An article about Belize’s rise from a virtually unknown developing country to a popular mainstream tourism destination caught my eye recently, and kicked off a conversation at Chaa Creek about how fortunate we are to be part of an industry that can provide real benefits to the environment and local communities.
The fact that Belize has, in just over 30 years, evolved from a sleepy little backwater that hardly anyone had heard of to become one of the most desirable tourism destinations in the world is certainly an accomplishment, but the real achievement, I feel, is that this growth has been underpinned by environmental sustainability, responsible tourism and green business practices.
Considered in this light, Belize’s growth has implications for the tourism industry worldwide, and highlights the important role that organisations like Green Globe play in promoting green practices.
When my husband Mick and I first arrived in Belize in the 1970s, we fell in love with the land and the people and decided to put down roots and stay, never imagining that the quiet little country would become a popular tourism destination, or that our little farm would become a prominent eco resort providing employment for over 130 people.
What we did believe, and still do, was that we were stewards of something precious and timeless, and that we shared a responsibility to look after it.
After Belize became independent from Great Britain in 1981, the tourism industry began taking off. Living in a small agrarian country with limited resources and little experience in tourism, we all faced both challenges and opportunities while having a relatively blank canvas to work from. While there were differences of opinion in various areas, there was a general consensus in both the private and public sectors that tourism should benefit and never degrade the environment or local communities. This was also the time when the global green movement was growing, which was something many of us tapped into.
Of course, there were the more zealous development-minded people who thought green practices and strong economic expansion were incompatible. Now, over thirty years later, we’re happy to say we proved them wrong.
A February 2016 Travel Pulse feature, “Is Belize Officially On the Mainstream Tourism Radar?” quotes figures from the Belize Tourism Board showing that, during 2015, Belize’s overnight visitors climbed 6.2 per cent from the previous year, and that Belize was among the ten most visited Caribbean cruise ship destinations.
Stunning scenery, great weather, a friendly English speaking populace combined with careful attention to providing high quality amenities and service of course play a major role, but for many of us, the real story is that today’s traveller is, more and more, attracted to green operations and practices. We see this time and time again in our guests’ comments when, for example, they visit our traditional Maya organic farm, which provides an authentic farm-to-table dining experience as well as real life examples in recycling, reducing food miles and curtailing the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers.
Guest also respond positively to our Chaa Creek Cares initiative when they learn that ten per cent of all room revenue goes directly into environmental and social projects. Some of our most popular attractions, such as the Belize Natural History Centre, the butterfly farm, Maya medicinal plant trail and the organic farm are designed to raise awareness among students, local people and visitors about Belize’s rich natural and cultural heritage.
And I’m happy to say that Chaa Creek is not alone in promoting green practices. Other Belizean eco-resorts, including our Caribbean partners in the popular “Jungle and Beach” all-inclusive vacation packages, share a green ethos that contributes to a national framework for sustainable development. In fact, we found that cooperative all-inclusive vacation packages provide a more rewarding and affordable experience for our guests as well as more efficient use of resources, thus further reducing our collective carbon footprint.
We feel that there’s a lesson in Belize’s success in meeting the challenge to provide a high-quality product with as little negative impact to the environment and society as possible. In fact, we believe that tourism has actually contributed to the betterment of both the land and local communities throughout Belize.
It also says something about today’s travellers, many of whom are looking for more authentic experiences while being mindful of their effect on the local environment and people. The success of our “Pack a Pound” program, where guests are invited to pack an extra pound or more of educational materials in their luggage, or post them when they return home for distribution to needy Belizean school children, is one very real example of this.
So can rigorous green practices co-exist with high quality tourism products and services? The Belizean example shows that they not only can, but may actually enhance an industry’s and individual business’ bottom line.
And to us, that’s a marriage made in heaven.