Environmental Threats
and Challenges


Placencia Sidewalk Arts Festival - Seine Bight Garifuna DancersTourism is vitally important to the entire Belize economy, contributing 26% of Belize's gross
domestic product. In the Placencia area, tourism has completely replaced fishing as the primary source of income for all but a very few residents.

Until 2006, Belize's southern Belize tourism product focused on small, mostly locally owned hotels and guesthouses, nature tours and recreational diving, fishing, kayaking, sailing, snorkeling and inland tours to Mayan ruins, jungle rivers, caves and wildlife sites.

The approval of Ara Macao with its 18-hole golf course, casino, 400 boat marina, 296 villas, 250 room hotel and 458 condos came in 2006 and signaled the beginning of a new type of tourism product in southern Belize, endorsed by the Belize government - mass tourism, all-inclusive resorts, residential tourism and newly proposed cruise ship tourism. 

With these new types of tourism have come many issues of concern to local residents including:

  • Quality and quantity of resources such as potable water, fish and power.  For example, very little geological information is available for southern Belize, meaning that no one knows how much water is available for local communities and for tourists, who use approximately 3 times as much water as local residents.  Further, fish stocks are declining and tourism can further increase that decline through destruction of critical habitat such as mangroves, coral reefs and sea grass beds, and greatly increased consumption of fish.  Electricity supplies can already be unreliable and locals have concerns about the ability of the national electric company (Belize Electricity Limited) to supply enough power to local communities as well as tourism developments.  (For example, Ara Macao alone would use 15.35 megawatts of electricity - Seine Bight and Placencia Villages use 1-2 megawatts.) 
  • Environmental degradation through increased garbage, sewage, use of natural resources, air pollution and run-off of contaminated water from hard surfaces such as roads, roofs and golf courses into water bodies such as the Caribbean Sea and the Placencia Lagoon.
  • Cultural and social degradation through interactions with foreign tourists and tourism workers who may have very different mores and values.  Also, exploitation of local cultural traditions used as tourist entertainment, and lack of respect for cultural and national heritage surroundings in the design of foreign owned resorts and other tourist facilities.
  • Marginalization of local labor into low-paying menial jobs, with management positions going to foreigners recruited from outside Belize.
  • Increased strain on local schools, health care systems, police and fire protection, garbage collection and infrastructure.  This issue is particularly important for Belize villages such as Seine Bight and Placencia which have absolutely no taxing or other revenue generating authority to raise local funds to pay for increased services.  Increased demand on local communities becomes particularly unfair to local communities when services must be provided for all-inclusive resorts that import most of their food and other supplies, and whose guests do not patronize local businesses.
  • Potential for commercial and sexual exploitation of local residents, particularly of children and adolescents.
  • Leakage of tourism profits, especially with all-inclusives where tourists pay most of the cost of their vacation in advance, and outside Belize, and then remain at their foreign-owned resort, without supporting local businesses.

Belize is currently working to adopt a Responsible Tourism Policy, currently in the draft stage.  This policy emphasizes that tourists visit a destination, a destination does not exist merely to service tourists.  The policy also emphasizes protecting Belize's natural resources, cultural heritage and biodiversity, an equitable distribution of economic benefits from tourism and the responsibility of tourists themselves to respect our natural resources, cultural heritage and biodiversity.

This Responsible Tourism Policy was presented to the Belize tourism industry on 24 February 2010, and will be presented to the Ministry of Tourism for adoption in March 2010.

Peninsula Citizens for Sustainable Development

General Delivery
Placencia, Belize