Belize’s two least developed districts are Corozal in the north and Toledo in the south. They each receive only 3 per cent of tourists who visit Belize and are the least economically advantaged districts in the country. The communities who live there need to find ways to benefit from Belize’s visitor economy while retaining their local cultures.
Acorn Tourism was commissioned by the Inter-American Development Bank’s Belize Sustainable Tourism Program II, to undertake a year-long tourism consultancy in the two districts to develop tourism corridors that would engage local communities.
The first phase of this sustainable tourism consultancy was to undertake a Situational Analysis to identify the strategic objectives for the development of the corridors, the existing products and infrastructure, current destination management arrangements, existing and potential market demand and new products that could be developed. The destination audit included GIS mapping as a foundation for the development of the trails and corridors.
To ensure that any recommendations for developing products in Corozal and Toledo were firmly grounded in the activities local communities wanted to develop and that they would attract the type of responsible tourists who would appreciate these products, two members of our team based themselves in Belize for 8 months. They attended the Local Tourism Committee meetings and we undertook stakeholder workshops and extensive face-to-face consultations with the Maya, Garifuna, Creole, Mestizo and East Indian communities as well as regional and national public sector organisations and local businesses.
Based on the local communities’ ambitions, combined with potential market demand, we identified concepts for developing business clusters and tourism corridors in each district. Management Manuals and Concept Development Guidelines were produced together with a Branding and Marketing Strategy and Action Plan, Infrastructure and Signage Plan and a Capacity Building and Training Programme for each tourism corridor.
In Toledo, where nature and adventure activities were already well established but the local communities had limited involvement, there was a desire to celebrate the diversity of cultures, each with their own lifestyle and traditions. Working closely with the local tourism committee and community representatives, we developed Cultural Flavours of Toledo, a tourism corridor and website that promotes the five different ethnic communities in Toledo and directs tourists to where they can enjoy these different culinary traditions, meet people from each culture and share their music, dance and agri-tourism activities.
In Corozal, which has a very limited number of existing attractions, there was a need to drive visitors in the short term and stimulate future investment. The District already had an active events calendar with regular monthly Art in the Park events and traditional Mayan Pok-ta-Pok matches. Along with producing the Corozal brand story, a development narrative for the district, we created their events strategy to promote and build on existing events where tourists can interact easily with local people. Six months later they launched their first Corozal Graffiti Festival, an innovative and very successful weekend long festival, building on their Mayan mural traditions and contemporary arts scene.