TOPIC 1: BELIZE, AN ECONOMY WITH GROWTH PROSPECTS FOR THE NEXT 5 YEARS:
The international ratings agency, Standard and Poor´s reflects that new foreign direct investment in Belize’s export sector is raising the country’s economic growth prospects and that this growth will support Belize’s external liquidity over 2014-2017 Total GDP for 2014 grew by 3.6% and by this year 2015, the economic growth is expected to be moderated.
Could you please tell us your opinion about the growth of the economy for the next 5 years?
Particularly in the ministry of tourism, we can say that tourism represents the 25% of GDP, above USD 250 million annually that comes into the country and since I took over 8 years ago, the tourism industry has been growing rapidly, especially in the last 3 years we have seen the most rapid growth for the industry. When I took over it was during the time of the recession around the world and we had an 8% of decline at that time. The first thing we had to do was to hold on to what we had and make sure that all lines of tourism were active and attract tourism to the country. We were very fortunate that we were able to hold on, no airlines cancelled their flights to Belize, which it was a fortune for us. During that time we hired a consultant to be able to advise us what things we were doing bad and we needed to be done.
It took around 2 years that the consultant finished and we realized that we were probably 10 to 12 years behind in the world of marketing, in the way we were doing business as a country and immediately put a system in place that would guarantee that we could have access to the resources to reach the point where Latin-American country were positioned.
TOPIC 2: TOURISM SECTOR
The Ministry is in charge of the Belize Tourism Board, Border Management Agency, Hotels, and Tourism Development. The ministry work together with these institutions with the aim of marketing the Belize tourism product, developing tourism initiatives and programs. And implementing tourism policies, to address the changing needs of visitors and stakeholders.
Could you please tell us a brief introduction of the history of the Ministry and how it is helping to boost the tourism sector?
The ministry of tourism is the legislative part of the government. We look at the different policies that need to be implemented. We have a director responsible of overseeing the operations of the tourism industry, we have a board of directors that will seat along every month or as the need is met with the chair leader, to look where we are heading, what do we need to do and then, they report it to me. Our board is made of different industry sector; tours operations, cruise operations and Belize hotel association. My job would be to take the different ideas and present the different policies to the cabinet and once the cabinet endorses it, we take it to the House of Representatives for legislation and then it becomes law.
Could you please tell us key factors like number of employees, the budget in 2015?
The b2b generates about USD 26 million a year. With this entire budget we have been able to control and manage the budget based on the requirements of the industry and the sector. We decide how much it would go to marketing and to infrastructure.
TOPIC 3: GOVERNMENT
National Sustainable Tourism Master Plan 2012-2013. It sets guidelines for tourism sector development, incorporating government reforms as well as public and private investments to ensure tourism is developed in a sustainable way.
Starting October next year (2015), Southwest will make direct connections from Houston to Belize four times a week. This partnership will provide Belize with non-stop service from William P. Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas commencing October 2015.
How this will benefit the tourism sector in Belize?
When we hire the consultant that took over, that was one of the recommendations. To create a master plan that will guide us for the next 10 – 20 years. Once the master plan was completed, we decided to look at the different priorities of the tourism industry and to who can enhance the product to complement and allow people to promote themselves.
We have been very fortunate that we have all the mechanism to put everything together as easy as possible. The rest of the Caribbean ministry has the same type of portfolio. Many times when you want to do things that will benefit our industry you ask the different ministries to help you, but all the ministries will have a different opinions and it will delay the process. What we do is that we identify the problems and we provide simple solutions based on the culture. Right now we have been providing visa, except for Peru because it hasn’t been finalized, and our goal is to make it easy for someone that would like to visit Belize. We create an Airline Development Committee, within the ministry of tourism, this ADC are looking for other markets and ways to overcome those markets that we have. Hopefully by the end of this month COPA will be here and operating by the end of the year. With COPA as allied will give us connectivity to North America and European citizens.
The cruise industry are already doing the talking and by the end of November they should have a general supplier for the cruise lines of Belize and for the first time they will be using Belizean products.
The goal is to ensure socioeconomic growth of Belize through prudent, transparent, and effective governance. ¿What is the vision of Ministry of Tourism for the next 5 years?
I got into politics and fortunately became a minister because I want to see the best of my country; I want to see my country grow in a positive way. And in the next 5, 20 and 25 years I want to see Belize growing like Cancun or a tourist destination in the coastal area of Belize. That’s my plan for the future, make my country grow, take tourism to the next level and become a model for the entire world.
TOPIC 4: US-BELIZE, BILATERAL RELATIONS, TRADE AND INVESTMENT FRAMEWORK AGREEMENT
The USA and Belize have had close and cordial relations.USA is home to the largest Belizean community, estimated to be more than 70,000. USA and Belize are working as partners to address the issues of citizen security and transnational crime. We know that US exported more than 295 USD million of goods to Belize, accounting for 32 % of Belize´s total imports, and accounted for nearly 123 USD million, 39 %, of Belize´s exports. Some 185 US companies have operations in Belize. Tourism attracts the most foreign direct investment, although US investment also is found in the telecommunications, petroleum, and agricultural sectors.
Manuel Heredia Jr. was born in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye on September 29th, 1951. He was schooled on the Island in his early years; he then went on to Belize City where he graduated from St. John’s College with honors after completing the Industrial Program. Manuel returned to the Island of Pedro and began working as a welder and a fisherman. Manuel’s deep love of his Island and country and his keen interest in politics manifested itself when he decided to run for office. He was Mayor of San Pedro in 1994-1997. He was the only U.D. P. candidate to be re-elected in 1997 and he remained as a councillor. Committed to serve, he is a member of the Lion’s Club serving as their President for one term. He was President of the Caribbean Fishing Cooperative for twelve years and remains as a director. He has also served as the Vice-Chairman of the Belize Fishermen Association and is a member of the Fisheries Advisory Board. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and a member of the Universal Peace and Federation International Organization that cares for peace. Manuel was elected as Area Representative of Belize Rural South in 2003 and again in 2008 when he was made Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation. In 2010 Culture was added to his portfolio. Manuel also continues to serve as an advisor to the San Pedro Town Council. He has been married to his wife Carmelita for over thirty-two years and they are the parents of three children, Jose’ Manuel, Albadeli, and Odalis.
Could you please tell us your personal and professional background and how did you become the Minister of Tourism.
I was born in the San Pedro Island, at the time I was living in San Pedro no clinic no hospital were present. The floor was sand before, today things has been different because of development. The crucial part for me was when I needed to go to high school and I moved to the city with my parents, I was always the top student in my class. After I finished college I went back to the sea because I was in love with my island and I wanted to live there. During the time I was in the island there was a meeting asking who wanted to be the chairman of the island and they did elections. This was the reason why I got into politics and I became the first mayor in the island.
What would be your final message to our readers, why they have to visit, invest and enjoy your lovely country?
Let’s work together in consultation with public and private sector so we can come with positive ideas that will make us grow in the next 10, 20, 30 years. We listen to the voice of the people and by listening to them, there’s no way we can fail.