B.T.I.A. joins Placencia residents against mega cruise port development
There is another issue that is moving to the front burner. Crawl Caye which is located in the South Water Caye Marine Reserve is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But all indications are that Norwegian Cruise Line is well underway to purchase the caye from four individuals for a mega tourism project. On the government side, Minister Godwin Hulse is heading a sub-committee. While he is said to support the project, it is known that two other cabinet ministers are dead set against it. The project has come under harsh opposition from Placencia residents and today, the Belize Tourism Industry Association (B.T.I.A.) joined the chorus of rejection of the project. The proposed deal with the cruise line is for an exclusive thirty year concession for Stann Creek District as a cruise port of entry with a second location on Crawl Caye. It would include exemptions on import duties, income tax, general sales tax among other incentives. It also includes the use of foreign labor, fast tracking of permits, including environmental, construction, dredging and filling permits and operation of passenger tenders. The legal transactions are being conducted through Emil Arguelles from Arguelles and Associates. He is a director on the Belize Tourism Board and his brother Carlo Arguelles is also involved with the project. Following on a release issued today, News Five spoke to President of the B.T.I.A., Herbert Haylock, who says that for one, the development will take away from the upgrades currently being done to Belize City in the area of the current tourist village.
Herbert Haylock, President, B.T.I.A.
“B.T.I.A. as an organization has taken a position to say that we are not for this particular development and we have outlined some reasons why we are not for this development. And I think when we look at the specifics of that, there are some key concerns that we have. The ones immediately that we’ve highlighted look at the economics of the situation. We have listed in the release that we have some serious concerns as it relates to the intent from what it would look like and seem at this point in time to consider opening and developing a new area in the south of the country. And when we look at that situation, we have not necessarily considered and looked at how the industry, the sector specifically, and the government has consolidated what is currently on the ground. And we have highlighted some of that in the press release. So we are pointing to the developments that have been taking place and that are on the ground right now; for example, in the Fort George Tourism Area. We are saying that there has to be some consolidation efforts put forward on that particular front first and foremost and it is a massive investment that has been put in place from the sustainable tourism project. That’s one of the things that has to be contemplated. I think when we expand that beyond in terms of the economic argument, you look at the opportunities that the city council, for example, has put on the ground in terms of developing the infrastructure of this city. We all understand that yes, it is for the benefit of the residents and yes, it is for the benefit of the city in terms of infrastructure. But we understand too that spills over. And that spill over does take into account the issues as it relates to cruise traffic around the city and people moving around the city. And for the betterment for that particular product that is being promoted from the city in terms of a specific opportunity. That is one area. We’ve not also expanded on, but we’ve cited and highlighted the issues environmentally that are concerns for us at this point in time given what we understand to be the specific location fo this particular development.”
…And serious socio-economic implications for Belize City and Placencia
By all accounts the memorandum of understanding includes the ability for the company to open casinos and become an authorized foreign exchange dealer. The Sustainable Tourism Project, which was financed by the Inter-American Development Bank, hired a consultant in 2011 who concluded that, “Pocket cruise tourism is the only acceptable form of cruise tourism on the southeastern coast of Belize.” B.T.I.A. President, Herbert Haylock, went further and discussed the socio-economic implications for Placencia because unchecked cruise tourism can have an effect not only on overnight stays at hotels in the area, but there is also an environmental impact to be considered.
Herbert Haylock, President, B.T.I.A.
“At this point Jose, and again anyone can take a look at this document—because it is a public document and cabinet has endorsed the national sustainable tourism master plan. That particular document has called for development of the south, but not at the level at which this particular would seem to want to take things. And it is looked at only development as the view of having it be pocket tourism, which when defined looks at tourism that stays within the realm of two hundred to two hundred and fifty persons on a particular ship in that area—again with the intent of it being sustainable because of again the infrastructure we are looking at in that particular location. When we look at this particular development, we are looking at an initiative that has a development that would be on the ground that basically takes into account ships with the magnitude of two thousand plus visiting; and that is current capacity in terms of NCL ships at this point in time and others. We know that there are larger ships that may perhaps look at this as an opportune location to maybe shift and move. And when we begin to marry those issues and marry those concerns—and I think that is one of the reasons why we decided to take this public stand—that there are some very serious economic issues that need to be contemplated in this matter and really considered. As you know, the industry from point of view of the cruise sector has been and continues to play a significant part of this city’s development and growth. And at end of day, the shifting of this particular development to the south, may ultimately impact that and we are saying we have not even gotten to the point of consolidating what we currently have at this point in time. We really want the individuals who are currently viewing this—and against the key government officials involved in this process—to really understand that they have and the government has accepted or put in place what is a policy by accepting the master plan via the cabinet. And we are looking at that critically because that was done just a few months ago at the latter part of last year. Are we now contemplating, are we now saying that we are totally revisiting that? Are we now ignoring that completely? Has it just been put on a shelf? Those are the questions that we now need to bring to light and say…Why is there an urgency? Why is there a rush for this development? Those are the type of things that we are now starting to get as feedback. We want and we have asked for answers. We’ve asked for clarity on certain particular points as it relates to this development and quite frankly we have not received that information.”
This morning, our emails were flooded with local and foreign opposition to the NCL project which is expected to go before cabinet for approval next week.