A packed consultation at the Sunbreeze Conference room.

The Ministry of Tourism and the Association of Protected Areas Management Organization (APAMO) conducted a consultation in San Pedro Town last week as part of developing a National Responsible Tourism Policy. The consultation room was filled to capacity, mostly with students and a few stakeholders in the tourism industry.

    According to consultant Valerie Wood, the National Responsible Tourism Policy will outline a sound planning and management strategy with a positive impact on the environment, economy and socio-cultural aspect of a community. Woods went on to explained that while the intentions are to come up with a policy paper, it will pave the way for a blue print that hopefully the Ministry can adopt in the development of the Tourism Industry in Belize.

    While the policy paper is not intended to be anti-development, it seeks to address what should and should not be allowed to take place in tourism related developments in Belize. "It promotes the process in which development should be done; a process that protects our natural resources, one that promotes good community benefits and one that is economically and socially responsible," stated Woods.

    So far there have been two similar tourism related policies, the 1998 Blackstone Strategy and the Belize Tourism Policy 2005. During the consultation stakeholders admitted that while those were strong policies, it lacked enforcement and in addition needed to be strengthened, citing government's lack of commitment. One of the major concerns voiced by the gathering was whether the Responsible Tourism Policy would be taken seriously. "Stakeholders are questioning how serious any policy will be taken. They question how serious past policies have been taken so basically that is the challenge that APAMO and the Ministry of Tourism have had to face. They will have to grab the whip as they embark on this new consultation," stated Woods.

    Participants also voiced that if government is serious; there should be an "actionable and monstrous commitment" by all those involved. "There is a role for the government at all levels to play, a role for the private sector and one for the public to undertake if we want it to happen this time," stated one of the students. Tourism Officer in the Ministry of Tourism Juliet Neil stated that it is expected that the Responsible Tourism Policy be completed by the end of the year. "The Ministry will be embarking early next year in developing a National Tourism Master Plan so we would like that by that time, this new policy paper be completed." It is expected that when the Responsible Tourism Policy is finalized, the Ministry of Tourism should move to endorse and accept the policy as part of the National Tourism Master Plan.

    According to the Coordinator for APAMO Yvette Alonzo, the intention is to come up with a policy that will be endorsed by all sectors. "Because it is a long term plan, we want to come up with a policy that is accepted nationally, so that when governments changes there is continuity in the policy," stated Alonzo.

    The participants asked that within the new policy, that a comprehensive approach be developed where issues such as development on wetland, the lack of enforcement/policing of new the policy, infrastructure and tourism, solid waste management, road maintenance and expansion, an integration into a long term tourism master plan, continuity of the new policy, incentives for investors practicing responsible tourism and public policy awareness amongst others, would be addressed. So far the consultation in San Pedro Tow was the third of a number of consultations that is being planned across the country.

San Pedro Sun