Today, Minister of Tourism, Manuel Heredia, signed a statutory instrument which declared Nohoch che' en or Caves Branch as an archaeological reserve. As a result, the Statutory Instrument makes it mandatory for tour operators to pay requisite entrance fees. Love News was on hand for this afternoon signing ceremony, and spoke with Minister Heredia about the new declaration.

Manuel Heredia; Minister of Tourism

"All the users will have a fair play and everybody will be paying the same fees. Before we had the situation where the court had ruled that Jaguar Paw being owners don't really have to pay. From that time as the Director of NICH said they have been working and trying to do an acquisition and trying to establish and SI that will give us what we really have today and hence the reason for that signing today. At least one of the controversies that was floating on the air was that some were saying that there wasn't fair play with one group and the other. But again we have to respect the judgement of the court. Today with this signing everybody will be entitled to pay and there is no more of the saying that this one is paying less than the other it will be very fair to everyone."

The new law follows a meeting held on Wednesday of this week involving the Belize Tourism Board, Minister Heredia and cruise industry stakeholders which discussed the impacts on the local playing field sparked by the partnership between Bakabush Adventure Limited and the Jamaican based company Chukka Caribbean Adventures. Director of the Belize Tourism Board Seleni Matus told Love News about organizational restructuring which will soon introduce several initiatives aimed at enhancing the performance of the cruise sector.

Seleni Matus; Director, Belize Tourism Board

"One of the more important ones is the establishment of a tourism friendly zone around the Fort Street Tourism Village. We currently estimate that on an annual basis we are basically not tapping about $50 million because of the poor organization of cruise port. This is right outside the Fort Street Tourism Village. We also know that about 58% of cruise passengers that disembark basically don't have an organized tour and so it is absolutely critical that the BTB work with the Ministry of Tourism and other key stakeholders like Belize City Council. We need to make sure that we establish a zone that is able to present our small an medium size tour operators and tour guides in the most friendly manner possible so that people want to leave the village. We want to them to be able to access the great service of our businesses that will be trained by the BTB. Caves Branch is one of the two most highly visited sites and as we know there has been a lot of distraction this week with claims about government's implicit involvement in creating and imbalance within the cruise sector. That is very much far from the truth. This SI demonstrates government's commitment to ensuring an even playing field. Previously NICH was not able to charge and entrance fee so depending on how you were accessing that cave you either had to pay usage fees not entrance fees. What this SI does is to ensure that every tour operator regardless of how they access the cave system are paying the same fee."

Tour operators and taxi drivers who were present for the signing gave an emphatic thumbs up to the new law. Love News spoke with the Tourist Village Taxi Union Secretary, Jimmy Robinson about the plan.

Jimmy Robinson; Secretary, Tourist Village Taxi Union

"I think it's a great SI a few things have to be fine tunned definitely but we have been longing for something like this. We all are stakeholders in the industry and I think that presently the government is working especially from the BTB stand point hand in hand with us which the first line of defence whenever the tourists come off the ship to better the industry."

Maria Novelo, Reporter

Do you believe with this coordinated effort you will see an increase in volume and profitability?

Jimmy Robinson

"Well, we are hoping so. That has been one of the things that we have been working on for the past five years with the past administration and with this administration. Especially the Tourism Village Fort Street terminals and I hope definitely that this present decision that has been made could go outside of Belize to the international players like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and the other lines that when the guests come off they can see we definitely see we have our acts together and we could make more money in Belize because basically that is what the whole program is about."

Minister Heredia says the Statutory Instrument will be Gazetted next week.

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