Tourism is the single largest service sub-sector, with estimated earnings accounting for 71.0% of recorded inflows on Belize’s services account and 22.4% of GDP in 2007.6 The sector alone has generated US$281 million in 2008, $8 million less than that recorded in 2007.7 The Belize Tourism Board reports indicate that The Phillip Goldson International Airport, Belize’s main port of entry from its primary market, United States, reported a 10.9% decrease in arrivals in April 2008, a 15.1% decrease in September 2008, a 15.9% decrease in October 2008 and a 9.3% decrease in December 2008. In 2007 and 2008 the US accounted for 60% of all tourist visitors. It is important to note the contraction in 2008 of US visitors was reflective of the worldwide financial crisis, the US mortgage crisis, and massive unemployment in the US and record breaking food and oil prices.
There is a general growth in tourist arrivals when assessing the reference period of 1998 to 2009, that is, a growth of 180,795 to 192,157 persons respectively, with 2007 recording the highest with 251,422 tourist arrivals.8 (See Figure 1) Nonetheless, the effect of the economic recession has severely impacted Belize’s Tourism Industry as stay over visitors declined by 10.1% to 68,814 persons in the first quarter of 2009. Furthermore, stay over visitors also declined by 6.0 % from 245,007 persons in 2008 to 192,157 persons by the third quarter of 2009. This is evident by the decrease in international airport arrivals reported in third quarter of 2009, specifically by 13.2%, while visitors through land and sea borders increased by 0.2% and 7.6% respectively.9 The volatility in arrivals is reflective of Belize’s dependence on United States as our major export market which captures 64.1% of total long stay tourists, with the European Union ranking second with 13.4%.
It was the continued growth in stay-over tourism that partly offset this and helped to underpin a modest GDP expansion of 1.0%.
Tourist Arrivals in Belize increased to 1177056 in 2015 from 1168742 in 2014 (See Figure 1). Tourist Arrivals in Belize averaged 906036.62 from 2003 until 2015, reaching an all-time high of 1177056 in 2015 and a record low of 721103 in 2003.
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Overall, tourist season at the end of 2015 culminated with a spectacular year in tourism arrivals. Our overnight arrivals went up 6.2% which was extraordinary in the last seven months. Those last months showed a constant increase. We were able to see September having a 19.3% followed by October with a 22.1%, November with 33% and December with a 22.5% increase. It’s good to mention that the 33% for November is spectacular because it never goes over 10%, so a 33% really shows that all the efforts that have been done with the marketing initiative, cooperating with stakeholders and their increase in their marketing initiatives have really garnered Belize the exposure to get people interested in coming here. In addition to that we’ve seen a 7% increase in airport arrivals and I think that can be attributed to the new route from American Airlines that we had with LAX, South West and COPA airlines. Note on COPA due to the new arrivals of the South American arrivals we saw a 50.4% increase in that specific market but what wasn’t mentioned was the other two emerging markets of Asia and the Caribbean. Asia increased by 40.5% and the Caribbean increased by 16.4%. We can start to see the market share is increasing in our number one market which is the US but it is also diversifying into new markets.”
The outlook for tourism is positive and the services sector is therefore expected to continue being the main driver for the domestic economy. Arrivals of stay-over tourists are projected to grow by 5.0% with increased marketing efforts and airlift capacity. Cruise ship passenger disembarkations are also expected to rise by 3.0%, and this may be higher if the new cruise docking facility in southern Belize becomes operational during the year. The corresponding boost to “Hotels and Restaurants” is expected to positively ripple across “Wholesale and Retail Trade” and “Transport and Communication”.
Source: Central Bank Annual Report 2015