By Alexander Britell and Dana Niland
Belize is one of the hottest destinations in the region right now, according to the latest data from the country’s tourism board.
The country on the Caribbean coast of Central America reported 14.6 percent growth in stayover arrivals last year, one of the fastest growth rates of any destination in the region in 2018 — lifting arrivals to a new record for the country.
That translated to 62,000 more overnight visitors to the country, and a total of 489,261 stayover visitors in the calendar year.
In the last 10 years, Belize’s stayover visitor numbers have doubled, starting at 232, 249 in 2009.
That included a 19.1 percent increase in cruise passenger arrivals, with the number surpassing the one million mark for the third year in a row – another record.
In a statement, the Belize Tourism Board pointed to new positioning initiatives and, more crucially, a wave of new flights to the country.
The latter included new routes from a range of carriers from WestJet to Southwest Airlines to, most recently, Sun Country Airlines, which launched its first-ever Belize flights from Minnesota.
Such flight growth is essential for growing tourism in any Caribbean destination — and it’s a testament to a concerted push by Belize’s decision-makers.
Now, the challenge will be to sustain that growth.
A big help toward that end will be what has become a surge of hotel development in the country, with new launches from brands like Hilton, which last year officially opened its new Curio Collection-branded Mahogany Bay property and smaller boutiques like the Diamond Lodge on Ambergris Caye.
That complements what had been a rich portfolio of smaller properties in the country, from a pair of hotels owned by legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola (Turtle Inn and Blancaneaux) and private-island hotspots like Cayo Espanto.
Several more projects are in development, including a pair under the Marriott umbrella, and a highly-anticipated hotel and real estate project managed by Four Seasons.
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