Thursday, May 7, 2009


remote Mayan farm in jungle of Southern Belize

remote Mayan communities still grind corn with an ancient hand corn grinder in Belize
Community corn grinder at Betty's store in Hillview, Santa Elena Town, Western Belize.
famous Maya backstrap loom


By Ray Auxillou ( May 2009 )

The statement by the new UK Ambassador to Guatemala, indicating that her main duty was servicing the needs of the 30,000 UK tourists arriving in Guatemala each year, made locals in Western Belize wonder about the two dozen UK tourists that Belize receive and how this statistical inferiority in tourist arrivals could be changed in favor of Belize. There is a lesson here, but will we learn from it?
The United Kingdom statistic for tourists in Guatemala, implies that the statistics for Belgium, Dutch, German, Italian, French are likewise distorted in favor of Guatemala, versus those overnight tourists visiting Belize.
In the preliminary conversations with stakeholders, the arguments came down to better airline connections to Guatemala, than to Belize. Cheaper fare prices for example. The other main item was the stronger indigenous culture that attracts tourists to Guatemala. While scenery differ, in most other aspects, Belize is competitive with Guatemala, particularly as to Mayan ruins, volcanoes as such are unique to Guatemala, but we also have the Barrier Reef islands and atolls. Price was discarded as a differential, as today prices in Guatemala are the same as in Belize, more or less on a par through all stratums of the types of tourists and the facilities they expect.
There was strong indication that we are LACKING in encouraging our Belizean ethnic displays of clothing for our different ethnic cultures. Very few people today in Orange Walk, or Corozal wear the embroidered blouses for men and women, once favored by the proud Mestizos descended from the War of the Castes YUCATEC MAYA. Indeed the European and North American industrialized mass produced cheap THRIFT SHOP clothes have totally replaced, the locally produced indigenous clothes once common through rural Belize districts. Clothing styles would seem the outer symbol of a proud indigenous culture. This is probably the quickest and easiest method of improving our tourism attractive competitiveness. Some Guatemalan style indigenous Mayan clothes are still worn in San Antonio Town of the Western Belize district and also in the villages of some of the most Southern Toledo District. Yet in Guatemala it is common, even in the capital city to see Maya proudly wearing their village identifying clothes. Tourists come to see these cultural differences. Once in Belize City the port town back in Colonial days, there were many who wore African dashikis and turbans and robes of the West African countries from which their ancestors came. Today we mimic the clothing culture of a European, or North American city. Probably because these mass produced clothes are cheaper? The question we must ask ourselves is how can we, as a nation, turn around the culture of modern day Belize for a new generation and reverse the clothing culture for different ethnic groups of Belize and encourage the wearing of ethnic group clothing, or for our indigenous people for our different citizens with PRIDE. This is an important question for the siphoning off of the European visitors going now in large numbers to Guatemala and not coming to Belize. It is certainly one of the major attractions that put Guatemala over Belize. Guatemala indigenous people are more photogenic. In Bavaria, Austria, the Tyrol, you see people and whole villages and towns, where people wear their lederhosen, funny hats, short leather pants and other cultural clothes of their mountainous tourist attraction areas. In Belize, it is only the survivalist types of Mennonites wearing their bib jean overalls, straw hats and their women wearing ankle length dresses with bonnets on their heads that today in Belize make any kind of cultural difference, that could be used in photos and memories of tourists as something different. The horse drawn carriages of these old type Mennonite cults are today the predominant cultural clothing and transportation difference in Belize, attractive to tourism. Your more modern Mennonites have lost their clothing culture as well as other Belizean ethnic groups, which is a shame. They should go back to bib jean coveralls.
Tourism is an industry. Tourism is a NATIONAL INDUSTRY. Somehow we must reverse the losses in cultural identity, if we are going to compete with Guatemala and Mexico for market share of our tourism product. You could go so far as saying this is a NATIONAL INTEREST issue, or GOVERNMENT BUSINESS ISSUE. The subject is so important to our government tax revenues, to the building of new businesses, providing employment and to ensuring we expand our market share of Central American and Caribbean tourism.
We are after all in this together, ALL the districts of Belize. Certainly the Hindus and Brahman shopkeepers should be encouraged to switch back from thrift shop western clothing styles, to wearing with cultural pride, their turbans, or saris on their women. Sections of Europe, most notably in Germany, have done this successfully for centuries. We can learn something from them. In the past amateur bureaucrats have argued that we lacked the accomodations. To me this is a nonsensical argument. Supply catches up to demand in any industry in a short time.
The question then becomes who will be responsible? If TOURISM is one of the pillars of our economic incomes, or one of our more important legs that support our diversified economy in Belize, then attention and leadership needs to be coming from the various government institutions dealing with tourism as a National Belizean Product. If seed capital is need, public education programs, or any other ideas to encourage the photogenic saleability of our tourism product, then our institutions and bureaucrats need to lead the way. There are Belize district town cultural centers that are somewhat subsidized from Central Government funds in a small way. Where this is done, we need specifications as to qualifying for financial assistance for such cultural centers. Indeed, we would not be remiss in requiring Town Councils in Belize, to qualify for their subventions, by providing a certain amount of encouragement both in unique decorative tourist center street signs and shop fronts through council by-laws, to a special theme of the area in which they may be located in our different districts. Especially encouraging unique ethnic clothing styles. Again, we could look to Austria, Switzerland and Bavaria for ideas in clothing and dress ideas to sell our country, or district to tourists. The Wild West is often sold in tourism in Arizona and New Mexico. Even in shopping malls.
One hears a lot about NICHE and the Baron Bliss Institute, both which for us in the districts seem to be solely entertainment for a small segment of our NATIONAL INTEREST and only one ethnic group of the many we have in our nation. In fact, hundreds of millions of scarce dollars have been spent here just in this one port town. This seems a distorted distribution of government money, with little results for the NATIONAL TOURIST PRODUCT we are selling, in competition with Guatemala, Mexico and other Caribbean country island destinations. We need to rethink how we are spending our government revenues.
There is only one pottery factory that I know of in Belize, making Mayan pots, Mayan replicas and tourist knick knacks and that is the family small sized Magana Pottery Works of San Jose Succotz. We could make the cruise ships, tourist onboard concessionaires buy wholesale or products from our local artisans. Our local cottage industry manufacturers do not know how to sell what they can make, they need sales help and distribution assistance. Sort of a marketing board for Belize tourism made products. We should be making Mayan and other Indian masks and knick knacks. Probably CHINA could teach us how to do this, or maybe Japan? Canada has offered technical help, South Korea has also. There should be GRANTS and ASSISTANCE coming from abroad someplace? The Germans are masters at this, maybe we should ask them? It is obvious our local government institutions are currently incapable. We should be making hammocks here. I tried over the past three years to start cottage industry hammock making in Western Belize, but have been unable to buy affordable nylon string to make such hammocks and encourage a cottage industry. You just can’t buy the materials sometimes, to start new cottage industries with a tourist cultural bias. I currently have an ARTS and CRAFTS 68 year, Donna Baird, schoolteacher here from Ann Arbor, Michigan volunteering for two weeks, to assist me with figuring out how to make molds for clay figurines and teaching me how to mix colors to learn painting for art works. My first attempt at using Plaster of Paris failed. We do not seemingly have the correct separation waxes, or my knowledge is insufficient, as well as the different material choices for doing mold work. Our commercial merchants are not stocking, or ordering the basics for mold making we found out, nor the nylon cheap string needed for hammock making. Our painting artists seem to be coming into their own for tourism. They are getting much better and nowadays I can think of three I know of that are really professional. One is here in Hillview and another is in San Ignacio. There is somebody else on the Hummingbird Highway I hear. Most amateur artists are terrible and need professional lessons abroad, in short term Community College art courses. Canada has offered technical assistance from the news reports, Obama hinted at assistance at the Summit of the Americas, Taiwan and the Japanese seem very willing. It takes a government institution to do the asking though, not individuals. These are government to government type programs. Involving perhaps scholarships, and special pre-paid overseas training deals.
The major immediate changes in government attitudes of our politicians and bureaucrats seem to be possibly, most likely effective in cultural ethnic identity CLOTHING STYLES. Who knows, perhaps as a by-product we will develop another localized sewing factory style cottage business for individuals to do at home? With Belizean made clothes, once again.
Another major change has to be in airline flights direct to Belize and charter flights. First we have to have unique cultures to sell as a national tourism product. We need more than anything a POLICY DIRECTIVE out of Cabinet to change anything. We need things that are PHOTOGENIC in style. Zoning ordinance requirements for downtown Burns Avenue of San Ignacio Town seem in order, to create a unique FOOTHILL country identity, wherein Banks, stores and tourism places, all would be required to provide something UNIQUE for culture as an outer business facade. The only place that has anything like that is MAYA WALK tourist operators. Their signage and totem pole frontage is practically the only attractive tourist sight in all of San Ignacio Town. Each district would be different in theme, just like Switzerland towns, villages and in Bavaria and Austria. Or the Pacific Coast of British Columbia, Canada. We need to take these ideas seriously. It is important to our TOURISM GROWTH. These things are important as part of our Belizean competition for tourism international market share. Certainly our current market share is SHAMEFUL at present, compared to our neighbors success. While we dither with a couple of hundred thousand visitors, everybody else seem to be doing tourists in the millions. Even communist Cuba.
The questions of who shall pay is important, but just as the Ministry of Agriculture has risen in the past year to the question of the political will of the CABINET, to concentrate by acquiring assistance in GRANTS from various foreign parts, to boost foreign export marketing and experimentation in new vegetable products, so can our CULTURAL and TOURISM Ministry do the same thing, if they have any capabilities and leadership at all? Let us see what we can do before next TOURIST HIGH SEASON FOR NOVEMBER and December. At the very least I would like to see BURNS AVE in San Ignacio and perhaps Santa Elena Town Western Highway main drag, with store front signs and facades that reflect some aspect of our local Mayan culture here in Western Belize. Lets make a by-law requiring it? We are not stupid in Belize, just inexperienced in tourism.

No comments: