Slow Economic Recovery Ambergris Caye Belize

Limited Economic Recovery of Ambergris Caye and Belize

It is a bit like we are back to the beginning again when it was a sparring match between GOB and San Pedro about the rules. Now it has turned to the Government of Belize versus International Air Transport Association (IATA.) As it stands, IATA has stated, things will be done a set way across the board as far as international travel goes. The GOB wants stricter testing procedures in place and has said until a more reliable rapid test becomes readily available, they do not want to open the country to outside tourism via Philip Goldson International Airport only.

Understandably our Government wants to keep us safe and are placing our health first but at what cost? People need to put food on their tables and this is a country where tourism drives our foreign exchange revenue. With Belize having such a high dependence on US tourism (about 75%) this puts us in an extremely vulnerable position and brings limited economic recovery of Ambergris Caye and Belize.

As for our island, which is known as the country “cash cow” tourism wise, our crashing waves are large and continued. The road to recovery and finding whatever the “new normal” will be is going to take a while. How long? That is tough to predict, and many say a couple of years for sure. I say our instability is still too great right now to hazard a guess, especially without a solid recovery plan in place.

It has not been easy watching so many people drop to zero income in the blink of an eye (myself included) and numbers of people needing help continuing to grow. While we are slowly reopening in the country internally, it is still very much like a strange episode of the Twilight Zone. One where waves of normal and not normal keep slapping us in the face. In this seemingly neverending episode, our already fragile economy is taking an unimaginably long, hard, ongoing hit as we watch in shock.

I had my editor research the BTB stats for overnight visitors in April and May 2019.
In April, there were 46,418, and May saw 36,689. Based on what BTB lists as the average spending per day (USD 162.00), that equals USD 13,463,334.00 that did not come into the country this year. That figure does not include the potential increased numbers.
If a 5% increase is added to arrivals and daily spending estimated at $165.00, then the potential loss for April and May 2020 is more like $14,397,570.00. Now, with PGIA still not opening in June, we can safely add another $7,439,025.00 to that. Close to 22 million dollars is a significant loss to Belize.

According to the Prime Ministers SI 78 video conference on the Government of Belize Press Office Facebook page, the total 2019 tourism-based income was 502.3 million U.S. dollars. For the months of January to April 2020, he reported an 82 million dollar drop over the same time period last year. To read a transcripted copy of his speech, go to Breaking Belize News. And to really get a sense of what our news is like, watch Attorney General Hon. Michael Peyrefitte on Ask the Expert. Not long after every pandemic SI speech by our PM, he goes live “Belizean style” on the latest changes to the Belize State of Emergency regulations, to help further ensure everyone understands.

The above sets of figures sadly show some support to a concern brought up by Channel 5 News Belize – Is a Foreign Exchange Crisis Also Looming Ahead for Belize? Until we can open our doors to air travel first and then our land borders, there will be a minimal economic recovery of Ambergris Caye and Belize. That will spiral the country further into a financial crisis. I am not even hazarding a guess as to how far down that rabbit hole we might fall. Instead, I am pre-paving my way for a brighter future somehow. That all starts with staying positive while treading water and hoping for a life preserver to make it easier to ride this pandemic-based economy crash out.

To date, the Social Security Board has processed 43,726 applications, with 40,927 having received at least one or more payments. Some still have received none. In case you are wondering, according to UN data, the population is estimated at 397,628 by mid-2020, and Belize spans 8,867 square miles.

Just like the vintage Electrolux below, that was kicking around Boca del Rio, our economy is rusting out fast.

Limited Economic Recovery of Ambergris Caye and Belize

Also indicated by the PM’s Speech, it is only going to get worse till they allow our International Airport to reopen. Three days later, worse happened with a June 1st announcement that despite the massive company layoffs and salary reductions, Tropic Air is on the brink of collapse, operating with close to 98% revenue loss.

It is no surprise that pilots have started speaking out and fending for their tourism-dependent livelihood and setting the record straight. Pilots express concerns about rapid test kit policy. “We have our own choices,” and Local Pilots Say IATA Can’t Say When P.G.I.A. Should Reopen.

Limited Economic Recovery of Ambergris Caye and Belize

A COVID Affected Island

When I was thinking about people that I know who were profoundly and quickly affected by COVID-19 and the instant loss of tourism and work, the musicians came to mind. They bring us so much joy, and in the blink of an eye, they were gone. I reached out to Dennis C. Wolfe ll and Derick & Keith from the island band Coconut Trio to get their take on how they are coping with COVID.

tropic air flights

Well Loved Belizean Musician

Dennis C. Wolfe ll: I feel the same way I believe anyone in tourism feels. The 2020 season is canceled. I play five nights a week and what really scared me when this all started was how I lost my entire schedule in just a few days with no end in sight. On the positive side of things, I have had a lot more time to focus on original material, learning new material and recordings. I’ve also had a lot more time to focus on my online presence which is something that is important for a musician in this day and age.

Live music in  Belize

Popular Coconut Trio

Keith Cameau: I would say everything is like two-fold, so you know it’s giving us time to practice, but it’s also closed stores that sell strings and stuff like that. Also, you know, you miss being around people when you are used to seeing 100, 200, 500 a week, or whatever it is. I hope in the near future we can get a sense of normalcy about going out and seeing other people. Follow Coconut Trio on Facebook and catch our occasional fundraising live streams.

Derick Baños: Damn honestly I wouldn’t even know what to say. I mean, it’s impacted us and everyone severely, but I’m the type of person that’s always like, ” oh well, shit happens.” I hope that by 2021 we can start to have a somewhat close to a thriving tourism industry here in Belize. Although I do believe it’s going to be a few years before everything is back to what we know as normal. We need tourism here, even if it’s extremely regulated. Maybe this is something we need to learn from. Regulations are important, after all. I speak for all musicians when I say that we really miss playing shows. You can’t get the same energy playing a virtual show that you can get from a live crowd of people right in front of you, but with things like Zoom and Facebook Live, you can get really close. Take the Belize virtual music festival, for example, if hundreds of people tuned in, then it feels great! I intend to post on a regular basis, and if I have a virtual show, people will know way ahead of time, just as if it were a live show.

Limited Economic Recovery of Ambergris Caye and Belize


I also thought restaurants were a good one to feature as they are essential to tourism, and travelers very quickly adopt favorite places and rave about delicious dishes. Now with the new SI, both indoor and outdoor restaurants are allowed to open but following strict guidelines. The focus has to be more on food than drink. So this could limit the musicians for a while longer as the intent is not to have people hanging around. I asked a few questions to Jodie Harnish, the hard-working co-owner of the famous Palapa Bar and Grill, and Amy Knox, an excellent cake baker and owner of the well-loved Wild Mangos Restaurant Here is what they had to say.

Palapa Bar and Grill

How long have you been closed, and do you have and an estimated timeframe of when you hope to reopen by as the rules become more relaxed?
We closed to public March 23 and were allowed to start the delivery service on April 20. Now allowed to handle groups of 40 and serve tables of 10 by reservation and with table distancing.

How many staff have you been able to bring back now that you are open for foodservice?
We did not lay off any of our staff. We are doing our very best to help them with partial salary and contribution to their Social Security, and now some divided shifts of work. When it was deliveries only, we were deep cleaning and sanitizing, so it is super clean now that we are open. At this point, we’re just trying to help our staff and cover supplies…and not get depressed.

On a personal note, providing we get no new cases, what do you feel would most help us return to normal and get the in-country economy flowing?
Allowing all businesses to open up!! While practicing excellent Hygiene and guideline.

Ambergris Caye restaurant

Wild Mangoes

How long have you been closed and do you have and an estimated timeframe of when you hope to reopen by as the rules become more relaxed?
We closed March 21 when they announced no take out and delivery. We probably will remain closed until high season hopefully restarts in October. If something changes, I may open with just me cooking and very much a skeleton crew.

How many staff got laid off and what is the time range they have worked for you?
14 staff were laid off. Including myself! One server was with us for 14 years. Other workers were 6-7 years. And some cooks 3-4 years. Mangos will have been open 14 years this December.

Have any of them been accepted for or received the $150 BZD benefits?
They got it when lockdown first happened. And then the next one a month later.

On a personal note, providing we get no new cases, what do you feel would most help us return to normal and get the in-country economy flowing?
We need to support our small business and offer some perks for visiting them. Just even getting a few dollars moving helps the economy.

Beach  downtown San Pedro Belize

Closing Thoughts

$150 Belize dollars or $75 USD per month is not very much to live on, and we cannot stimulate the lost tourism economy enough from within the country. The option to apply for financial help is now closed (as far as I have heard.) Waiting lists for food help are growing. Many smaller businesses and a few larger are treading water due to lengthy closures. My primary source of income (tacogirl Flight Code) for the last 13 years is highly unstable right now. I am left wondering if the airline will survive and how I will fit into their new sales system if there ends up being one to fit into – a scary place to be.

Aside from economy shattering what is reopening like for me?

It’s the sudden familiar smell of Eva and Ramon’s BBQ in the air and the joy Albertina was able to go back making shrimp tacos in the park.

It’s the injustice of it all. Friends were served an eviction notice. They are also landlords and knowing their tenants could not pay rent, gave them grace, and told them to make sure to work out utilities among themselves so everyone’s basics aside from food are covered. They even go as far as to alert their tenants if they see suitable odd jobs on Facebook.

We are now in June and what would have been a very busy revenue-generating month with San Pedro Lobster Festival, is now leaving many of us further gasping for relief with the new Statutory Instrument 78.

June in Belize also marks the start of the rainy season, and the recent wet weather is fitting as it feels like we are growing our economy from seeds. It’s difficult starting this month with no set target for an International Airport reopening date. We have to have blind faith that they are making the right choice in staying closed, or that something will change for the better. This is a game of trust that I and many did not sign up for And just when we think we cannot take anymore… sargasso is back.

Downtown San pedro beach

It may take a while, but somehow we will survive this and our pandemic telenovela will go down in Belize history as one of the craziest times ever.

I am very grateful for readers like Chuck and Joyce Veppert who sponsored this economy specific article. If you want to help this important island business survive Covid-19, please sponsor a new or existing post you have enjoyed on

And just like the start of this post, I will leave you with a pretty lagoonside sunset in hopes of a brighter tomorrow.

Limited Economic Recovery of Ambergris Caye and Belize

One thought on “Limited Economic Recovery of Ambergris Caye and Belize

  1. Val Little says:

    So concerned for my second home and their wonderful people. They need to open the airport and tourism. I live in the US but have property on Ambergris. The virus in my opinion is all about politics in the US. Most cases,in my area are mild and long term care facilities are the only places with deaths. Hope we can travel there in October but pray that you open up before then. ??

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