Belize’s response to the pandemic – a Tourism Gold Standard Program

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The country’s Tourism Gold Standard program has earned recognition from TripSavvy as one of the Industry Leaders for their 2020 Editors’ Choice Awards and earned the World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC) coveted Safe Travels stamp. These accolades serve as a testament to the country’s swift, thorough, and thoughtful leadership, but it is truly the stories from the people in Belize that speak to the health and safety program’s effectiveness. Hearing first-hand from Belizeans in the tourism industry helps to shine a light on how this community is working together to keep pushing forward. Below we have compiled stories about the process and the result of the Tourism Gold Standard Certification from the tour operators, hoteliers, and tourism partners in Belize.

BAREFOOT BEACH BELIZE | https://barefootbeachbelize.com/

Located on the alluring and peaceful Caye Caulker, Barefoot Beach Belize proudly exceeded guest exceptions pre-COVID and was eager to ensure that they continued to meet these standards even amid the pandemic. Susan, the hotel operator, immediately got to work on the program and began adding an open-air bar, restaurant, and entertainment space to the property. Within a few swift months, Barefoot Belize Beach had become an all-encompassing property in compliance with the Tourism Gold Standard program, which was a welcome addition to the boutique hotel.

Susan felt that it was important for the Caye Caulker Tourism Gold Standard certified partners to work together and create a ‘gold bubble’ to ensure that visitors have the best possible experience, given that transportation and tour offerings could be a limited on the island. The ‘gold bubble’ that Susan facilitated created a seamless vacation experience for guests, which also resulted in a remarkably high guest morale!

The ‘gold bubble’ extended to guests at the properties, which meant that visitors who entered the country as strangers left as genuine friends – some of whom have committed to travel back to Belize together in the next year – given the quality time spent together in the ‘gold bubble’! Susan’s experience with the Tourism Gold Standard Certification program has been one of connectedness – while the pandemic is literally distancing people, this program has brought people closer than ever (figuratively speaking, of course)!

BAREFOOT SERVICES BELIZE | https://barefootservicesbelize.com/

When Belize began to experience symptoms of the pandemic, Megs Yearwood was comforted by the fact that the Belize Tourism Board wanted to hear from partners to take their thoughts and feelings into consideration as the tourism board began to build out their response plan. As a tour operator for 20 years in Belize, Megs was eager to get back to servicing clients as soon as possible and saw the Tourism Gold Standard program as an opportunity to ensure guests felt safe and at ease. Barefoot Services Belize was one of the first partners to begin the certification process and appreciated the intuitive nature of the program – but more importantly – appreciated the perspective shift that the extensive training inspired. The program helped Megs recognize the value of contactless technology, the importance of reimagining public spaces, and the need to focus on operating tours that are outdoors and in line with what visitors feel comfortable experiencing.

Megs was one of the first partners to successfully receive the Tourism Gold Standard Certification and credits the program for the 100% five-star reviews that the company has received from every customer who has visited since the program was launched. Megs notes that the nine-point system gave her reassurance that Belize was taking the pandemic seriously, and she has received guest feedback that the company’s certification provides the same sense of reassurance and safety. To date, Megs has received various family bookings for villas into May 2021, which she feels is largely attributed to the company’s certification.

THE BELIZE ZOO | http://www.belizezoo.org/

When the pandemic reached Belize, The Belize Zoo immediately felt the impact and began furloughing staff as an attraction that relies on visitors. Diana Perez, Station Manager at The Belize Zoo, worked quickly to begin implementing advanced cleaning protocols and began the complimentary training provided through the Tourism Gold Standard program to keep the zoo running Throughout the certification process, Diana realized that in addition to enhanced cleaning procedures, the zoo would need to rework their customs. Diana notes that Belize hospitality is traditionally warm and welcoming, and it was important that this warmth continued to exist alongside the new mandatory physical distancing parameters.

Diana believes that she received the necessary education required to meet the nine-point criteria, but most importantly she learned how to meet the new standards and continue to deliver a memorable and quintessentially Belizean experience for every guest who visits the zoo.

BLUE CARIBBEAN BELIZE | https://www.bluecaribbeanbelize.com/

Stephanie and her husband have been in Belize for five years, happily and successfully managing vacation properties in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. In March 2020, Stephanie began to feel the weight of the pandemic very quickly and immediately started to establish an elevated cleaning procedure to help mitigate guests’ risk of exposure on their properties. She began doing independent research to see how she could continue to evolve and enhance her procedures, but after finding the research overwhelming, Stephanie was overjoyed when Belize launched the Tourism Gold Standard program to clearly guide partners through the necessary steps.

Stephanie and her husband participated in every course that Belize Tourism Board offered through the certification program to work with the evolving situation. They also appreciated Belize Tourism Board’s regular Q&A sessions throughout the process to ensure that partners were being heard and felt that supported along the way – these sessions typically ran 1-1.5 hours over the allotted time – a true dedication to their partners! Stephanie is particularly grateful for the educational outcome of the certification program, as she was confidently able to pass on her learnings and train staff, sharing the necessary confidence required to carry out their jobs. Having now received the certification, Stephanie received visitor feedback on the safety level felt due to having the certification in place.

HARBOUR VIEW COTTAGES | https://www.harbourviewbelize.com/

In early March 2020, boutique hotel owner Michelle was visiting India for a yoga retreat and did not expect her yoga retreat to extend for six months, as the pandemic began to unfold globally. Michelle, who co-owns Harbour View Cottages in Belize City with her mother Martha, was forced to make challenging decisions about the hotel property with her mother while remote. Michelle and Martha ultimately decided to close the hotel’s café with guests’ health and safety at the forefront, and Martha – who had intended to retire pre-COVID – found a new purpose and passion in committing her time tending to the property’s garden.

Upon Michelle’s return to Belize six months later, Martha and Michelle were ready to start reimagining their property, understanding that it would be a daunting, but necessary task. Fortunately, Belize Tourism Board moved quickly to distribute the Tourism Gold Standard Certification program to enhance Belize’s health and safety standards through the implementation of new procedures. The program was a clear roadmap for the changes that Michelle and Martha needed to make, and the mother-daughter duo made the necessary changes fast and effectively, earning their certification right away. Michelle and Martha are now able to continue to welcome guests and maintain their property’s mindfulness as a tropical retreat and can now offer guests the peace of mind that their health and safety is in good, certified, hands.

 

Original Article Posted on Drift Travel