Belize offers some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the Western Hemisphere, as well as more than 175 sandy cay islands, various archeological sites, about 240 varieties of wild orchids, and about 500 species of birds. Naturally, Belize would appear to be a prime objective for United States tourists. However, a lack of infrastructure has kept the tourism industry relatively underdeveloped.
Apart from making infrastructural improvements such as enlargement of Belize International Airport in 1989 and offering fiscal incentives, the public sector has done little to promote tourism. The unhappy experience of the Colonial Development Corporation (CDC) in the early 1950s may have contributed to the government's hesitancy. In 1953 the CDC opened the Fort George Hotel, realizing that the lack of hotel accommodations in the colony had been an obstacle to investment. The costs of this project were excessive, however, and the architectural difficulties were overwhelming because of the swampy ground on which the hotel was built. The hotel's operations proved to be difficult as well. As a result, CDC's capital in the project had to be written off.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, the tourism sector developed into the second most important source of foreign exchange for the Belizean economy. In 1980 tourism receipts had been about a tenth of sugar-export receipts. By 1990 the two sectors were almost equal in size. In 1991 hotel receipts were estimated to have grown by an additional 15 percent. Tourist arrivals almost tripled between 1985 and 1990. In 1990 the Fort George Hotel joined the Radisson chain and doubled its capacity to seventy-six rooms. In 1991 the Ramada Royal Reef Hotel opened with a capacity of 120 rooms. The total number of rooms had increased from 1,176 in 1980 to 2,763 in 1990.
The Belizean Ministry of Tourism has encouraged controlled development of tourism without endangering the country's ecological balance. Although tourism had great potential for growth, the sector was still constrained by poor infrastructure, unsophisticated services, and a shortage of qualified labor.
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