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#111110 - 11/11/05 10:10 PM Is the BTIA changing the Water Taxis?
Marty Offline
Is the BTIA changing the Water Taxis?
Article by Wendy Auxillou

In 1994, a group of nine ex-Caye Caulker fishermen, each owning his own
boat, decided to band together to test the waters of the water taxi
business. Back then, the water taxi business, a new phenomenon in this
country, was haphazard and cut throat, and the public image was terrible.
There was no Marine Terminal. The then Texaco gas station which was located
across the street from the Holy Redeemer School on North Front Street was
the embarkation / disembarkation spot for the boats. Water taxis were
converted fishing boats and these were mostly small crafts measuring
anywhere between twenty five and twenty eight feet in length. Each boat
could only hold twenty four or so passengers per boat, but this was
sufficient for the level of business at that time. Taking a beating
individually image and business wise from the more organized Rainbow Runner
fleet of boats, the nine enterprising boat owners united to form the Caye
Caulker Water Taxi Association. It was an excellent business decision.
In 1996 the BTIA (Belize Tourism Industry Association), a thriving
association of industry professionals, was also at the forefront of the
tourism industry nationally. Such high esteem was given to the BTIA back
then, its players were even involved with helping to mould and create
tourism policy at the national level. The BTIA, having been on the BTB's
(Belize Tourism Board's) radar screen for more than a decade prior to the
formation of the Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association, enjoyed a very high
level of political influence. It was natural then, that in 1996 when the
BTIA approached the BTB with a plan to lease the old fire station and
convert it into a museum / water taxi terminal, that this proposal would be
received favorably. The museum was built and the Caye Caulker Water Taxi
was invited by the BTIA to relocate to and operate out of the new Marine
Terminal in exchange for a set commission on ticket sales. Not one to turn
down a business arrangement that would help them advance their operation,
the CCWTA agreed to the terms.
Today, more than a decade later, the Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association
is a thriving business cooperative. With twenty two boats in its fleet (each
with a minimum size of thirty eight feet and some even up to forty eight
feet in length), coupled with an expanded route that now includes San Pedro,
the Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association has become the leader in the water
taxi industry.
The BTIA in the meantime, has since gone on to file for bankruptcy and
its membership base has become eroded due to the formation of splinter
groups of niche industry professionals. Coupled with some bouts of really
bad leadership, the BTIA has evolved into an entity that is now struggling
to rebuild its financial soundness and fighting to regain its former image
as an industry powerhouse. With the heavy load of image re-building on the
weighted backs of the BTIA directorship, not much attention has been paid to
the administration of the Marine Terminal. Even though the passenger
traffic at the terminal has increased ten-fold since 1996, the BTIA has
spent very little money, if any, on repairing or renovating any of the
existing infrasctructure, much less planning for any new infrastructure.
During rainy days, the roof leaks. During hot days, there is no
ventilation. Even small necessary investments such as a public address
system to announce departures are non-existent. The museum has since
closed.
In 2004, a decade after it was first formed, the CCWTA successfully
negotiated a new MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with the BTIA
leaseholders. Having been unable to efficiently manage the terminal, and
thanks to a hefty montly stipend offered by the CCWTA, the BTIA finally
agreed to relinquish the administration to its CCWTA counterparts. With its
current role as lease broker only, of a property belonging to the Ministry
of Natural Resources and its CCWTA tennants, the BTIA has in essence become
a financial parasite feeding off the trough of success of the CCWTA.
In June 2006, the lease between the BTB and the BTIA will end. The BTIA
is campaigning to have the lease renewed in its name, so it can continue to
sublease to the CCWTA and thereby fund its struggling organization on the
backs of the successful CCWTA. The CCWTA, in the meantime, would prefer not
to have to pay the BTIA the hefty stipend it is currently paying simply for
having that organization broker a deal they are quite capable of brokering
themselves. The Ministry of Natural Resources with the endorsement of the
BTB has announced in a press release that the new lease will be issued to
the CCWTA and not the BTIA. For obvious reasons, this is a bitter pill for
the BTIA to swallow.
The BTIA has had ten years to get its act together as it relates to the
Marine Terminal, and it has failed miserably. Methinks it's time for the
BTIA to step back gracefully and let the young stars shine. There is
absolutely no good reason for an entity to place a chokehold on a leading
industry professional simply because that entity itself is drowning. The
BTIA is a service organization created to be the voice of the industy it has
pledged to serve and not a profiteering organization. It should be back to
basics for the BTIA with the focus being on improving their relationship
with all industry professionals and striving to expand their membership
base. That is the BTIA's strength.
Questions or comments? Please write to me at wendy_auxillou@yahoo.com.
Thanks for reading!

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#111111 - 11/11/05 11:01 PM Re: Is the BTIA changing the Water Taxis?
Katie Valk Offline
This article was printed in the Belize Times, the party paper for the PUP, who do not like the current admin at the BTIA because the organization had the balls to take the govt to court over their give-it-all-away contract with Carnival cruise line. Remember the source and get the facts from somewhere more reliable than the party rag, which I read religiously none the less, along with the 3 other papers, tv and radio news. No offense to the writer but the Belize Times only prints self serving articles and takes advantage of any opportunity to slag those who don't follow PUP blindly. Many good PUP are appalled at the current state of the party.
_________________________
Belize based travel specialist
www.belize-trips.com
info@belize-trips.com

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#111112 - 11/12/05 03:43 AM Re: Is the BTIA changing the Water Taxis?
Marty Offline
from a long time san pedro resident:
====================
Regarding Wendy's article and statement about the BTIA, I have been working
on my recollection of the BTIA in the 90's. Today's BTIA may be very
different and Wendy would know more about this. I assume she is a member? I
am trying to read between the lines of the BTIA's statement and Wendy's
article and am not sure what is going on. I seems to me that a national
organization should be supported by regional entities and the Marine
Terminal seems to be taken over by a regional entity.

In the 90's when USAID money stopped flowing, the chamber (BCCI) was
deserted by much of the management due to financial problems. There were a
number of allegations at that time. Not sure if they ever were resolved. I
did not mean to say that the BCCI was defunct, simply evolved into a
different organization. At that time, sustainability was very important at
the BTIA and a number of steps were taken to insure that, one of which was
the Marine Terminal. If I recall correctly money was invested by the BTIA,
etc. The chamber at that time seemed to be caught by surprise with little
future planning and as a result went through some trying times. Of course,
both organizations may have changed in the last five years.

I have always felt that the BTIA was one of the most important functions of
the private tourism sector and a needed balance to the BTB. The current
controversy is lamentable. I hope it can be resolved to the benefit of
tourism/the country.

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#111113 - 11/12/05 12:53 PM Re: Is the BTIA changing the Water Taxis?
SimonB Offline
I am not a member and have no affiliation with either party but there seems to be 2 sides to the story:

Belize Marine Terminal and Museum - The BTIA Position

The Belize Tourism Industry Association wishes to clarify our position in regards to the Belize Marine Terminal and Museum in an attempt to initiate further honest dialogue and resolve this issue amicably.


History of BTIA and the BMTM Agreement


On June 3, 1996 the BTIA signed a ten-year agreement with the Belize Tourism Board and the Ministry of Tourism and Environment for the management of the Belize Marine Terminal and Museum at the corner of the Swing Bridge and North Front Street, Belize City.

The agreement gave the BTIA the "first instance with the option to renew the agreement." In the agreement, the BTIA agreed and paid expenses of some $140,000.00 from its USAID Tourism Management Project funds to cover expenses incurred by the BTB for the restoration of the Old Fire Station into the Belize Marine Terminal and Museum.


The Facts


At a BTIA board of directors meeting held a September 24, 2003, a motion was unanimously passed for the purchase of the Marine Terminal from the government of Belize through the Belize Tourism Board. At that meeting, and as a member of the BTIA Board, was Mr. Ramon Reyes Jr. representing the Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association.

This move to purchase the terminal reflected the BTIA's commitment to protect the investments of the members of the Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association.

The BTIA then sent a letter to the Hon. Mark Espat on October 24, 2003 requesting to purchase the Marine Terminal.

After receiving no formal response, the BTIA board sent subsequent letters to Min. Espat and, on February 7, 2005, to the Hon. John Briceño.

On February 22nd, Min. Briceño wrote back and informed the BTIA that the Ministry of Natural Resources was "prepared to sign a long-term lease with the Belize Tourism Industry Association".

We accepted this undertaking on good faith.

On April 15, 2005 the BTIA received another letter from the Commissioner of Lands stating that "the Ministry of Finance has granted approval to grant a long term lease to the Belize Tourism Industry Association". At the request of the Ministry of Natural Resources, the BTIA met with the Commissioner of Lands and on May 11, 2005 presented a proposal for a $500,000 investment to upgrade and renovate the marine terminal.

Again, we proceeded in good faith and with the knowledge of Mr Reyes.

Since then, the BTIA received no further correspondence from the government regarding the marine terminal.

Imagine the Board's surprise to read a story in the July 17, 2005 Belize Times newspaper headlined "GOB grants lease right to Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association".

It was only then that the BTIA learned that the Hon. John Briceño, while in Caye Caulker, "took the opportunity to announce that the Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association has been granted a lease right for the Marine Terminal in Belize City".

Immediately following that article, on July 20th, the BTIA wrote a letter to the Minister of Tourism, Hon. Godfrey Smith, copied to the Hon. John Briceño, asking for clarification on the status of the current agreement the BTIA holds with the government of Belize through the BTB.

On August 25, 2005, the Government of Belize, through the office of the Commissioner of Lands and Survey, wrote that, in respect to the BTIA's application for a long term lease for the Belize Marine Terminal Facilities, "I have been directed to inform you that your application can no longer be processed".

We were taken aback by this seeming breach of faith and disregard for professional business practices.


The BTIA Position


Throughout this process, The BTIA acted in good faith and in a completely transparent manner. We used formal channels and presented professional, clear-cut proposals throughout. We are therefore at a loss to understand recent events, and certain comments by Mr Reyes regarding the history and current status of the Marine Terminal and Museum.

What is particularly disturbing is that Mr Reyes, as the representative from the CCWTA, voted in support of the BTIA proposal to purchase or long lease the Marine Terminal. Mr Reyes also signed a Memorandum of Understanding along with the BTIA executive that ensured CCWTA a co- management agreement for the life of the lease and should there be a sale.

Throughout this process Mr Reyes was privy to all correspondences as a board member and was sent all board minutes. He knew exactly what was going on. His counterproposal, sent after ours, makes no mention of the BTIA, even though we crafted the original proposal clearly stating our interest in securing the property to the benefit of the CCWTA and Belize tourism in general.

The Marine Terminal, as a portal to the cayes, is an important asset to Belize tourism, impacts on many of our visitors, and is a high profile component of our entire tourism product. This is why, as a professional association representing a wide cross section of the tourism industry, we put a great deal of effort into our "agreement" with the GOB.

We now must ask, "Just what exactly is going on here, and for whose benefit?" There can be no doubt that the BTIA acted in professional good faith and expended time, energy and money to ensure that the CCWTA's interests were safeguarded in the negotiations. Unfortunately, we are now left with the impression that our honesty and openness were met with duplicity and another "back door deal"

Once again, the BTIA does not represent any special interests or segment of Belize's tourism Industry. We look at the tourism product as a whole, and represent all players in the industry in the interests of fairness, progress, and benefits to all Belizeans.

We also expect honesty, fairness, and transparency in return, not just for ethical considerations, but because it makes good business sense by instilling confidence and professionalism in our industry. Our national assets must be seen as just that - resources owned by all Belizeans, and not just political footballs.

In this regard, we ask for a meeting between the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Tourism, the BTB, CCWTA and other stakeholders to finally clear the air and present to our members, and the general public, an honest picture of exactly what is to be the future of this important public property.

As always, we look towards an amicable resolution and the presentation of a united, cohesive tourism industry in Belize.

All support documentation including Board Minutes, Project Proposals, Memorandum of Understanding, and Correspondences are on file at the BTIA office.

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