Perhaps spurred by these economic changes and a growing desire to protect the environment, America's interest in 'green' vacations is skyrocketing. In 2007, the national park system in the United States reported a three million visitor increase from 2006. Moving away from theme park or city oriented vacations, travelers are packing their bags and heading out for a good ol' fashioned outdoor adventure.
Enter Belize. While many tourist destinations have noticed a steady decline in numbers during America's economic troubles, Belize's tourism growth rate (2.6%) has risen to one of the highest in the western hemisphere. The specific reason for this swell of interest in the Central American country is debatable, but the potential reasons are many.
Belize is a relatively unpopulated country in Central America that has had a long history of conservation and habitat preservation. Over 37 per cent of Belize's total land mass is reserved for the protection of their natural environment and national heritage. Eco-tourists to Belize can explore any of the 7 UNESCO designated world heritage sites within the barrier reef. This coral reef stretches for 185 miles off the coast of Belize and is teeming with an underwater explosion of color and life that only 106 coral species and 500 species of fish can provide. Lucky explorers and nature-lovers can catch a rare glimpse of the manta ray, the loggerhead turtle, or the hawksbill turtle, all endangered species. On land, birders search for any of Belize's 500 species of amazing birds and hikers can explore habitats that support 145 species of mammals and 135 species of reptiles and amphibians.
"Our national language is English, we've got turquoise-tinted Caribbean waters, we've got world class scuba diving on the longest coral reef in the northern hemisphere, we've got pristine jungles and ancient Mayan ruins – I think travelers are realizing Belize is sort of an all in one kind of place," says Roberto Fabbri of the Kanantik Resort, one of the top luxury eco-sensitive resorts in Belize.
Kanantik resort has become an example of a growing number of eco-sensitive resorts around the world. Resorts like Kanantik are implementing green technologies, including advanced water reclamation technologies, to leave a minimal footprint on the environment. And tourists from around the world are responding positively to these new visionary resorts with a huge surge of interest in eco-sensitive vacations.
The backcountry of Belize offers outdoor enthusiasts hikes to Mayan ruins and the recently popular 'cave tubing' excursions that have been the impetus behind a slew of adventure videos and reality TV shows featuring Belize.
The aquatically daring can find in Belize the world's second largest barrier reef, and with airfare at nearly one third the cost of a trip 'down-under' it may be the best deal available for scuba divers.
Of course, for the vacationers looking to simply relax, escape, and enjoy a new surrounding and setting – Belize is an easy sell. Palm-shaded sandy beaches, warm Caribbean waters, exotic foods, a friendly and carefree people, and a country that puts a premium on preserving the environment.
So, while the downward spiraling economy has most Americans driving less and conserving more, it hasn't diminished their need for a good sun-splashed tropical vacation. And with more and more folks looking for adventure along with the usual vacation amenities – the ticket of choice seems more often than not to be labeled with the word 'Belize' in bold letters across the top.