On Wednesday evening, there was a meeting between executives of the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) and various stakeholders of the cruise tourism industry in Belize, at the Old Belize Center. A spokesperson for the Belize Tourism Board told us that it was closed to the press – an insiders’ only event to discuss best practices in an industry that has grown leaps and bounds in recent years.
There was a serious clash or two between the FCCA and cruise line executives and tour operators, with Government representatives caught in the middle. In opening the meeting, Minister of Tourism Manuel Heredia, Jr. noted that some smaller tour operators feel that their bigger counterparts are taking more of the pie. Michelle Page, FCCA President, said that cruise ship tourists want an original, appealing and hassle-free existence.
Belize ranks twenty-third of thirty-five destinations for passenger satisfaction. While they expressed interest in coming back, Page said, passengers cite a poor “first impression” with the tendering service to the mainland and interaction with operators among their pet peeves. She asserts that there is room for more creativity and growth of the product. But the operators and tourism associates have concerns of their own.
One operator suggested that modern tourists are not willing to spend as much and treat Belize like a superstore – one stop to shop and leave. The Federation of Cruise Tourism Associations of Belize made their presence known, bringing up their allegations of favoritism to foreign operators and accusing the FCCA of “lecturing” them. This prompted a threat by Page to walk out of the meeting.
The necessity for a cruise port in Belize City was also discussed and the FCCA is ambivalent in its support. It suggested that Belizeans will have to determine what is most important. Prime Minister Dean Barrow has promised such a port and is in negotiations with the owners of the Port of Belize Limited, among others, to build one in the Port Loyola area. The Feinstein Group has shelved its proposed port at Stake Bank due to a refusal by Government to grant exclusivity for usage.