There were a number of controversies in cruise tourism when we left off last year. Zoning of the Fort Street Tourism Village and the proposed introduction of cruise tourism in the Placencia Peninsula were the two hot button issues. And to begin our newscast for 2011, we report on another storm brewing for stakeholders in the industry. It involves a exclusive tendering contract under consideration by the three cruise lines that call in Belize. Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean cruise lines are said to be negotiating a tendering contract with a US based company that if it succeeds, can spell the death knell for local operators who ferry cruise visitors to and from the cruise lines. It is a developing story and News Fiveís Isani Cayetano gathered the following information from many interested parties.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Cruise tourism in Belize is once again on the verge of significant changes that, if materialized, can bring additional problems to an already controversial industry. Reports are that a Norwegian company based in Hawaii has landed two sizeable catamarans at the Port of Belize in Big Creek to operate as tenders to ferry passengers exclusively to and from the major cruise lines which dock off the coast of the Old Capital. While there has not been an official statement the US based company, Pride of America Ship Holding, out of Honolulu may also be landing a singular contract that will see its vessels tendering Carnival, Norwegian and quite possibly Royal Caribbean cruise lines. Small stakeholders, we are told, are concerned that the monopolization of the tendering business will jeopardize their investments in that aspect of the cruise tourism industry.

From what we understand there are several companies including EuroCaribe Shipping Services that do business with cruise lines in Miami which then subcontract boat operators to transport tourists back and forth from ships moored near Belize City. As many as thirty tenders are said to service the various cruise ships on a weekly basis. The only exception is Royal Caribbean which, as a result of its majority shareholding in a local shipping agency, uses its own fleet of four catamarans to ferry its guests to the Fort Street Tourism Village. News Five also learnt that representatives of EuroCaribe who also represent Carnival in Belize, are currently in Miami attending a meeting to discuss the possible effects of consolidating the tendering business.

The concerns being raised by the smaller companies are in light of the fact that there are no regulations which prohibit outside companies such as Pride of America from entering the competition at what they consider an unfair advantage; bigger boats with greater seating capacities at an inexpensive price. There is also word that Pride of America intends to originally subcontract existing boat operators for the same runs at a flat rate. It is a situation that is quantified by the fact that each tender is manned by a crew of operators who make their money based on the amount of passengers per trip made.

In 2009 a total of seven hundred, five thousand, two hundred and nineteen cruise tourists disembarked in Belize. From January to December of last year that figure increased by approximately fifty-eight thousand, five hundred and thirty passengers bringing the total for 2010 to a little over three quarters of a million visitors. If an exclusive contract to transport cruise tourists to FSTV is granted to any one major outfit then it is apparent that it will gravely affect the existing small operators.

It is a developing situation which can potentially boil over into further chaos within the tourism industry. News Five will keep you abreast on its progress. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

We are still not clear if the Belize Tourism Board will intervene in this issue.

Channel 5