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Thursday,  June 13, 2024 3:10 AM 

WestJet starts first non-chartered flight from Canada to Belize; vacation packages to follow

WestJet starts first non-chartered flight from Canada to Belize; vacation packages to follow
Of Belize Tourism Board: Althea Sebastian and Deborah Gilharry

The Belize Tourism Board hosted about 50 travel agents last night (Nov. 8), showcasing nearly a dozen of the country’s hotels and resorts at Toronto's Novotel hotel.

As the unofficial guest of honour, WestJet took the spotlight with its direct flights from Toronto to Belize, which launched Oct. 29 and will continue flying until April 29, 2017. But to keep those flights going, agents need to “sell, sell, sell.”

The flights operate Wednesdays and Saturdays, departing Toronto at 9:15 a.m. and arriving in Belize City at 11:59 a.m. (just under a five-hour flight). Return flights leave at 1:50 p.m. and arrive at 7 p.m. on those same days, with connecting flights available to other Canadian cities. This is the first-ever non-charter service from Canada to Belize; it costs about $500 and the consensus of those I spoke with was this was a game changer.

According to Kim Barbisan of WestJet, flights are on the airline's Boeing 737 aircraft, "which offers Plus service” for an extra fee. That includes beverages and free food from the buy menu, no baggage fees, and advance boarding. The airline only has flights available right now, but vacation packages are coming, likely by early next week. There will be five hotels and resorts to choose from, ranging from three to five stars. "There are no all-inclusives in Belize, but all the properties have kitchenettes.” She also pointed out that because Belize was once a British colony, it is the only country in Central America that is English-speaking, "which people love."

Kim Barbisan of WestJet

In addition to that, agents can emphasize that Canadians already have a deep connection to the country. There’s a strong expat community there, and according to Deborah Gilharry of the Belize Tourism Bureau, about 12 per cent of tourists are "Canadian arrivals.” The largest number of visitors hail from Ontario, followed by Alberta and BC. She said that Belize attracted Canadians who, "enjoy being out in nature, zip lining, cave-tubing, visiting Mayan temples, and snorkeling with nurse sharks."

Some new offerings that agents may want to know about include a new Curio by Hilton hotel, and Norwegian Cruise Line has also bought an island in Belize. "Their cruise ships are going to be docking at Harvest Caye, opening up the southern part of the country to cruise passengers. It's a destination island with a docking port, where visitors can experience Belize culture. They’re big on drum-beating, Mayan culture, and chocolate-making," said Gilharry.

So what else do agents need to know to sell this destination? The country varies from region to region. Inland, clients can find eco adventures, the only jaguar reserve in the world, see locals commuting on rivers by canoe, while along the coast are beach and relaxation resorts, as well as the Great Blue Hole, a submarine sinkhole that's "a scuba diver's paradise.” In addition, the Belize Barrier Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, covering 963 square km. It's the second largest reef in the world, and the biggest in the Atlantic-Caribbean.

According to Liz Mendiola of Victoria House, a small luxury property on Ambergris Caye, visitors to Belize should check out both inland and the cayes, otherwise “it’s like going to Hawaii and only staying in Honolulu.” She recommended a “seven- to 10-day trip.” But her favourite part about Belize? “It’s not commercialized. It's the world's secret.”

A few lucky agents will get to enjoy that secret first-hand. The winners of various travel to Belize prizes at the event were: Judy Grace of Express Travel; Ryhan Rayman of Roraima Travel; Owen Syblis of Centre Holidays; Helen Awakimian of Sahara Travel; Mary Kricfalusi of Sunrise Travel; and Cheryl Anne Morgan of Sunrise Travel.

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