2) World Wetlands Day Boat Parade

Jan Brown announced that the World Wetland Day Boat Parade on Monday, inspite of the weather, was quite successful. The parade consisted of 22 boats with signs to bring awareness to the importance of wetlands and habitat protection.

3) Chamber Web Site

New members are encouraged to sign up on the web site. We are trying to get business member ads up as quickly as possible. Those with business accounts, please check your ads and email accounts. We are open to suggestions on how to make the site better.

4) Update on the Timeshare Sales limitations

Tom was contacted by Lloyd Enriquez of the BTB following up on the report last week about the penalties and fines for OPCs soliciting illegally. By law, all OPC's must be wearing a uniform and stay within 10 feet of their booth. The fine is $100. Ernie Olmstead's previous report was about the Time Share Association's attempt to curb illegal solicitation and is not actual law.

Letter from BTB:
Dear Mr. Vidrine,

Regarding the matter of the timeshare OPCs, on Thursday January 22, 2009 a meeting was convened at Sun Breeze’s Conference Room to discuss the pressing concern of OPCs harassing visitors on the streets of San Pedro.

In attendance at the meeting were:
1) Three BTB Board members including Chairman Mr. Gach Guerrero
2) Officer in Charge of San Pedro Police Dept. ASP Dennis Arnold
3) Officer in Charge of Tourism Police Unit – ASP Simeon Alvarez
4) BTIA San Pedro President – Catherine Paz
5) Timeshare Developers of Reef Village, Capt. Morgan’s Vacation Beach Club, Cost Maya Reef Resort and Brahma Blue Holistic Vacation Club.
6) Councilor from the San Pedro Town Board
7) Registrar of Hotels and Tourist Accommodation – Lloyd Enriquez and Mr. Evan Tillett – Dir of Fin and Admin

At the meeting all the concerns were fully ventilated and it was mutually agreed among all present that the manner in which the OPCs were operating was detrimental to the tourism product on the island. The following resolutions were made:

1) “All timeshare salesmen (OPC – Off Premises Contacts) would be removed, effective immediately, from all the streets and public areas of San Pedro Town and the island of Ambergris Caye. Instead OPCs should be stationed only in licensed booths, authorized by the San Pedro Town Board. This resolution includes the prohibition of utilizing golf carts in search of clients on the streets and public areas. For the avoidance of doubt, timeshare developers and management entities should use independent operators to transport potential clients to their properties.”

2) “All timeshare salesmen would be put in uniforms (provided by the developers/management entities) and required to wear BTB issued identification cards as part of their uniforms.”

Update to this is that all the OPCs were assembled and their pictures taken for the IDs. These are being printed as we speak and should be ready for distribution by February 6, 2009.

The police department and the tourism police unit will continue to patrol as much as possible to curb the OPC activity in public areas. Anyone from the general public who is knowledgeable of OPCs operating in public areas are to report such persons to the Police Dept immediately. If it is possible photographs can be emailed to myself for further follow up with the Developers.

If you should have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me at any time.

Best Regards,
Lloyd Enrique

5) Escalente Neighborhood Watch
Escalente Neighborhood Watch is planning on opening 2 police substations, 1 in the Escalente area and 1 in the DFC area.

6) As US Warden, Tom Vidrine reported that he was informed that there is a travel warning out not to travel to Orange Walk because of violence in the area caused by the sugarcane protest.

7) Tres Pescado Slam Tournament
Jim Oliver reported the first ever fly fishing tournament in Belize, is scheduled for August 20-22, 2009. International anglers and sponsors are being invited and the event will also have an amateur division for all local fly fishers. The tournament will also involve the Ambergris Caye community with casting competitions and boat poling competitions with prizes and trophies as well as fly fishing and fly tying demonstrations all held each day in Central Park. The goals of the tournament are to bring fly fishing anglers to San Pedro during a usually slow time of the year and provide fish data to Bonefish and Tarpon Unlimited. The tournament details can be found at http://www.tres-pescado-tournament.org .

8) Scams
It was suggested that the Chamber put together some guidelines for newcomers to the island on how to do things, who to contact, how to find trustworthy brokers, etc. to avoid people being taken advantage of. It was mentioned that Dr. Dianne Lawrence of Quicksilver Messenger Service has worked with authorities and published a book of guidelines dealing with how to move, live and work in Belize. Contact her if you are interested in purchasing the online book.

9) Flights to Belize
Steve Schulte from Tropic Air corrected last week's Chamber minutes, he said he serves on a subcommittee of BTB that is working with 2 airlines on providing direct flights to Belize. Also, ADO Bus Line, a Mexican company, has permission to run an express bus from Belize City to Cancun.

The BTB sent the following report to our Chamber:
Activities through January 15th, 2009


Committee Members:
Anthony Hunt, Chairman
Steve Schulte
Jose Contreras
Pablo Espat
Enrique Hoare
Tracy Panton
Sergio Torres
Shakira Oxley-Tsai
Michael Singh

Meeting Schedule
The Committee meets monthly, usually the third Thursday of the month. Officially sanc¬tioned since December 2008, the committee has been meeting since October of last year.

General Overview
The Committee was developed as a successor to INTERVISTAS. Originally named the Air Services Route Development Task Force (ASRDT), the name as since been shortened to the Airline Development Committee (ADC). The ADC’s goal is to seek to improve and develop new and existing airline services, and to facilitate tourism and other business development in Belize. It will also seek to stimulate additional in-bound arrivals from the USA, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Central and South America. A full copy of the Terms of Reference ac¬companies this report.

The Committee’s budget is BZ$86,700, which is being funded by the BTB and the BACC. The budget shall be used for the work of the committee which includes visits to airlines and route development conferences.

Airline / Route Conferences:
Steve Schulte, Jose Contreras and Sergio Torres attended the ALTA Conference in Cancún this past November on behalf of the ADC. There they met with representatives from Spirit, Taca, Copa, Delta, USairways, Volaris, Air Jamaica, LAN Chile among others. Several air¬lines also initiated basic talks about future service.

Pablo Espat and Enrique Hoare Attended the “Routes” Conference in Aruba in December. They met with many airlines where the discussion continued on possible routes to Belize. Airlines met included USairways, United, COPA, Martinair, American, JetBlue and AirTran among others. A report was submitted to the committee for relevant action/follow-up.

Steve Schulte will be attending the second Routes conference in Cancun next month. (Feb¬ruary) in order to follow up with the airlines contacted in November.
Airline Discussions
In November, after previous (pre-committee) engagements, ADC held a conference call with JetBlue to discuss future service from New York (JFK) or Orlando (MCO). JetBlue was interested in starting service only from Orlando, but wanted a revenue guarantee. For many reasons, and while the committee felt any new route is welcome, a route from JFK would have had a far better chance for success. In addition, Belize was unable to offer the sizeable revenue guarantee that JetBlue sought. The committee did offer (through BTB) a marketing agreement. JetBlue instead decided to pass on service to Belize at this time. JetBlue will be contacted again at a future date.

Discussions are underway with European carrier Martinair about weekly service from Am¬sterdam as either a non-stop or as a tag on from an existing served destination. Their
commitment to Belize remains strong and we are working on getting them to set up a
familiarization trip with their marketing and wholesaler representatives. We will be meet¬ing with their representative in Cancun to discuss further their plans and the way forward. It is hoped that this will provide Belize with its long wanted direct European link.

Discussions are also underway with Panamanian carrier COPA about service from Panama City as either a non-stop or as a tag on from an existing served destination. COPA would offer Belize a much better link to the emerging tourist markets of South America, with one stop, same day, non USA transit service to most destinations in S. America (instead of the current 4 stop, overnight transits). COPA service would also provide a non USA transit al¬ternative for traffic from the Caribbean and to Europeans wanting to get to Belize (Panama City is served by KLM and Iberia). It would also provide business link for Belizeans wanting to go to Panama. COPA service would be invaluable addition as tourism traffic from South America is alternate in seasonality to North America and would help to balance Belize’s tourism arrivals. Discussions continue with COPA with a visit planned very soon.

The Committee has also initiated preliminary discussions with Westjet about service from Calgary, Canada. While discussions are nascent, Canada is viewed as a untapped air ser¬vice market for Belize. Canadians are also emerging investors in our county with large condo developments etc. Canadians (especially from the western provinces) have also historically been frequent visitors to Belize. A nonstop Canadian link would also provide a more balanced visitor flow.

TACA already offers service to Belize. They will be approached about linking Havana to Be¬lize in order to facilitate European traffic and better Latin American connections. A meeting date with TACA’a commercial planners and marketing representatives is being set.

Prior to the committee being established, discussions had been held with Spirit about ser¬vice from Ft. Lauderdale. At that time Spirit passed on such a route to Belize for a variety of reasons. They will be approached again in the near future.

USairways already offers service to Belize. Discussions have been held and will continue about expansion of summer off-season service and new service from Phoenix.

More Contacts
The Committee has also initiated discussions with Volaris (Mexican LCC), Aeromexico and Air Jamaica, and will approach British Airways about operating a tag on to Belize from their existing services from either London to Grand Cayman or Kingston.

The Committee has also spoken with United, Air Tran, LAN Chile, Southwest, Briko Air (Re¬gional Carrier), Air France, TAM, TUI but none have shown any real desire to start Belize Service in the short or medium term.

Other Committee Actions
The Committee has had discussions with AA, regarding rates and service. We anticipate that we will have a visit with CO and AA again to discuss their partnership with Belize, our requirements, and to establish close contact with their marketing arms to place Belize in an appropriate marketing position with AA.

Members of the Committee have had extensive discussions with Delta’s worldwide market¬ing department about inclusion of Belize in the both print and visual marketing material.

In the interest of providing important consistent feedback, discussions and conversations with the airlines (serving and not serving), the Committee has created paper and electronic files for each route and each airline on that route currently served. This file will have im¬portant contact names etc for future use. Information on new routes or for each airline that expresses interest in serving Belize will also be logged. These files shall be continuously updated with relevant and route pertinent information. This information shall be housed at BTB. Having a file for each airline and having frequent contact with the route planners and airline marketing departments was not something done previously.

The Committee will seek to create productive and cultivate personal contacts within the management / route planning departments of airlines currently serving Belize with the in¬tention of creating a mutually beneficial dialog of openness and understanding, and so that we are better able to help them with route issues and problems.

The Committee will also assist any local airline wishing to establish international (through lease or other wise) or new local service. Supporting “feeder” service locally and ensuring that it is healthy, is vital to maintaining existing and attracting new international service.

The Committee will develop a dialog with the local embassies and consulates to promote new service and will work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure that the proper Visi¬tor Visa requirements are dispersed by our embassies.

The committee will develop an Information Package for airlines interested in Belize. This will be developed and will be updated regularly and held ready for presentation to airlines that will be targeted. To include: ground handling requirements, landing fees, turn around servicing and maintenance, and feeder services available.

The Committee will establish a website with basic relevant information, contacts, and links to relevant agencies that pertain to regarding starting service to Belize and will dialog with the relevant agencies and airlines to encourage lower fares at certain times of the year.

TACA announced a second frequency for its San Salvador route. This was sched¬uled to start in December and would have provided a much better link to South Amer¬ica and European connections in Central America. This route was abruptly cancelled before start, with the official explanation being the expenses of operating the flight.

Delta and USairways also routinely trim their summer/fall schedules dramatically, some¬times to only one weekly service, with USairways even going “dark” during October. We are working with these carriers to try to expand this off peak service through building of lo¬cal VFR (Visiting Friends and Relatives) traffic and though the promotion of 3 or 4 day mini vacations. This will help their mid week traffic levels.

Revenue Guarantees
Revenue guarantees / subsidies are an expensive, high visibility, and ill advised tax-payer funded “black hole” used by other countries as a stop gap measure to boost service. As witnessed elsewhere, in the end the funded service is short lived (as there is no incentive to market the route properly and become self sufficient), and the overall service level falls below the original starting point (as you have hurt the original carriers by inserting subsi¬dized competition). Funds that could have otherwise been used in marketing the country to provide real growth would then allocated to more revenue guarantees to replace the service present in the first place.

It is the general position of the committee that revenue guarantees are a no-win situation for Belize and as such is not recommended from taxpayer funds. Should private investors /resorts wish to provide such guarantees independently, then the committee will provide whatever assistance and support such endeavors may need.

Special Internet Offers
The Committee will work with the BTB, industry partners, and the airlines to ensure that Belize is included in special regional internet travel offers.

Other Incentives
Other incentives that may be offered are some sort of reduction in the landing fees or other airport fees for a fixed period as an “introductory” offer. Again, as with revenue guarantees, this does have its pitfalls and is not recommended by the committee unless the service is of vital national interest or is of the caliber that Belize would benefit immensely.

BTB continues to offer marketing incentives, joint marketing agreements and marketing support to existing carriers and is prepared to do the same for new entrants.

International Service Levels
Currently Belize has the following active routes. Service frequency levels vary according to the time of year. The frequency listed is for Service January - March.

Houston: TACA 7Xweekly, Continental 16Xweekly (Jan), 17X weekly (Feb)
Miami: American 14Xweekly
Dallas: American 7Xweekly
Charlotte: USairways 5Xweekly
Atlanta: Delta 5Xweekly
Newark: Continental 2Xweekly
Toronto: Skyservice weekly scheduled charter
San Salvador: TACA 7Xweekly
Flores: Tropic Air 7Xweekly
San Pedro Sula: Maya Island Air 3Xweekly

Airlines typically cut frequencies during the slower tourist travel season of May to Novem¬ber, with September to November seeing the greatest cut. Delta also periodically (as de¬mand warrants) removes some mainline equipment during the weekdays replacing it with regional equipment in order to at least maintain service.

The Cancun Factor
The “drive to Cancun and fly” issue is one that is becoming more pronounced. Cancun, being a much larger destination, does offer a wider level of service which it turn leads to more competition and lower fares. Cancun has always been a magnet for budget travellers wanting to get Belize, but with the escalation of recent airfares, the cost/benefit scale did tip and it has begun to affect VFR loads especially during the critical off season months. It is an issue that will get attention for if enough of the local market bleeds off, then it may start to affect existing route viability from Belize.

Belize, for its size, enjoys good, consistent, and reliable air service from well established air carriers. The Committee feels that service to North America should be expanded in a measured, non-revenue guaranteed and thoroughly sustainable manner. The Committee also feels that convenient service to Europe and South America is of vital importance to a balanced local tourism industry and as such, is focused on actively securing and encour¬aging such service.

Belize is also fortunate that through the current industry downturn (fuel first, now financial), we have enjoyed relatively consistent service with very little, if any, service reduction. This is testament to the strength of Belize as a market, the support that the carriers get, and the diligence, homework and discipline with which new service has been added in the past. It is something we will continue to promote.

Passenger ticket costs to Belize while not uniquely high (compared with destinations like Curacao or Managua), are higher than most other regional destinations, and this remains a source of concern for the committee, and dialog with the airlines.

Stable new service often takes years to develop from initial discussions to a start date, and success cannot, and will not, be had overnight. Airline route service is also not static. It is ever changing and these changes don’t happen in a predictable or foreseeable fashion. There are external factors affecting carriers (such as fuel) that affect route viability, and that can make their promising new proposed or existing route to Belize become non-viable overnight. Through conversations with our service partners, we hope to minimize these external effects.

As experienced everywhere else, it is also important that while attempting to encourage new service, that we are aware of what exists already and ensure that we do not lose exist¬ing stable service through the starting of a new, more volatile, one.

Respectfully Submitted,

Anthony Hunt, Chairman

10) Summary of our Chamber’s efforts to improve tourism during this tough economic times

Our latest efforts have been to prepare for a severe downturn of tourists and investors from the US and Canada. And to prepare our businesses and our community for a tough year.

The summary of Chamber’s Executive Board’s suggestions were:
1- Try to develop tourism from Central and South America, with creating webpages in Spanish, easier more direct flights, and focused marketing.
2- Work on the continuing actions of our GOB to “tax” our tourists with fishing licenses, exit fees, park fees, and presently not to allow them to drive boats.
3- Work on concerns that the slow down in both tourism and especially construction will create a number of desperate people that would create a serious increase in crime.
4- Develop air travel thru Cancun, both to lower flight costs to Belize and to encourage the vast number of people that no longer want to go through the US, especially Miami.
5- That the excellent retirement program Belize once offered is no longer available.
6- That the timeshare salespeople were getting desperate and harassing the tourists.