TORONTO — Deborah Gilharry has seen firsthand just how valued – and valuable – travel advisors are.
In the early months of the pandemic in spring of 2020, with thousands of travellers stranded around the world amid global border closures, Gilharry, Travel Trade Specialist with the Belize Tourism Board, immediately recognized the monumental role travel advisors play within the travel ecosystem. Not only did they spend tireless hours helping to get their clients home, they often served as the voice of reason at a time when travel restrictions and requirements were constantly changing.
Travel advisors, in short, are essential to the travel industry, which is why Gilharry and her team at the Belize Tourism Board have been laser-focused on strengthening ties with the advisor community.
This is being done in several ways in 2023, most notably with the debut of the organization’s first ever Travel Agent Rewards Program, called ‘Unbelizeable Rewards.’ Officially launching today, April 20, the program is tailored exclusively for travel advisors who can earn points for hotel night stays, or ‘fam nights.’ Points are earned for every confirmed booking to Belize submitted via unBelizeableRewards.com. Bookings must have, at minimum, one overnight in Belize on the itinerary, and trips can be booked with any tour operator, a third party or direct. Points are valid for 24 months after the date of departure.
Since the program’s soft launch in November 2022, the tourism board has added nine properties where travel advisors can redeem points for fam nights. These include: Alaia Belize, Autograph Collection; The Lodge at Chaa Creek; Naia Resort and Spa; Thatch Caye, a Muy’Ono Resort; Sweet Songs Jungle Lodge, a Muy’Ono resort; Hopkins bay, a Muy’Ono Resort; The Placencia, a Muy’Ono Resort; The Lodge at Jaguar Reef; and The Rainforest Lodge at Sleeping Giant. Additional properties will be added to the program on an ongoing basis.
To start earning ‘unBelizeable’ rewards click here.
“The end goal of this program is to build that relationship with travel advisors. We love to say that Belize loves travel advisors. Here at the Belize Tourism Board, we want this to be more of a consultation-type relationship – we want to be that go-to person for them, if they need anything from us, they can contact us in any way and actually get the support that they need,” says Gilharry.
But that’s not all – the Belize Tourism Board also relaunched its existing North American version of the Belize Specialist Program earlier this month. Offered through the Online Travel Training (OTT) platform, the program will now be one of the primary pre-requisites to qualify for any Belize-sponsored fam trip. It features a new look and feel, with the same content now restructured into a more concise format. Content is delivered via four 30-minute modules, with travel advisors having to complete a short quiz at the end.
Available in English, German, French and Dutch, the program also features a new Trade Resource Center where travel advisors can download e-brochures, request high-resolution images and videos, submit fam inquiries, subscribe to e-newsletters and request Zoom destination presentations for groups conducted by the Tourism Board’s travel trade team. A list of tour operator partners that sell packages to Belize has also been added as a quick reference tool.
Upon completion of the specialist program, travel advisors will receive a printable certificate of completion, a Belize Specialist logo to use on business cards, email signatures and their websites; access to quarterly trade newsletters, invitations to Belize-hosted trade events, and priority consideration for fams.
To register for the Belize Specialist Program click here.
“We’ve made the program very condensed, we wanted to make sure that whatever information we have on it is adequate and that it gives travel advisors enough resources to understand the destination and sell packages to Belize,” says Gilharry.
“A great percentage of our spending dollars is allocated to the development of the trade. And so it’s important for us to build these ties with travel advisors because we need that human element, we need people who will learn about the destination and are able to offer the dream vacation to their clients. We look at travel advisors as partners in the business, and we’ll always have a soft spot for them,” she adds.
BELIZE’S ONGOING RECOVERY
Travelweek also asked Gilharry for her thoughts on the destination’s ongoing recovery, post-pandemic, particularly from Canada, which she says is among Belize’s top three markets.
Spurred by Belize’s growing expat community from Canada, particularly in the Corozal District in the north, Gilharry says that recovery has been “fantastic,” with many hotels reporting full occupancy and pre-pandemic numbers.
Gilharry credits the Tourism Board’s innovative marketing strategies for Belize’s robust recovery. These include activations at sporting events in the United States, billboard ads in New York’s Time Square, and a drum and dance activation at Toronto’s Dundas Square, all of which highlighted the Tourism Board’s hugely successful ‘Grab Life’ campaign.
When asked when would be the best time to visit, Gilharry says Belize’s peak season typically starts from mid-November through to March, often trickling over to April and May. But the Tourism Board is pushing for more visitors to consider a trip during the off-season months as well, as Belize offers something for everyone, year round.
“We try to organize a lot of fun trips for travel advisors during the off-peak season, that when we’re able to easily book accommodations,” she says. “We do a lot of work with the trade, including trainings and trade shows, during this time as well. We’re always focused on things that would get us in front of the trade.”
As for what travel advisors need to know when selling Belize, Gilharry is quick to note that there are no longer any COVID-19-related travel restrictions in place.
“We are operating like we were previously to the pandemic. The protocols that we had established in 2020 were the gold standard; they earned us the distinction of being one of the top 200 destinations that were safe to travel,” says Gilharry. “Even though we’ve done away with the Gold Standard program, it has now become the minimum requirement for hotels to get licenced in Belize.”
Air Canada offers seasonal direct flights from Toronto to Belize, from October through April, while WestJet also flies seasonally from Toronto and Calgary.
For more information on travel to Belize go to www.belizetourismboard.org.