Report says cruise tourism brings few benefits

The traditional stalwarts of Belize's overnight tourism industry for many years looked askance at their more recently endowed colleagues catering to cruise ships, saying that cruising cheapened what should be a high end destination and in any case left Belize with little more than the crumbs from the megaships' table. Today a new report commissioned by the Belize Tourism Board seems to confirm that analysis. Alyssa Noble reports.

Martha Honey, Director, C.E.S.D. Washington
ďBecause it is going down, and because there had been plans in place by the private sector, by the government and by the cruise industry. For instance, the new Carnival pier and so on. Thereís going to have to be adjustments to some of those plans. And this may cause some hardships to people who have invested money in what they thought would be an expanding industry.Ē

Alyssa Noble, Reporting
This was the overall sentiment of the cruise impact study commissioned by the Belize Tourism Board in partnership with the Protected Areas Conservation Trust, who today hosted a forum to discuss the reportís key findings. According to Martha Honey, Director of the Centre of Ecotourism and Sustainable Development, the results of the study so far indicate that cruise tourism isnít as sustainable as some people may have thought.

Martha Honey
ďBroadly, what we are trying to look at is the comparison of cruise tourism, stay over tourism and also some of the specific impact of cruise tourism. I think some of our findings, itís obviously some positive some negative. In terms of the positive, more passengers get of ships here, than in most other ports. They go on tours that are very representative of what we feel are the best Belize has to offer in terms of cultural and environmental tours. The tourists enjoy what they do in Belize; they enjoy their time here. The negative side: the head tax here per passenger that is paid by the cruise company is very, very low. Itís lower than the region, seven dollars U.S. and also four of those dollars go back to the Tourism Village, which is owned by Royal Caribbean and another private company. So, in a sense, itís a subsidy back to the cruise lines and our view is that this is public funds and should be used for public projects, the port, the marine parks, etc. and also the infrastructure projects. The other thing is spending tends to be very low in Belize. Our calculations were that forty-five dollars per cruise passenger goes back into the local economy. The stay over spend about ninety-six dollars a day so about twice as much is spent by stay overs and stay overs stay on average six point eight days. So overall, stay overs are putting fourteen times more into the local economy than cruise passengers are.Ē

But while the B.T.B. admits that there are difficulties, Anthony Mahler, Product Development Director for the Board says itís not all that bad and that they are already taking steps to remedy some problem areas.

Anthony Mahler, Product Development Director, B.T.B.
ďItís not a doom and gloom report. I think its feasible suggestions that are made within the document. Itís still a draft; we are working on it to improve the document. At the end of the day we want to present the best picture possible. You talked about the numbers of people coming to Belize, yes weíve seen a decline over the last year, and we expect to see another decline at the end of this year. The peak was at eight hundred fifty thousand at 2004, and we are looking at six hundred fifty thousand or six hundred forty thousand at the end of this year. From my discussions with the cruise lines and their executives, there are a couple issues that we need to address. Belize being one of the tendering ports on the itineraries and thatís a problem. We have a five mile tendering process, and so itís costly with the increase in the fuel prices. And the other thing is the appearance of down town Belize City and outside of the tourist village. We are working right now with the Belize City Council in trying to improve this. This evening I have a meeting with them and some architects to review some plans just to improve the quality of the experience here in Belize City.Ē

The report is expected to be finalized and submitted in a couple months, at which time the B.T.B. and PACT can either choose to adopt or reject the recommendations.

Reporting for News Five, I am Alyssa Noble.

No doubt, the report will kindle a new round of rancor between the proponents of both types of tourism.