Over the years, we've aired dozens of stories about the area outside the Fort Street Tourism Village. A good 90% of them have been negative. And how could it be otherwise, with dozens of tourism industry service providers outside the gates jostling for the same crumbs? And the reason they get the crumbs is because that's how it's set up - the Tourism Village is a full service stop that tries earnestly to be all things to its guests. Now, new management is trying to change the character of the village to make it more upscale. We got rare access to the facility last week Wednesday on Cruise Day to see how they manage thousands of guests. Jules Vasquez reports:..

Jules Vasquez reporting
Every time you see ships in the harbor - that means thousands of visitors will have to pass through the tourism village, on a crowded day - like a Wednesday - more than 12 thousand may pass through - most of them, 70% going on pre-booked tours, some just choosing to walk the city or walk around the terminal.

It's an international port, but it's also a low, medium and high end shopping destination, a food and drink destination and a point of sale for 9 competing operators selling various tours.

The most recent study shows that the average visitor will spend 73 US dollars in Belize and everyone inside and outside the fence is competing for that same dollar. Insiders have the advantage of being the first to make a pitch.

Francis Harris, Belize By Carriage
"I treasure the opportunity to get a break to talk to them and be the first one to greet them and welcome them to Belize and sell them my tours and when they get a chance to go outside the guys are doing the same thing - a good job too."

Fenton Maskall has been doing it on the inside for 6 years:

Fenton Maskall, Exotic Eco tours
"The number priority with these guys is be calm, let them know what they should do and what they shouldn't do and always give them that smile and sales - that yours."

Francis Harris, Belize By Carriage
"The first thing I do is kill them with my smile. I got a beautiful natural Belizean smile. I got it from my mom and dad and I wear it well, so I just greet them with that smile and welcome to Belize - you guys booked, are you interested in any tour. If you are interested in a tour please step aside, let me give you some information about my tour and I do my best to sell them my city tour."

Indeed, the sales persons you find in the village are way above average, even if they are selling yogurt:

Richie Mendez, "Belize Yogert"
"This is one way in a million ways you can decorate your yogurt at Belize Yogert only at the Tourist Village."

Olivia Jones, Moho Chocolate
"Being a sales person here in the Tourist Village it is a little different because everyone comes in with a different attitude. Some comes really aggressive and then you just have to smile and just be pleasant although you just want to snap sometimes, but it's still good. Me personally, when the tourist comes in I am always smiling."

And the average visitor has a bewildering assortment of choices to make, from hair braiding to prescription free Viagra to fresh cut coconut:

Jules Vasquez
"Explain from a money perspective what it's like working in the village as oppose to working outside?"

Gilbert Trapp, Cuts 150 Coconuts Per Day
"It's more relaxing because the money is in there; it's a sure thing. You just have to work towards it and coconut shopping comes natural to us as a black man; it's part of my culture. I don't need to learn to cut coconuts - it's natural. I get my little tip also, so I enjoy it."

New financial controller and head man at the village is Eilad Aharon and he has been trying to change the image of the village.

Eilad Aharon, Director of Finance FSTV
"They will able to say "wow, Belize is marquee value, I love it, I want to come back" and we are basically a gate to open our piers to these visitors to come back us and see how special this country is."

Aharon spearheaded the remodeling of for two million Belize dollars last year.

Eilad Aharon, Director of Finance FSTV
"The idea of the remodeling was to allow them a better port experience. We invested 2 million Belize in order to create much better environment, a more welcoming and inviting in new restaurants, new stores that they feel like they have never been in before. Even if they were here before they will say that this looks like a brand new port. The experience that we would like to create it will allow them to feel comfortable."

And while they can feel transported behind the gates, the complaints are the same as you might expect - which means that while there are more visitors than ever, their dollar is also stretched thinner than ever among competing services:

Roland Blair, Belize Cruise Ship Taxi Tour Guide
"It's getting harder and harder to get the prices. There are several reasons for that; the competition among ourselves which we are trying to work on. We are trying to get together as a team and get a stable price together. It's a little bit hard working competition."

On this day, his group moved about 230 visitors, but he's also competing directly with 5 other companies:

Roland Blair, Belize Cruise Ship Taxi Tour Guide
"It has grown with the number of people coming in significantly especially this year. The prices have dropped significantly, the people either they just don't have the money or they are just don't want to pay the prices. We have the cheapest prices in the cruise business in Belize."

Lily Alamina in the outdoor section has noticed the same thing:

Lilly Alamina, Craft Vendor
"Well right we call it high season, but every year it's been going down - it's declining because if you look out there right now, we don't have a lot of tourists out there. Today we have 3 ships and we are not making it out here. One time I think we had more business, maybe like 5 years ago we had better business than now."

Some business operators though are more circumspect:

Colin Tucker, Wood Carver
"Some days, business is good and some days, business is bad, but you have to learn to practice to keep your money."

Tucker - who used to sell outside on the street says he has cruise tourism to thank for everything he has:

Jules Vasquez
"How you see the whole cruise tourism money in terms as an opportunity to make an end?"

Colin Tucker, Wood Carver
"Well they helped me make a better living. If tourists weren't coming to Belize I wouldn't have a home because first I never made money off this work, so now it's a different situation now in Belize."

And the situation in the village too is changing. Most of the stores are foreign owned and operated as it goes for that marquee finish. The idea, Aharon says it to make his guests feel at home:

Eilad Aharon, Director of Finance FSTV
"Everybody will feel so comfortable to be here, they say I feel so safe, I feel so nice being here, I feel easy to walk around and this is what we would like to achieve. This is our goal to make sure that everybody here they don't feel like oh I arrive to a third world country - no, it's a great place and we are happy to have all these guys here."

So what's the future for the village - and the Belizeans inside? Well, the last survey said that as many as 1800 persons thousand work in and around the village on cruise tourism, and despite doubts, all agree the future's bright.

Jules Vasquez
"If you had a son or a daughter who was asking mom, you think I should go into selling crafts for cruise tourists? What would you tell them?"

Lilly Alamina, Craft Vendor
"Try it, nothing beats a try."

Francis Harris, Belize By Carriage
"There is enough for everybody, we should all be able to make a nice living and show folks our beautiful country."

That estimate of 1800 persons employed in and around the village has been significantly upped recently due to the increase in arrivals.

Belizeans who do not work in the village are prohibited from entering without special permission.

Channel 7