Long a well-kept secret for travelers in the know, Belize has quietly become a full-fledged Caribbean hotspot in recent years, buoyed by one of the region’s fastest rates of tourism growth.
And now it’s borne out by the data — Belize just set a new all-time record for tourism arrivals to the destination, Caribbean Journal has learned.
The buzzing destination on the Caribbean coast of Central America topped the half-million mark for stayover viistor arrivals for the first time last year.
The Belize Tourism Board confirmed that the country welcomed 503,177 overnight visitors last year, a 2.8 percent increase compared to 2018.
While growth slowed compared to its double-digit growth of the previous year, Belize still managed to set the new record.
“This is a significant accomplishment which is testament to the fact that Belize’s tourism industry continues on an upward trend,” Belize Tourism Minister Manuel Heredia, Jr said. “We now look forward to building on this achievement in 2020, as we continue to work with our valued industry partners and stakeholders, to further develop and enhance Belize’s tourism product.”
Belize tourism officials have set out a goal of 556,000 annual overnight visitors by the year 2030 — a number that now seems eminently attainable.
“With 10 years remaining, the 2019 figure is representative of already attaining more than 90 percent of this 2030 vision,” the Belize Tourism Board said in a statement.
Most importantly, the half-million number represents 100 percent growth in stayover arrivals since 2010, when Belize reported 241,119 overnight tourists, according to Heredia.
David Benzaquen, general manager of the Cayo Espanto private-island resort, has seen the destination’s growth up front.
“Belize has long been one of the best-kept secrets in the Caribbean. With a vast array of underwater life, tropical landscape, natural world wonders like the Great Blue Hole, Mayan ruins and more, it is a diverse destination for visitors,” Benzaquen told Caribbean Journal. “Having opened the doors to Cayo Espanto more than 20 years ago, we have been able to experience the immense amount of growth and recognition the country has gained and are thrilled to be a part of the thriving destination.”
The growth, in large part due to continued success in attracting new airlift to Belize, comes as the destination has quietly become one of the most popular hotel development hubs in the wider Caribbean, too.
Indeed, Belize’s hotel pipeline is exceptionally diverse, with new projects on the way ranging from Margaritaville to Marriott’s Autograph Collection to a highly-anticipated new Four Seasons Resort on Caye Chapel. (The latter will include a collection of overwater bungalows.)
The new properties will add to a large collection of mostly boutique-sized hotels and resorts, from private destinations to adventure retreats like Chaa Creek and the Hamanasi Resort.
That dichotomy exemplifies Belize’s product, which is really two different destinations: inland, lush jungles and classic, beachy outposts like the popular Ambergris Caye and, more recently, the sizzling area of Placencia.