Ministry of Tourism and NICH Acts to Protect Tour Operators
On Friday, August 20, the Minister of Tourism and Culture signed a Statutory Instrument that established Caves Branch (Nohoch che’ en) as an archaeological reserve. The SI is geared at promoting a more fair system for tour operators. Previous to the signing of the SI, BAKABUSH enjoyed an unfair advantage. While most tour operators had to pay to use NICH’s facility at Caves Branch, BAKABUSH dodged the fee by using the Jaguar Paw facility. The SI had been in the pipelines for months and its passing came just as demand was increasing for the playing field to be leveled. Now that the entire cave system is an archaeological reserve everyone who enters the area must provide an equal contribution.
Hon. Manuel Heredia, Minister of Tourism and Culture, said, "The new Statutory Instrument will help level the playing field for all tour operators, while ensuring that NICH will be in a better position to effectively manage the site and make it more safe and user friendly.” Diane Haylock, Director of NICH, says that NICH has lost a lot of revenue over the years because of loopholes like that of Caves Branch. She also says that entrance fees at the reserves will increase because NICH’s investment in development has ensured that our reserves can compete with any other.
The Belize Tourism Board also addressed the issue of protection for local tour guides at the meeting on Friday. Allegations recently surfaced that BAKABUSH Adventures Limited, which is partly owned by Jamaican-based Chukka Caribbean Adventures had planned to hire foreign tour guides to conduct operations in Belize. Though the company has dismissed those allegations, Minister Heredia said that he will propose a moratorium to Cabinet on the issuance of work permits to foreign tour guides. He said, “We have some of the best tour guides in the world. I feel that tour guiding should be left to Belizeans. They are the ones that have lived their whole lives here; they are the ones that have taken the time to learn about what we have.”
Seleni Matus, Director of BTB, says that a proposition is to amend the SI for licensing tour guides. The amendment will include a requirement for tour guides to have been legal residents in Belize for at least ten years. She says that the amendment does not undermine the Caribbean Single Market and Economy movement because there are sectors that can be protected under CSME and the tourism sector is Belize’s most vital one.