Cruise tourism arrivals declined 6% in 2005, forecasted to decline more in 2006
by Adele Ramos-Daly

BELIZE CITY, Mon, Mar. 20, 2006

If official estimates for 2006 prove true, Belize would see the first back-to-back decline in cruise tourist arrivals since 1998—which the Government has used as a benchmark year for boasting cruise tourism growth.

In a briefing with the press at the Belize Biltmore Plaza this morning, Central Bank Governor, Sydney Campbell, said that arrivals in the sector declined 6% in 2005. He said that there would be a further decline of about 13.5% this year, 2006.

Director of Tourism, Tracy Taegar-Panton, explained, in a subsequent interview with Amandala, that Carnival Cruise Lines had removed the Elation vessel off the Belize circuit, because it was being used for hurricane relief for Katrina victims in New Orleans in late 2005.

So why would the decline continue in 2006? Taegar-Panton said that so far, Carnival has not yet rescheduled that ship, and tourism authorities don’t know whether it would be redeployed to Belize.

Failing that redeployment and assuming that no other cruise line adds calls to Belize, port calls would decline by at least 56, since the Elation, which has a capacity of over 2,000 passengers, visited Belize weekly. This translates to a decline of just over 100,000 passengers for the year.

First official indications of a decline came from Prime Minister, Hon. Said Musa, when he delivered his budget presentation on Friday, March 11. He said that up to the end of November, 2005, cruise tourism arrivals for the 11 months have declined by 6.1% over the previous year, 2004.

Meanwhile, visits by stay-over tourists rose by 2.5% but last year’s figure was 7.0% for the full 12 months—noted, then, as a record for airport arrivals.

Campbell said that overnight tourism would increase around 5% this year.

On Friday, Musa told the House of Representatives that, “…the very active hurricane season resulted in a reduction in the number of port calls, and cruise ship disembarkations totaled 631,695 in comparison with 672,971 during the first 11 months of 2004.”

The last time the cruise sector reported a decline was in 2001, when arrivals dropped from 58,131 to 48,116. The decline was ascribed to Hurricane Iris, which struck Belize in late 2001, and the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, which has been the primary cruise market.

Industry sources indicate that cruise passenger arrivals continue to show lower figures than previous years, even outside the hurricane season.

There is still the planned Southside port, which Government anticipates would bring more tourists to Belize’s shores. At the same time, however, there has been a spate of international articles lately on Belize’s cruise tourism sector, whose main thrust is that high cruise tourist arrivals pose a great threat to Belize’s “paradise.” They also portray Belize as an overcrowded tourist destination.

With titles like “Cruise Craze Puts Belize’s Eco-Tourism Business In Jeopardy” (Hartford Courant) and “Cruising for a bruising? Tourist boom jolts Belize” (Seattle Times), the articles generally claim disappearing wildlife, flocks of tourists, and “boats lined up like cars”—dubbed: “aquatic traffic jams” by one writer.”

The timing of these reports is interesting, because since 1998, Belize has registered nearly exponential growth in cruise tourism. An increase of 564% was reported in 2002. 2004 demonstrated growth of 48%, while 2000, registered an increase of 70%.

In recent years, ships with larger capacities of 3,500 passengers as opposed to 1,000-plus have increased their visits to our shores.

The forecast in 2004 for up to 1 million cruise tourists did not materialize. Instead, that year registered 851,436 tourists. The decline was even despite the addition of Explorer series vessels that carry up to 3,500 passengers.
Reportedly, even bigger ships than the Explorer are in the pipeline, some of which could carry up to 6,000 passengers.