In an effort to sway negative public perception about the impact of their cruise tourism activities in Belize, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) engaged members of the media on a tour of The Norwegian Jewel, where they were afforded an opportunity to take a look at the grandeur of the ship itself, as well as to observe environmentally healthy initiatives which are employed by the company, which plans to unveil a cruise tourism project in southern Belize as early as next year.
Since private tourism stakeholders in the south have constantly blasted the intentions behind the project, NCL found it necessary to publicize how they conduct business on the seas, since they have received the go-ahead from the National Environmental Assessment Committee (NEAC) to proceed with their proposed Harvest Caye project.
The state-of the-art, fully air-conditioned luxury vessel contains 16 decks which hold 11 dining areas, villas and suites, several bars and lounges, a fully equipped fitness center and spa, pools, clubs, arcades, medical centers and a number of casinos, is staffed by over 1,100 crew members from 60 different countries, and has enough space to comfortably accommodate about 2,500 passengers.
The 965-foot long world-class nautical hotel - which represents an investment of $1.4 billion - was launched in 2005 under what the company said were some of the strictest international standards in terms of service, technology, and environmental protection.
Captain Kenneth Harstrom said that the ship was launched 9 years ago, and that NCL has 12 more similar vessels in their fleet, with 2 more being built with plans for full operations by 2017.
The tour was organized in part by the Belize Tourism Board (BTB), and Cruise Destination Director Valdemar Andrade was optimistic, since he noted that approximately $120 million in revenue is generated on a yearly basis to the country from cruise tourism and emphasized that a partnership with NCL will help to increase GDP growth.
He said, "This year, we'll be getting about a million passengers passing through Belize City. On average, we get about 1.3 million visitors to Belize every year. We look at it as incremental tourism. We have a high and a low season, and we look at cruise tourism to bolster the whole economy of Belize. Of course, when you look at 83% disembarkation rate for the Belize City Port, that's about 800,000 people that we will probably be seeing this year going through the Tourism Village, going on tours into the City and into the restaurants, and also buying from the vendors.
"In Belize, we get an average spending from a cruise passenger of about $75 US or $150 BZ a day, and each crew spends about $103 US or $206 BZ a day. Now again, multiply that by 800,000 passengers and you can see the economic impact. In total, the economic impact was about $120 million in 2013. This year we predict about $150 million."
Vice President of Strategic Destination Development of NCL, Colin Murphy, believes that it is important for people to see how the ship is operated, since they will be operating in the country and stated that it provides an opportunity for Belizeans to understand the quality of service which is offered by NCL to its customers.
He said, "We've been coming to Belize since 1998, so we've been here a long time already. We also thought that it was a fantastic destination and a destination that was increasingly popular because there is a brand of Belize that is becoming very well-known in relation to eco-tourism. We felt that it was a destination where we can add something. All we're doing is reinforcing our presence here. We're making an investment in Belize because we believe in Belize. We believe in the experience and really what we're doing is locking ourselves into Belize. We're going to be around for a long time because we're investing here. We're putting our money where our mouth is, and we're going to make a fantastic destination that's really going to showcase the country beautifully."
A Belizean employee who has been working with NCL for the past 6 years and acts as the Gallery Director onboard the Norwegian Jewel is Neil Hall. He shared his experiences and opportunities since working for the international cruise operator.
Hall said, "It is absolutely fantastic. Every day you wake up to a new challenge; most of the time you wake up in a completely different country. You get to experience different foods, different cultures, different peoples, different ways of interacting; and that is off the ship.
"On the ship, you have in excess of sometimes 60 different nationalities on board and you get to integrate yourself into their culture through their special events, through their way of speaking and interacting with you as a person. So it is truly a fantastic opportunity to work on a [cruise] ship."Amandala