s a photo from yesterday at the gas station in town. September 8th.
Anthony has tried to convince me that we need to stay open in September and October. And it was this sit-down that made me see the light. We finally have cheaper air fares, WE need to help keep them by making the country as visitor friendly during these months as possible.
I have written many times about why September is fantastic in Belize. There are festivals and parties galore.
But hotels and restaurants need to stay open. Tax incentives by the government would be an amazing move (and the smartest move from my point of view) – like “back to school GST (General Sales Tax) break” or having hotels stay open and offer steep discounts to travelers.
There are resorts that have done this for the last few years – like Cayo’s Chaa Creek or Ian Anderson’s Cave’s Branch. They are aggressive with marketing, with offering discounts and special packages even Groupons during the “value season”.
Or, if you have construction or renovation to do, do it on one part of the hotel at a time…and offer a “Construction Special”.
Perhaps hoteliers get together with the San Pedro Town Council and come up with a plan. If Hotel X is going to be closed for a month, perhaps they can recommend booking at Hotel Y. The town working together for the good of tourism.
Or maybe work to break even at the hotel/lodging level…and make money in tours, the restaurant and the bar. Maybe the hotel room is the “loss leader” – the milk at the back of the store. Sure, you don’t make a penny selling milk but it brings customers in to buy all the other items they need.
Employees would be working, tour companies would be working and we could help fill the seats on these flights that will keep the carriers coming back.
IDEALLY the government would help. Launch a marketing campaign highlighting why Belize is SO special and never more so than it is in September.
Help out with tax incentives. The very last thing we want is for these fares to rise. I spoke with Southwest last week and they saw no reason why (unless the economy changes drastically) that prices would change.
Though I can imagine flying empty planes to Belize 4 or 5 months of the year would change things drastically. We want them adding additional routes not pulling out altogether.
That’s all I’ve got. I am merely a blog writer. I would love to hear from business people, from everyone, what they think.
And thanks Anthony for getting my brain spinning…there is no more chicken and the egg issue. THE EGG HAS BEEN LAYED, now it is up to us to keep it warm.