Managing Tourism and the Economy in Recessionary Times: A Conversation with Michael Singh-Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation in Belize

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Executive Summary

Michael Singh is the chief executive officer for the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation in Belize, a Central American country with a population of about 320,000. He comes to government from the private sector with 20 years experience in transportation, real estate, construction, tourism, and technology. Mr. Singh holds a bachelors degree in international business with a concentration in finance from Loyola University in New Orleans, and has lived and worked in Belize as well as in various cities in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean.

In his early career, Mr. Singh served at senior management posts for Belize Electricity Limited, the primary utility in Belize before moving into the shipping industry, where he served in executive management positions for various major ocean carriers including being the country manager for Tropical Shipping among others. For the past 12 years, Mr. Singh has embarked on various entrepreneurial ventures resulting in the establishment of a significant holding company that owns and operates in full and in partnership a variety of businesses, and maintains partnerships with several global brands such as FedEx, Century21 Real Estate and Western Union. In February 2008, after the general elections in Belize, Mr. Singh realized that his specific expertise could best be used to serve his country and decided to join the government of Belize in this current capacity.

Mr. Singh has set goals for significant improvement of tourism in Belize. He brings his entrepreneurial style and executive experiences combined with his hands-on approach that was instrumental in his business success to his new job. The first three months in office have been spent in detailed consultation with stakeholders in the industry, sector operators in Belize and abroad, and multilateral organizations involved in development. This approach has led to the creation of a strategic outlook in the form of an executive to-do list aimed at addressing specific industry issues in a proactive manner. This strategic approach and the resulting Tourism Development Strategy is underway, and has been endorsed by both the government of Belize and the industry sector in general. His leadership is critical as tourism is a leading driver for the country's economic growth. Mr. Singh also serves in the following organizations:

* Board member and vice chairman - Kolbe Foundation (Non-profit foundation that manages the Belize Central Prison and various rehabilitation programs)

* Board member and ex-officio- Belize Airports Authority

* Board member and ex-officio - Border Management Authority

* Member Rotary Club of Belize

Authors: Tourism is about traveling and inviting people to come, relax, and leave with positive memories. What are some of your favorite places to travel and why?

Singh: My favorite region in the world is Latin America. Although not of a Latin American ethnicity, I find the passion and vibrancy of Latin America to be intoxicating. The recent move toward liberalization of trade has spawned an entrepreneurial spirit that permeates the air around you. The mix of old world traditions with new world technology and media, along with the diversity through a mix of colonial charm and indigenous culture makes for exciting and memorable times.

Authors: What can different countries do to build a brand name for their tourism?

Singh: I believe a good tourism brand lies in the uniqueness in experiences that a country can offer to its guests. Today's traveler will react to that which evokes his or her emotion. Countries can no longer rely on the generic sun, sand, sea, and shopping, but must now mix in the active, the exciting, and the extraordinary. Most importantly a brand must emulate the essence of a country. In our case, the locals will tell you that once a friendship is cultivated with a visitor, an emotional bond is formed, which will not only keep them coming back, but will make them tell their friends. …

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