Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Making tracks - Belize's ‘Forgotten South’

River to reef, mountain to mangrove... Dunira’s Corinne Doff travelled to Belize last month to look at the ecotourism market.

Jaguar track in Bladen Nature Reserve, Toledo
Over 70% of Belize’s landmass is comprised of natural areas, 40% of which are protected reserves. In a country so rich in biodiversity, it is unsurprising that ecotourism is one of the most financially valuable sectors of Belize’s economy, with 14% of all tourists visiting its natural protected areas. The majority of these visits are centred around a few ‘honeypot’ destinations with little push towards spreading the flow elsewhere in the country. Belize’s southern-most district, Toledo, boasts some of the country’s most richly biodiverse and pristine rainforest, while pine ridge savannahs and mangrove surround coastal lagoons, from which the stunning Sapodilla Cayes can be reached. But, despite Toledo’s multitude of attractions, only 2% of visitors to Belize venture to the ‘Forgotten South’.

Organic cocoa farm. Toledo
While governments have a major role to play in the marketing of their destinations and it can be difficult for individual businesses, no matter how good the product, to do all the work, experience has shown that destinations are far more successful if businesses work together to market collectively. Whether it be as a public-private partnership, cooperative or as a formal Destination Management Organization (DMO), in order to compete with other tourism destinations and to access distribution channels, working together can establish a single entity that has critical mass.