VIU student tackles tourism development issues in Belize

Arriving in Belize felt so good. I have been in this beautiful country once before, and that familiar smell and feeling immediately made me smile. I was also excited to return with a new perspective. I am no longer the dirty backpacker looking to enjoy nature and culture with no worries, but instead I am a student on an academic mission with a research objective. That might be one of the most exciting, yet biggest adjustments I’ll have to make – this is not like any travelling I have done before. No matter how many palm trees surround me, this is not a holiday! And I am quite happy to serve a purpose while I’m here, to think critically about everything I see and do, and to work toward Building resilience in coastal communities.

Our arrival was a two-day whirlwind running around the country, visiting Mayors, Village Chairs, Council representatives (and howler monkeys!). We discussed current issues in Belize, and I learned that many of the issues that I’m interested in exploring are well recognized here and being tackled every day, such as affordable housing, sustainable tourism development, and environment impacts related to said development. I learned that legislative and policy frameworks are not a significant issue, and are often already in place. It is where funding, time, and other resources are absent that development initiatives are stalled or suffering.

The focus of my study is on amenity migration (or the movement of people to a destination based on the draw of its natural and cultural amenities), and its impact on the tourism participation rates of locals in Seine Bight and Placencia, two neighbouring communities that are at two different ends of the tourism development continuum. At first glance, there is no immediate resistance in terms of expatriate community development. Belizeans are a rather welcoming and friendly people. Though through my research I'm sure I will find this is not entirely the case.

Other impacts of development, however, are more obvious at first glance. I am living on the Placencia peninsula, the second most popular tourism destination in Belize, in a community beside Seine Bight. Despite the beauty of the peninsula, as you drive along, issues become more apparent. Shores are eroding, and the economic inequality between local Belizeans and foriegn visitors is crystal clear. Big beautiful houses (mostly owned by expatriates) line most of the shoreline, as well as foreign-owned resorts. These are contrasted by economically disadvantaged Belizean homes right next door, most of which belong in Seine Bight, a village that is currently trying to build up its tourism industry. This has been difficult, however, as Placencia, its neighbor and number two tourism destination in Belize, attracts most tourists who drive right through the small village. Their ability to be resilient as a coastal community faces many challenges that will eventually be uncovered through my time here. For now I am getting comfortable in my beautiful (expatriate-owned) accommodation on the coast, interacting with community members and getting a great sense of the Belizean lifestyle. I look forward to the next few months here!

Sarah Hain, Tourism, VIU