Business Tourism in Central America
Photo courtesy of James Willamor
Pop quiz: What makes Belize different from the rest of Central America? If you answered that it was a former British colony, you know your history.
Belize’s colonial status makes it an ideal location for Anglo-related businesses looking to set up in Central America. Not only does it share the same language, it is a common law country with many of the same traditions and practices.
These advantages make it an emerging Central American opportunity when combined with its growing specialist niches such as eco- and medical- tourism as well as the production of bio-ethanol.
Belize has remained stable, democratic and largely peaceful since its independence from Britain – a rarity in the region, says Mark Hulse, principal at Baker Tilly Hulse, the Belize branch of global accountancy firm, Baker Tilly International.
Basis in the common law system and familiarity with Commonwealth customs, traditions and business practices means that Belize is also a relatively easy market for firms from a similar background to enter, he adds.
“It compares well with its neighbours, ” he says. “Of the countries on the same track, it is the only one on the mainland that isn’t Latin, Spanish speaking and with different traditions.”
This makes it relatively easy to set up a new business in the country. Belize offers International Business Companies – an offshore company generally formed for tax purposes – that can be set up in one day. For businesses looking to trade within Belize, the process is a bit longer, says Hulse.
A firm looking to take advantage of Belize’s in-country business opportunities would generally have to wait 3-5 weeks because a lawyer would need to prepare articles and memorandum of association to be lodged with the government registry. However, if the firm has resources in place it generally can begin operating as soon as the registration process is started, he adds.
To get more firms to take advantage of in-country opportunities, Belize has also started to offer business incentives. These can range from the importation of materials duty-free to business tax exemption for up to a decade.
“Belize passed the Fiscal Incentives Act to attract more foreign investment, ” says Hulse. “What a company gets is down to negotiation with Beltraide, the Belize investment development service.”
And there are opportunities worth investigating – particularly in sub-sectors such as eco-tourism, medical tourism and the production of bio-fuels, he adds.
The Belize government has enacted National Sustainable Tourism Master Plan for Belize 2030 to increase sustainability in the industry. Part of that is a renewed emphasis on eco- and adventure-tourism, says Brian Lin, senior business and investment facilitator at Beltraide.