The Federation of Cruise Tourism Associations of Belize continues to stand firm in their opposition against Chukka Caribbean/Bak-A-Bush operations in Belize. This morning the Federation held a press conference to discuss their current standpoint and in attendance were hair braiders who work in the Fort Street Tourism Village and tour guides from not only the City but those who currently work in the Caves Branch area. FECTAB President Thomas Greenwood announced that the Federation’s latest move has been issuing nine resolutions that were presented to Minister of Tourism Manuel Heredia earlier this month. And although Greenwood was as avid as ever on the subject, he left the details of their efforts to other FECTAB executive members. Secretary Troy Gabb elaborated on some of the resolutions, and according to him, by midmonth, the Federation received a response from the Minister Heredia but it fell short of what they were hoping for.
Troy Gabb; Secretary, FECTAB
“We gave them nine points, nine issues that we would like to see addressed. None of these issues have been radically addressed in any substantial manner; not event in the letter. We talk about the issue in reference to the CSME, we talk about the issue in reference to the CEO, we talk about the issues in reference to making sure that everybody going through the park at Caves Branch goes through one entrance. You can’t have the independent being harassed by the police and the BTB representative while the people from Bak-A-Bush clearly there is a double standard. We ourselves were a little bit ashamed that we got this letter because we felt that we who were championing diplomacy would have been able to get something a little more palatable, something that we could sink our teeth in and say to our membership listen we think that we are making inroads. This letter says a lot of nothing and I say that with utmost respect for the minister that as far as we are concerned he is not understanding the gravity of this situation, he is not understanding that this is a real bread and butter issue.”
One particular section of the letter that has further displeased the federation is the Minister’s reference to statistics which accordingly show that fifty to fifty-eight percent of cruise passengers refrain from booking tours on board the ships, which in turn becomes a market for independent, small tour operators. The reality is not that simple says Gabb.
“One of the sticking points that the BTB tries to make what FECTAB is saying seem as though we are quarreling or talking about something that really has nothing to do with us is saying that the Chukka Cove … the Chukka Caribbean Adventure/Bak-A-Bush group has a contract with Carnival and therefore there is no way you are going to get that contract and as a result of that you all have 58% of the people coming off the ships to deal with. Well, first off let me say that that number that they are playing with has never been proven. We have asked them to show us the legitimate statistics. What the BTB is not saying is that you know what we believe there is a lot of tacit approach to undermine us and I think and I believe the minister understands this but he is being misguided. We are not against foreigners, we are against an uneven playing field.”
One of the Federation’s concerns also lie in the CSME and its effects on the industry. According to FECTAB member Narciso Garcia, the CSME is a bad deal for all Belizeans.
Narciso Garcia; Member, FECTAB
“According to the CSME there is a free movement of labor. If I am interviewing I will be I will be receiving maybe a hundred reference letters. How many will be applying from Belize and how many will be applying from elsewhere? Elsewhere will be outnumbering the Belizeans; five point three million to three hundred fifty thousand. Our local labor market is at a disadvantage already. I did some research; I said shortly we will be moving to one currency. The currency that is now being used in the eastern Caribbean CSME members is called the XCD. The XCD is currently valued at two point six XCD’s to one US dollar. Now remember ladies and gentlemen we are at two Belize dollars to one US. They are almost at three to one US so when the day comes and apparently it is coming because the investments and labor is already here, the Caribbean Community is already here, the currency is next to come. How much money will you have in your pocket when it changes from two Belize dollar to one US to three Belize dollar to one US. “
Among the resolutions passed by the Federation is the removal of Michael Singh as CEO in the Ministry of Tourism as the Federations clearly remains unforgiving of him following his comments that local tour guides needed training to upgrade their standards in the industry. That point was not addressed in Minister Heredia’s letter to the Federation.