The high season has kicked off for tourism in Belize and it is around this time that local entrepreneurs, tour operators and businesses are looking forward to the boost in their revenues, but today turned out to be a complete loss for them as the cruise ships that were slated to come to Belize had to reportedly turn back due to unfavorable weather conditions. We met up with Valdemar Andrade, the Cruise and Regional Initiatives Director at the Belize Tourism Board for an official comment on the matter.
“Yesterday and Wednesday we had two ships, Carnival Ships that basically decided to go forward to Roatan because there were heavy winds in the Belize City harbor, they came all the way in to the Belize City Harbor and when there are those issues, the captains then make a call; it is too risky to get people on the tender and off the tenders so they made a call and said they were cancelling Belize and going forward to Roatan. We lost about just over five thousand people on that with those two calls. Today we had three more calls that were cancelled because when the ships reached and this was signaled by the Princess ship that reached first at the English Caye Channel the winds were blowing at about 50 knotts and that is heavy winds and so decided not even to come in to the Belize City Harbor and go forward from there. In all these situations as I said before, it is critical for our local operators because by that time when they are already at the harbor by English Caye everybody in Belize port is prepared to move those nine, ten thousand people and that takes heavy investment in fuel, heavy investment in machinery, in people, people are already on board. I don’t know if you know how the industry works but from four or five in the morning people are mobilizing, getting things on board. From the hairbraiders to the food vendors everybody is invested because if you are expecting that amount of people and this week we lost about fifteen thousand people those are the type of investment that people have to anticipate, you cannot wait until those people are on the ground to make those kinds of investments. It is something that we are cognizant of and we try to manage as best as we can but when it comes to inclement weather, these are very hard to predict what it is that is going to happen. We have managed to tender before in this kind of weather because the ships are very high tech ships and they have thrusters that are able to hold the ships in position so that the tenders can come on the leeward side where there is less wind and be able to lock onto the ships to get people on and off.”
And while the Belize Tourism Board is concerned, so is the group, Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA). In a release they sent out, they are urging the Government to intervene on the current impasse between the Fort Street Tourism Village and the Stake Bank Group as with the increase of tourist arrivals, the need and urgency for a cruise port in Belize City have never been more evident as it was today when thousands of dollars were loss. We spoke with COLA’s President, Geovanni Brackett, who made his appeal to the Government.
“From two weeks ago on my return when we had a joint press conference with FECTAB we stated that we were informed of the fact that one: there was a meeting at the last FCCA meeting between Royal Caribbean members and that of Karen Bevans addressing the concerns that the ship will be moving to what we called OASIS classed ships; these mega ships that the amount of passengers will have is too huge to be tendered and we signaled the alarm that there is a need for the port. We at COLA are not placing an emphasis on who builds the port but we know that Stake Bank is the port that is being proposed to be built and that failure to have that port established could cause almost the end of our tourism. In particular the Belize district because we know there is the proposal for NCL down South but if we were to lose cruise tourism here in Belize District it would have a very heavy negative impact in Belize district particularly so what we sent out this morning is basically just to say that what has happened in the last two days, today we have lost three ships and two yesterday. We have lost close to approximately fifteen thousand passengers is huge and it emphasizes and I join FECTAB in saying that we need to build a port and we do call on government; we know there are some legalities from above COLA head but we do call on the prime minister to break that gridlock between FSTV and Stake Bank so that we can protect and ensure that our local tour operators are protected and we can move forward with cruise tourism.”
As it pertains to the impasse between the Fort Street Tourism Village and Stake Bank, Andrade gave us a brief history lesson, saying that the village was initially set out as a temporary solution.
“The Cruise Ship industry at this level really started in 1998 when the first ships were Norwegian Cruise lines who came to Belize and of course part of the solution for finding a port was to establish the Fort Street tourism village which has gone through a history on itself. So then therefore we became a tender port. However the village has always been seen as a temporary solution in fact that is one of the reasons why they had looked at several solutions on how to leverage the development of a future port if you remember at one point they looked at the Commercial port and there was an accommodation agreement as a part of the whole development of the Fort Street tourism village, that is one of the reasons why they were given exclusivity in looking at how that port would have been developed for the future. Today we are way past upwards of 250 calls a year, we are looking at over one million passengers in cruise and so there is a need to look at a port. There is definitely a need also because the sizes of the ships are getting bigger so the tendering becomes more challenging that is basically the history of the need for a port so just to be absolutely clear that the village was always seen as a temporary solution and having basically a tender port is a temporary solution to what we see the future. In essence this is a $150 million dollar industry, it employs about 2,500 people ,we are looking at about 10% of the employable capacity of the city, it employs people all over the country to be honest. There are some innate challenges in being a tender port in the fact that from ship to shore takes about 20-30 minutes so it creates issues for us to be even on a good day it is a challenge that people get on tour on time and get back to the ship on time and so all of those have to be taken into consideration when we are looking at the cruise ship tourism industry for Belize. I have to say that the Prime Minister has given very much due consideration to this matter, in fact that is one of the reasons why the legislation was passed in the house to facilitate the establishment of a state bank. The State bank has also gone through all its environmental processes and has full environmental clearance for go ahead but with legal issues being discussed and I am not privy to the details of those legal issues there are careful steps that the government and the Prime Minister have to take into consideration before moving ahead full fledge forward.”
In the release sent out by COLA today, it ended by saying, “We welcome and join the BTB’s and other stakeholders’ call for the FSTV/Stake Bank impasse to be resolved by the Government in as timely a manner as possible so that a cruise port can be built. The Prime Minister is in the best position to negotiate a solution to this issue and provide the kind of bold leadership we have seen previously with the nationalizations of the utilities and the re-negotiation of the Super bond. It is time for him to act with the support of tourism authorities.” There were about fifteen thousand passengers who didn’t make it ashore due to the weather and with that executive decision by the ship captains that had the ships carry on to Roatan, Honduras, an estimated one hundred and seventy five dollars per passenger was lost. That accounts for just over two and a half million dollars in revenue for Belize.LOVEFM