Caye International Bank president Luigi Wewege explores some of the strategies that Belize hopes will get it back on the path to economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic, including tourism, agriculture, banking, and renewable energy investments.
The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a severe blow to Belize‘s economy, particularly impacting the tourism sector, which accounted for over 40% of GDP before the pandemic. Fisheries, the second-largest source of employment, was also heavily affected. But Belize has made strides in its post-pandemic economic recovery. In this article, we’ll explore the progress made and provide insights into Belize’s future prospects.
In a country where more than one-in-ten jobs are in tourism (closer to one-in-five jobs if you consider unofficial employment), rejuvenating this sector was crucial. Belize embarked on an aggressive marketing campaign, positioning itself as a convenient and safe destination once all restrictions ended. The country’s proximity to North America, coupled with affordable travel options, helped regain visitors’ confidence and led to a resurgence in the industry.
In 2022, Belize witnessed an impressive 69.2% growth in overnight tourist arrivals, with a total of 370,524 visitors. However, it’s important to note that these numbers still fall short of the pre-pandemic levels of 2019 when over 500,000 tourists visited the country. Additionally, cruise tourism saw a significant rebound, with 615,021 arrivals in 2022, representing a remarkable 192.6% increase compared to the previous year. These figures underscore the positive momentum in Belize’s tourism sector.
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Environmental Conservation and Sustainable Development
The Belizean government also prioritized environmental conservation and sustainable development. Efforts were made to protect and preserve the country’s natural resources, enhancing Belize’s reputation as a sustainable tourism destination while ensuring long-term economic resilience.
Agricultural Sector and Food Security
The agriculture sector played a crucial role in Belize’s economic recovery. The government extended support to farmers through initiatives like credit facilities, technical assistance, and marketing programs. This support ensured food security and boosted agricultural production.
Diversification with Renewable Energy
To reduce dependence on traditional sectors, Belize focused on promoting investment and development in renewable energy. The country leveraged its natural resources to attract clean energy projects. This not only created new job opportunities but also reduced reliance on costly imported fuel.
Resurgence in Manufacturing
Belize’s manufacturing industry experienced a resurgence. The government implemented policies that encouraged local production and export-oriented manufacturing. Tax incentives and streamlined regulations attracted both domestic and foreign investment, leading to the establishment of new manufacturing facilities in the country.
Digital Economy and Connectivity
The digital economy gained prominence in Belize’s recovery process. The government invested in improving internet infrastructure and promoting digital literacy. This facilitated the growth of online businesses, e-commerce platforms, and remote work opportunities, contributing to economic revival and job creation.
Infrastructure development has been a key focus in Belize’s recovery efforts. The government invested in improving roads, bridges, and other vital infrastructure projects. These investments not only created jobs but also enhanced connectivity, making it easier for businesses to operate and attract investors.
Support for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs)
Belize provided support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by offering technical assistance, training, and financial aid. These initiatives helped SMEs adapt to changing market conditions and sustain their operations.
Upskilling and Training
The government collaborated with educational institutions and industry partners to offer training programs and certifications. This equipped individuals who had lost their jobs during the pandemic with new, in-demand skills in technology, healthcare, and tourism sectors.
Financial Relief and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)
The financial sector played a crucial role in Belize’s recovery. Banks and financial institutions worked with the government to provide financial relief to individuals and businesses. They also introduced innovative solutions, such as digital banking services, to improve access to finance and promote economic activity. Belize actively pursued foreign direct investment (FDI) by implementing investor-friendly policies, streamlining administrative procedures, and offering attractive incentives. These efforts resulted in increased capital inflows and job creation across various sectors.
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Future Economic Aspirations
Economic recovery in Belize revolves around continued tourism efforts, sustainable development, diversification, and the preservation of its unique natural resources. By expanding eco-tourism, developing the blue economy, modernizing agriculture, promoting sustainable forestry, transitioning to renewable energy, and fostering financial services and technology, Belize aims to create a resilient and inclusive economy while safeguarding its ecological heritage. Through strategic planning, investment, and collaboration, Belize is charting a course towards a prosperous and sustainable future.
Luigi Wewege is the President of Caye International Bank, headquartered on the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize. He is also the published author of The Digital Banking Revolution, now in its third edition.