BELIZE CITY, Belize -- Belize's new minister of tourism will focus
on expanding promotion and development for the country's ecological
and cultural attractions.
Minister Mark Espat used the word "upgrading" to describe the
direction he hopes to take in developing travel products to attract
new visitor markets and improve the tourist product in Belize.
According to the minister, "our advertising and marketing will be
aimed at upscale travelers and special interest groups to whom we
offer discovery and adventure in our wildlife sanctuaries and among
our dozens of ancient Maya sites."
Espat said some of the best archaeological finds are being made
at Caracol,in the southwestern district of Cayo. One recent find
was an elaborately carved altar stone that documented the
once-powerful Mayan city's victory in 562 over Tikal in neighboring
"Caracol ruled the Maya world for more than 100 years and will
be the major anchor in promoting Belize's increasing importance in
the world of Mundo Maya discovery," he said.
Although the access road to the site needs improving, said
Espat, other roadways in this corner of Belize have been upgraded.
This upgrade facilitates such increasingly popular excursions as a
day trip from San Ignacio to the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve on the
south coast or the ruins of Tikal.
Another corridor of cultural discovery that Espat said will be
improved joins Belize to Mexico in the north. "Mexico's Maya
centers around Chetumal just north of our border are drawing
increased attention from special interest travelers," he pointed
out, "and with better roads and an upgraded border crossing, we can
facilitate joining our ancient sites such as Santa Rita at Corozal;
Lamanai, up the New River from Orange Walk, and Altun Ha closer to
Improved roadways and good small-plane service by Tropic Air and
Maya Island Air now link the capital and the interior to the
southern coast beach resorts around Placencia and the 100,000-acre
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the only jaguar reserve in the
In Belize's marketing plan, ecotourism shares the spotlight with
cultural tourism in a country whose wildlife sanctuaries include
those with black howler monkeys and jabiru storks in the wetlands
of the Crooked Tree Sanctuary.
Espat hopes to market Belize's natural history appeal to more
nature-loving travelers who will find the country home to 700
varieties of trees, 500 species of birds and 250 types of orchids,
plus the many animals that occupy pristine rain forest areas. He
also pointed out that Belize has an identity as both a Central
American and a Caribbean destination.
"We are on the Caribbean, but we can't compete with the big
traditional Caribbean beach destinations," said Espat, who noted
that the accommodations infrastructure in Belize is one made up of
fine guest houses and small hotels that cater to low-key resort
However, the minister was quick to point out that the world's
second-largest barrier reef lies offshore, enabling the nation to
offer visitors outstanding scuba diving, snorkeling and fishing.
"We were extremely fortunate that Hurricane Mitch changed course
and basically missed Belize," said Espat.
Although communities along the coast needed big beach clean-ups,
and sea swells and winds caused damage to hotel and town piers on
Ambergris Caye, the Caribbean resorts were back in full swing by
the Thanksgiving holiday.
Espat said, "There is new seriousness to our tourism industry,
which formerly was financed solely from the 7% hotel sales tax,"
said Espat, "but this government is making tourism a main pillar of
its planning and investing additional funds from federal
For information on travel to Belize, contact the tourist board
at its new Belize City-based information office. The number is