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#497712 - 11/08/14 10:02 AM FECTAB Fuming Again – this Time Against NICH
Marty Offline
We haven't heard from FECTAB - the Federation of Cruise Tourism Associations of Belize - in a while, almost a year to be exact. That's when they held a press conference that ended with Yohnny Rosado crying - that's how emotional it was.

But, since then, the organization has taken a lower profile - as the principals try to look after their business interests - which has become a priority since Carnival Cruise Line is on a mission to undersell them.

But now, they say that they can't even survive in the margins of the industry because of a new policy handbook that NICH put out. They explained it all at a press conference at the Radisson this morning - and 7News was there:..

David Almendarez, Fantasea Belize
"We are meeting because of the unfair conditions that we feel we the native Belize at the Nohoch Che'en Archaeological site."

Jules Vasquez reporting
What they're talking about mainly is this book - the Health and Safety Policy Manual for Archaeological Sites, dated July 2014 - a book they say was developed without consultation:

Yohnny Rosado, Cavetubing.com
"They have money to teach us and gave us a manual on how to do cave tubing without consulting us."

Tom Greenwood, cave-tubing.net
"Folks beyond a shadow of a doubt, zero consultation, therefore NICH is saying I don't care if you all are guides, I don't care if BTB train you all, we don't need you all, we are working with European Union money. I address myself to the European Union. European Union, do you what is being done with your money? You have the slightest idea? Do you know that your money wrote the most ridiculous book you will find anywhere?"

It lays out in great detail the requirements for cave tubing safety - and stipulates that all children who go cave tubing must be at least four feet tall, or 48 inches.

Vitalino Reyes Sr., cavetubing.bz
"We are Belizeans, cave tubing can only be done in Belize and no other place in the world. Why would they bring some international 48 inches? We have been there with babies; 18 months old, 6 months, 1, 2, 3 years. Has anything happen? Why are they looking at this 48 inches?"

Tom Greenwood, cave-tubing.net
"Repeal this book immediately. Take it back immediately."

And they came to the press making that call today because the new regulations have hit their bottom line:

Yohnny Rosado, Cavetubing.com
"The reason we are here today is because it's financial, its foreign money. Chukka is carrying the cut and whatever Chukka cannot carry or does not want to take then Dark Knight take it. Just yesterday I got 21 people return back. They ask me if I were taking 21 kids and I said no; one in a family of 5; one in a family of 8 and one in a family of 7 I believe. Each family when the kids cannot do cave tubing we are not going and they were not mad at the government. They were mad at the park rangers, they were mad at us the tour operators, they were mad at everybody that they could see."

These operators say they specialize in family tours including small children - which the dominant operator, Chukka doesn't want:

Yohnny Rosado, Cavetubing.com
"They come to with us in a family and we provide an extra tour guide, kids life jackets - everything."

And now they say this book is taking that market away from them. The issue is so pressing that it brought Yohnny Rosado and Vitalino Reyes together - competitors whose rivalry spilled over violently from business into real life - but they embraced today because they say - this is about survival

Yohnny Rosado, Cavetubing.com
"Look at the logos; the Belize flag, the European flag, the BTB flag and the NICH flag. If they don't change this book they could consider us kill business-wise. We are shutting our shop. We cannot work with the rules that they have in there. It's just ridiculous. The government can fix this book because this book is very ugly, nasty, and dirty. I read that book and I couldn't sleep."

David Almendarez
"So Mr. Barrow please control Ms. Haylock. We are asking for her immediate removal as the head of NICH. We have no confidence in her. We are unable to meet with her. She acts like she is the CEO of Walmart. We are in Belize, it's a very small country and for 3 weeks we can't meet with you about your stupid decisions you are making."

And while the book of regulations is one thing - a new force to contend with in cave tubing is another - an operation called Dark Knight has commenced operations and it is putting a hurting on business as usual:

Yohnny Rosado, Cavetubing.com
"We are again in front of you that a contract has been sign to another giant tour operator which is not a Belizean."

Geovannie Brackett, President - COLA
"How can we get such a long contract? How can so much special privileges be given to foreigners over our local tour operators? Somebody should be fired on the spot for that ridiculous contract."

Dark Knight even offers a first, a zipline through a cave:

Tom Greenwood, cave-tubing.net
"Now you get an individual inside Dark Knight building and zipline through the caves? I know for a fact that one senior gentlemen at NICH try to stop it. Well I believe that he is wearing a hammer in his head right now. Why is an archaeological site under co-management with NICH, why is it allowed to continue and why is it that native Belizeans and anybody else cannot access that cave unless he gives permission?"

Issues that have these operators calling for the heads of the Minister and the President of NICH:

David Almendarez
"Today I am calling that we relook having him as our Minister of Tourism. I am calling that we relook having Ms. Haylock at the head of NICH because these people sell us out. That's what they do - sell us out every time."

Yohnny Rosado, Cavetubing.com
"So we are here crying to the government. Whenever before elections come, they come knocking on our doors that they are going to do the best for us. We are not asking to do the best, but do the right thing. Don't do your best because your best is not helping us, just do the right thing."

BTB Says Its Been In Dialog With FECTAB

Today we asked both NICH and BTB for a comment and we got a call from the Tourism Board's Valdemar Andrade, the Tourism Board's Director of Cruise and Regional Initiatives, BTB.

He told us they have been engaged in dialogue with FECTAB so he was surprised that they held a press conference when a meeting has been planned for Monday:..

Valdemar Andrade, Director - Cruise Initiatives, BTB
"We had engage NICH who had then invited them to a meeting the coming Monday right here which they had not responded and so we had an agreement from them to engage in that meeting to try to find a resolution to this matter. In my opinion we don't have the benefit of that meeting and I think it would have been good for us to be able to have that meeting. I think for the mere fact that NICH schedule a meeting saying I am open to hearing your side on this matter and that we can engage and find a resolution or a solution."

Jules Vasquez
"They are saying that these polices were produced or the policy was produced without adequate consultation with the stakeholders and it in fact illustrates an ignorance of how things actually operates in the caves."

Valdemar Andrade
"I can't speak to the details of what the consultation sessions were, but I do know that the Bureau of Standards has certain policies and pre-requisites. Before anything goes to gazette there has to be public consultations, so I do know that there were public consultations. I don't have a list in front of me of who all attended that."

Jules Vasquez
"These long time operators; we have Vitalino Reyes, Yohnny Rosado, Tom Greenwood, others. If these long time operators weren't consulted, who was consulted?"

Valdemar Andrade
"I can't speak to who was consulted at this time Jules, but definitely as I said NICH has invited all of us to a meeting on Monday."

Andrade says he does not know if FECTAB will attend Monday's meeting.

Channel 7

Tour Operators Protest New Cave-Tubing Regulations

FECTAB held a press conference this morning and as expected, there was some drama to the proceedings because archrivals were sitting at the same table united in a common cause. But in the following story, News Five’s Isani Cayetano deals with the real purpose of the event. Tour guides are feeling the pinch; new regulations imposed under the initiative, Making Tourism Benefit Communities Adjacent to Archaeological Site, are cutting into their bottom lines. Persons less than four feet in height can no longer go caving. The result is that families are turning back in droves. Here is that report.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Cave-tubing is among few water-based activities closely tied to the local tourism industry.  Every year thousands of visitors converge on Nohoch Che’en to experience the outdoor adventure of drifting along the meandering waterway within the cave system.   The pastime has grown exceedingly in popularity and has become the livelihood of choice for a number of tour operators offering the activity to sightseers.  Today, however, there is uproar within that sector of the industry as visitors are now being required to stand forty-eight inches or taller to go cave-tubing.

Vitalino Reyes

Vitalino Reyes, Tour Operator, Cavetubing.bz

“They never communicated to us and said “you know what, effective so and so we’ll be implementing this law or this regulation or this standard of forty-eight inches.”  They are hurting my guests feelings because they travel as families.”

The contention is that the requirement is too stringent and is forcing families with children under the prescribed height away from the site.

Yhony Rosado

Yhony Rosado, Tour Operator, Cavetubing.com

“Just yesterday I got twenty-one people returned back.  You’ll ask me [were] you carrying twenty-one kids?  No.  Only three kids, one in a family of five, one in a family of eight and one in a family of seven, I believe.  Each family, when the kids cannot go cave-tubing we are not going and they were not mad at the government.  They were mad at the park rangers, they were mad at us the tour operators, they were mad at everybody that they could see.  They don’t get to see NICH, they don’t get to see the government, they get to see the immediate persons and they go off at us for their mis-booklet.”

According to FECTAB, the guideline falls under an initiative known as Making Tourism Benefit Communities Adjacent to Archaeological Sites.

Yhony Rosado

“A project funded by the European Union and the Government of Belize.  They got money to teach us and give us a manual how to do cave-tubing without consulting us.  This right here, this book is ridiculous.  You come with us with your families, we provided an extra tour guide, kids tubes, kids lifejackets, everything.  So what are they doing now?  Listen, where we’re going there are a lot of kids so our guests are complaining that we are not taking kids but the local people are taking kids.  Find a way how to stop them.  They found it through NICH.”

The Federation of Cruise Tourism Associations of Belize, FECTAB, is accusing the National Institute of Culture and History of devising a newly implemented safety policy which prohibits the participation of anyone under forty-eight inches, including children.

Tom Greenwood

Tom Greenwood, President, FECTAB

“To be fair to the B.T.B., the B.T.B. and FECTAB members met, they tried to help but they tell us, “Look, we license you as guides and operators and so [but] when it comes to NICH parks they are responsible.”  I’ve had a person from NICH tell me, “Bwai, dah B.T.B. you know.”  To which I said, “That’s nonsense.  B.T.B. noh responsible for that, da unu.”  So it just shows me an incomprehensible concept.”

Among other concerns is the advent of Dark Night Cave-tubing, which FECTAB also claims is benefiting from a sweetheart agreement.

David Almendarez, Tour Operator

David Almendarez

“Dark Night da mi wah big secret.  We hyah rumor, we noh allowed pan di property.  Again, you have people in place, NICH, that is supposed to be regulating these people.  We knew nothing about it, nobody consulted us about that, that was a private deal done and the head of NICH has sanctioned it.  This blows my mind away because I had a meeting with a certain member of the Belize Tourism Board and they went and tried to check it out themselves and they were not allowed on the property either.  So obviously, whoever Dark Night is, I don’t know if he’s a knight in shining armor or what, but he gets some special, preferential treatment.  He gets his own cave, he gets no regulation… alright does anybody in this room knows the exact deal Dark Night got?  Nobody, no consultation.  I’m telling you somebody in the higher echelon sell we out.”

Channel 5

Tour Rivals Bury the Hatchet

A FECTAB press conference, as we have come to learn, is never quite complete without its share of histrionics.  This morning, archrivals Yhony Rosado and Vitalino Reyes, proprietors of Cavetubing.com and Cavetubing.bz, respectively, shared opposite ends of the head table, albeit out of striking distance from each other.  Their history of enmity dates back several years ago, over similarity in names of their tour operations.  The bitter rivalry came to a head in May when Reyes’ son was allegedly attacked and knocked unconscious while socializing at Long Island Bar in Belize City.  Reyes Junior would remain comatose for several days and clung to life, following the vicious beating reportedly ordered by Yhony Rosado.  This morning, both tour operators, affected by the same concerns, publicly buried the hatchet when COLA President Geovannie Brackett brokered a truce.

Geovannie Brackett, President, COLA

Geovannie Brackett

“When things buck and things get tight even enemies become great friends.  And today we have two gentlemen at this head table that I am happy that I have spoken to both of them.  Mr. Vitalino Reyes Sr. and my good friend Yhony Rosado.  I’d like to call both of them to right here in front of the table right now because it‘s time for us to put differences aside.  And gentlemen I would like to ask [you] to show Belize’s government and the system that we can come together as Belizeans.  You see they want us to kill each other, they want us to kill each other while they get rich, while families and friends sign big contracts, multimillion dollar contracts, but we can come together my brothers.  Shake hands…  This is bigger than our problems, this is bigger.  This has to deal with an evil system that wants to wipe us away.”

Channel 5

#497790 - 11/11/14 09:58 AM Re: FECTAB Fuming Again – this Time Against NICH [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline


All the way up to news time, the members of FECTAB, the Federation of Cruise Tourism Associations of Belize, were meeting with members of BTB and NICH to discuss their latest grievances about the about the regulations at the Nohoch Che'en Archaeological Site.

As we've told you, the federation is upset with NICH and their brand new Health and Safety Policy Manual for Archaeological Sites, dated July 2014. The main grievance they have is about the new height regulation of 48 inches for visitors to the Nohoch Che'en cave system. In the periphery is the allegation that NICH has entered an agreement with a new company called Darknight Cave Tubing Adventures, which supposedly enjoys competitive advantages over the other local companies.

Well today, NICH released a statement saying quote, "The National Institute of Culture and History is appalled by the blatantly defamatory accusations made against our Institution last Friday by members of FECTAB at a press conference. NICH denies categorically the accusation that it has entered into a 75 year agreement with Darknight Cave Tubing Adventures Ltd for the management or operation of some caves."

It continues, "An agreement with the Company for Cave Tubing was signed on the 5th September 2014 for a three year period. The entrance fee for visitors to the locale is $10.00 per person. This is the same as charged at Nohoch Che'en." End Quote.

NICH continues,

"There have always been rules and regulations specific to caves for safety and security reasons - those rules and regulations along with others related to all archaeological sites were incorporated into legislation and signed on the 27th of May 2014. These…standards were incorporated…after an extensive consultation process beginning a year earlier in 2013." End quote.

After all those hard words, both sides had a meeting this evening at the BTB office on Regent Street to try to settle the differences. It continued for 3 hours, and at it's completion about 20 minutes ago, some of the members walked out upset. Our news Team just returned from speaking to them, and we air Vitalino Reyes' comments unedited. He was explaining to us how his pre-booked guests left the country upset because their children under the 48 inch height requirement couldn't enjoy the tours that their parents planned:

Daniel Ortiz
"Mr. Reyes, you've also been a part of this meeting. What's your reaction to how it's been progressing with BTB and NICH?"

Vitalino Reyes Sr., cavetubing.bz
"IT looks like they don't want to have any solution because I was asking them, I was telling them we have a lot of issues, especially every day we have issues with the children; they are 48 inches, but are probably 47 inches tall and they are seven and a half years old, or six years old. These people as I mention, they promise adventures to their child and when they come here, they are not allowed to go. It frustrates me because, not only they will do that professionally, but also the tourism police would try to provoke, and insult, offend and threaten us in front of the tourists. Everything that happens there is negative to Belize and not just to my company - not just to one of the guys. It's all about Belize and then it only applies to us local tour operator. It doesn't apply to any other, so that why it's unfair and I was asking BTB and NICH if they can just give us time to continue, or choose something else to do. Today I had to go river tubing and just so the people don't get mad with me I can't charge them anything because I have a reputation. That is hurting a lot of us. We are trying to tell them that we are humans and this law that they have a long time which we did not know anything about and they implement it without any notice or without emailing us or telling us anything. So that is the point that they do not understand. They should just leave it and just check it good and then when they decide to apply then let us know at least one week before and then we would be happy with that."

We'll have more on the formal outcome of the meeting tomorrow.

Channel 7

#497840 - 11/12/14 08:14 AM Re: FECTAB Fuming Again – this Time Against NICH [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

FECTAB On Why They Can’t Compromise

Last night we told you about the meeting between FECTAB and the BTB which went into the night. Both sides are trying to find a way ahead that will allow BTB and NICH to hold to its standards for cave safety while allowing FECTAB members to earn a living. The main issue is the 48 inch rule which prevents anyone under four feet tall form entering the caves. That's a disadvantage to the local tour operators who specialize in family tours. They say that yesterday's meeting brought them no close to a resolution:..

David Almendarez, Fantasea Belize
"On the 17th October they implemented a 48 inches rule which basically says that any kids that we take under 48 inches, we can not longer take. We've been dialoguing with the BTB and NICH since then. Today we were supposed to have a meeting where we can address these issues and they can formally hear our concerns. We believe that they've heard our concerns for the past 3 weeks already, so basically we gathered here again to reiterate our concerns and they are going to sit down and digest it and get back to us before the end of the week - that's what we've been told."

"I understand that you guys walked out of the meeting. Give us an update as to what transpired?"

Yohnny Rosado, Cavetubing.com
"David and Tom has been coming to the BTB for almost a month now and they have been tricked. I told them, they've been tricked. Every week we lose money. This is about finance, we have to pay bills. This is not about us anymore. If you go to the cave tomorrow like how you guys waited for us this evening - this is embarrassment for the government. Politically it's stupid because the government are losing votes, so I don't know how the government - before they enter power, they say for the people and when they are in power they are not for the people. One of the reasons we walked out is because they don't want to talk about Dark Knight - their dirty business. They want to talk about this book, that this was properly gazetted that was properly done. Dean Barrow knows the law, they will never do anything against the law, but bread from our table they can take away anytime."

"Have you guys found out who the principals of Dark Knight are?"

Yohnny Rosado, Cavetubing.com
"It's a mystery, just now we try ask a question and they say we are not here to talk about Dark Knight, we are here to talk about 48 inches."

David Almendarez
"We have a lot of issues that we been confronting. This book has been turned into law from May we understand. From May of this year this book was turn into law that regulates the 48 inches. In 10 minutes of conversation just now we showed them so much loophole that this book was poorly made. We ask them for a simple solution just now. You know something, you are not regulating Chukka, and you are not regulating Dark Knight. You say you are going to regulate them - regulate us when you regulate them - that's fair in any way and they said no we got to meet, we got to talk and we got to get back to you before the end of the week. People at upper echelons of NICH do not have the local tour operator and the local native Belizean at heart."

NICH would not comment today.

Channel 7

#498075 - 11/18/14 10:23 AM Re: FECTAB Fuming Again – this Time Against NICH [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

FECTAB: One Shot Of Happy, Two Shots Of Sad

Last week Wednesday, the President of NICH wrote to FECTAB telling the group that the enforcement of the much-derided 48-inch rule at the Nohoc Che'en cave would be suspended until the end of the year.

So, when we heard FECTAB was having a press conference today - we thought it would be to say thanks. But, while there was a little of that - there was much more of what FECTAB has become famous for: lamenting the increasingly difficult commercial landscape in the cruise sector. Here's more:...

Tom Greenwood, President - FECTAB
"And this represent a victory not for FECTAB okay, not for this one and that one; it represents a victory for the movement of Belizean humanity."

David Almendarez, FANTASEA Belize
"I'd like to remind the Belizean public that this is not a pardon, this is just a stay of execution. The stay of execution will end December 31st. We are calling on NICH and the powers that be that we meet immediately or as soon as possible, so come January 1st, we are not running around with our heads off."

Jules Vasquez reporting
They will now approach NICH to find a working compromise:

David Almendarez
"We can allow the kids to come and the parents sign a waiver and they accept that they are taking their kids in. You need to bear in mind that the way we are doing cave tubing right now - we haven't just started doing this yesterday, that's the way we've been doing it for years. It's been a family adventure for years. We are just counting on the government to sit and meet and to find... I am pretty sure this can be adjusted and be fixed."

And they are asking for uniform application of the regulations:

Yhony Rosado, Cave-tubing.com
"If it's the book that they want to put through us, I will go with the flow - I will go with the book. If they don't want to go the right way which is to appeal the book and they want to push the book in January, let them give us some answers how we can go to Dark Night to do tours because Dark Knight is an archaeological site of ours."

Tom Greenwood
"I can't put it into my head; how do you have 4 scenarios? Dark Night, Nohoch Che'en, Jaguar Paw and Hummingbird Highway and only at where the local enterprises - we have all these controls, we have all these regulations put in place and nothing happen on the other three."

But even if that is solved, FECTAB and their COLA brethren are still bitterly angry about Dark Night and their private caves:

David Almendarez
"How can a company gets three years unprecedented access to your archaeological site that no one else can do in this country?"

Geovanni Brackett, President COLA
"This sweetheart deal that has been given to Dark Night, we heard rumors of being 75 years, they said 3 years. But whether it is three years or one year, that deal in our view is vile, obscene and vulgar and should have never been created."

David Almendarez
"Imagine, a foreigner can come to Belize, and these caves have so many artifacts and jewel untold. I am sure NICH doesn't have everything documented. How can you entrust something so sacred to a private entity to create unfair competition on your own people?"

These operators are feeling the pinch because Carnival Cruise Line is running a ruthless price war against them:

Yhony Rosado, Cave-tubing.com
"They will give to their guests 20% off if they book with us local operators in Belize and if they can prove that they are booking with us cavetubing.com, cavetubingrus, cavetubing.bz, or whatever and then they go back with the form, they will get the same tour with 20% less. The cave that we have done for many years which is the largest, the most beautiful one, the most relaxing one, the most guarded one by BTB, NICH and this government - it is selling right now for $35, $25 per person. I am standing today blaming our government. Governments meaning both of them; the blue and the red, to protect our industry because we are in a serious situation whereby we have seen individual personal business drop down to almost to 40%."

And now these operators are running on very small margins:

Yhony Rosado, Cave-tubing.com
"Because Belize is so beautiful, Belize is the jewel, Belize have oil, Belize have wildlife, Belize have jungle/rainforest, Belize have the most beautiful caves in the world and we are broke."

David Almendarez
"We notice every day from the time Yhony and Tom started, the pie is shrinking. We will fight and we end up in jail, whatever we have to do to protect our piece of the pie - we will fight. And if it means we stand up alone, or in a crowd, whatever it takes, the government of Belize must realize that we are here and we are here to stay."

Yhony Rosado, Cave-tubing.com
"The cruise ship, they know how to run the business; you are either with us or you will get mashed up. I will get mashed up, they will run over me and they will have to kill me, I will not work with them."

Presently a tour of the Nohoch Che'en cave can cost as little as $35 US dollars, whereas it used to sell for three times that two years ago.

Channel 7


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