Busiest tourist attraction is upgraded
Here's a good Belize Trivia question: What's the most popular single tourist destination in Belize? Give up? It's the archaeological reserve on the Cave's Branch River near Frank's Eddy Village. This year over one hundred and twenty-five thousand visitors, mostly from cruise ships, are expected to go cave tubing, hiking and enjoy other activities at the site off the Western Highway. Today the reserve, known as Nohoch Chen'en--which means "big cave" in Yucatec Maya--was formally dedicated by Minister of Tourism Mark Espat. In his remarks, Espat praised those who had the vision to develop the area over a decade ago and who today work hand in hand with government to improve the site. After the brief ceremony News 5's Stewart Krohn asked Espat to comment on what appears to be a deepening rift in the tourism community.
Mark Espat, Minister of Tourism
“Certainly, as Minister of Tourism, over the last couple of months I have tried to ensure that we stay focussed on the issue and the issue is how can we continue to grow the industry to the benefit of more Belizeans. I think as long as we keep our eyes on that goal, really the rest of it will come together. Cruise tourism and the Overnight tourism have so many things that they have to work towards in common; for example, the issue of infrastructure, the issue of training, the issue of marketing Belize. Those are not things that they disagreed upon. I think that what they disagreed upon is who is making the larger contribution or how can they have a greater voice in publicly matters. And I think that’s healthy. So we are not discouraged by that at all. In fact we have an excellent relationship with all the sectors speaking on behalf of the Ministry now and behalf of the Tourism Board. So I don’t think that there is anything that as happened other than the louder than usual debate that discourages me from continuing to be very optimistic about the future of tourism in Belize. ”
“But Minister how healthy can it be when you see a whole page advertisement for the Belize Cruise Industry Association that--I don’t know how to describe it other than--crude, threatening, and at the same time you see ads by the BTIA where a well know lawyer gets up and seems to make a very political statement about what or what not the Carnival Cruise Port is going to bring to Southside Belize City people. You still call that healthy?”
“There are radicals on both sides of the argument; radical individuals. There are those extremists who thing that cruise tourism should be the brand of tourism for the country and there are those in the land base industry that are hoping that tomorrow morning there are going to get up and there will be no cruise tourism. I don’t think either of those two extreme positions really take into account the success we have achieved over the last six years, but also the reality of what the country is going through. So no, I do not support those kinds of extreme positions. I said so in my Tourism Week address that we have to recognise the delicate partnerships in the industry. But I don’t believe that those partnerships have been fractured. I think that right now it is a time when there is a lot of emotion; a lot of people feel strongly about certain issues and I believe it is healthy that we live in a country where those views can be expressed.”
“How embarrassed were you having renegotiated to most opinions successfully a new contract for the Carnival Cruise Port, only to have BTIA turn around and really say, this isn’t good enough we are taking this to the Supreme Court. Was that an embarrassing time for you?”
“BTIA or any organisation or any individual has the Court of Belize as a resort if they feel that the Government or anyone in fact has gone outside the law. Our message has been that yes there were concerns about the original contract; there was a Cabinet decision. We renegotiated in close consultation with the industry keeping them informed about what the clauses were that we were renegotiating. We signed an amended agreement and we are satisfied that under the circumstances addresses the majority of the issues. BTIA, it appears, at this time, have decided that they still want to seek redressing the courts and that’s their right.”
In another good piece of trivia, it should be noted that Nohoch Chen'en Archaeological Reserve boasts Belize's largest public bathroom complex, complete with nineteen women's stalls, ten men's stalls, ten urinals and ample shower facilities. Visitors pay ten Belize dollars to enter the reserve, providing government with over a million dollars in annual revenue from this one site.