At last week Friday's budget presentation, Prime Minister Dean Barrow boasted that Belize's cruise tourism sector hit a milestone with over 1 million tourist arrivals last year a first.
And just by those numbers alone, you might think that money would be flowing for cruise tourism guides and business interests. But the local tour operators who work outside the Fort Street Tourism Village are outraged because they say, that for the last month or so, they haven't even gotten crumbs from the cruise tourism pie.
We've featured their plight on this newscast numerous times. These local tour operators outside the FSTV's gates insist that the multinationals are actively trying to discourage tourists from buying tours from them. They accuse these companies of spreading propaganda and fear-mongering to discourage the tourists from seeking out the local tour operators because it is supposedly too dangerous.
And today, these tour operators told us that the attempts to rail-road them have been working quite effectively for the last 4 weeks, preventing all of them from making a dollar for all those days they spent camped outside the compound of the FSTV.
There was a lot of rage and frustration today when we went out to the tourism village to speak with a few of them. Here's how they explained it to us:
Jimmy Robinson - President, Tourism Zone Tour Operators and Workers Association
"It appears that it is something orchestrated from way back, with the cruise lines inside the FSTV port, and some of the major companies. Most of the guests who are not booked, there is a fear placed in them on the terms of coming the outside. On the ships itself, they have been given bad rap about Belize. We know for a fact because those who do come out, and we would take them on tour, the first question they would ask is how safe is it out here."
"And some of our own Belizean people, the sales people on the inside, in as far as telling the guests not to come outside because we have no credibility in as far as documentation is concerned, no tour guide license, which is all of us are licensed guides. We're licensed tour operators. But, again, for a couple bucks, people do some weird things."
"You imagine, we have an insurance policy to pay our tour operator company. We have fees to pay to the BTB for our tour operators license/guide's license. We have insurance for our vehicle. We have licensing fees for our vehicles. We have our families to maintain. We have utility bills to pay, food bills to pay, school, high school and university bills pay, and leaving from the zone with no money."
Karen Rivers - Tour Guide
"What is happening out here? Look at all the tour guides line off, line off. Nobody got a job. If you come out here for a 4 ship day, look at it, Chukka is going on with 200 buses, then the train, she have about 6 booked tours already. You understand. This doesn't make any sense. So, what? We black people aren't supposed to eat? Something needs to be done because what's happening is that Chukka didn't use to take any tour at the beach. Or the train lady, she only used to do trains. Now, she has buses, now she has beach tours that she's taking to the beach. Chukka have beach tour. Chukka have every kind of tours now. What will leave for us? We cannot eat."
Wayne Humes - Tour Guide
"The people them inside the port who are born Belizean, bonafide Belizeans like themselves are criminals who are working on the outside, and not to trust these people. And when you compare your tour guide license with theirs, there is no difference. We are licensed, and they are licensed, but it's just that they get to the opportunity to see these people before these people come on the outside. What they also do, especially, I will fire shots at the people at Terminal 2. When these people at terminal 2 cannot get the job, instead of just leaving these people to walk out, they spoil the job. They will tell these tourists a lot of negative about the people on the outside. And you're a tourist coming to a foreign country. Hey, you will believe what these people are saying, although it's not true."
"The work we have put in out here at the Tourist Village, we have saved the Tourism Board; we have saved the TPU hundreds of thousands of dollars by establishing a disciplinary committee, by policing ourself. You remember back in the day, say 7-8 years ago. It was so bad, a lot of hauling and pulling, and cursing. We got that down now where everybody is disciplined, and if you mess up, you get a 3 days suspension; or to the point where you can actually get kicked out of the association. So, we're very serious what we are doing. BTB kept telling us that the ships were going to pull out if we didn't get our act together. We got our act together, and still nothing. We are not eating. No jobs are coming out."
The local tour operators say that they want to keep up the public pressure for a week or more in the hopes of pressuring the government to take action. Some of the tour operators are considering agitating for government to pass legislation requiring the cruise lines to offer anywhere from 5% to 15% of all possible tour business to the local tour operators.