MPR Gets A Little TLC

Western Belize has an abundance of natural attractions destinations that tourists pay big bucks to just take in the view.

And as the tourism industry slowly regains momentum, the Sustainable Tourism Project ensures that protected areas are enjoyed safely.

The Ministry of Sustainable Development is responsible for overseeing the project â€" and they've got some big ideas. Courtney Menzies travelled to the Rio On Pools and Rio Frio Cave in Mountain Pine Ridge to see the work being done. She has this story.:

With less than 100 days in office, the Ministry of Sustainable Development is hitting the ground running with its focus on the Sustainable Tourism Project. This project is funded by IDB and CEO Dr Kenrick Williams believes it can be extremely beneficial to Belize's economy.

The fruits of the investment can be already be seen in the Mountain Pine Ridge area and Dr Williams told us more about the Ministry's plan.

Dr Kenrick Williams - CEO, Ministry of Sustainable Development
"What we're trying to do is, through the Sustainable Tourism Program, we are investing in rehabilitating these recreational sites, as part of local and international tourism for Belize. So what you see here at the pools is the deck, the lookout area, and the recreational area, and we've installed bathrooms and other facilities and that is really part of improving the tourism product within these protected areas and we're trying to really scale that up at the national level. I think to improve the quality of tourism in the protected areas so that we can really maximize the economic opportunities in these protected areas. As you can see coming into the Pine Ridge, we've invested in signs, we've invested in these facilities here at the pools, we've invested at the caves, around the Douglas D' Silva area."

And while natural sites contain wonders, they're definitely in need of a little TLC. But that tender loving care doesn't come free â€" and while there's currently no cost to visiting these sites, that may change in the future. But Williams believes that once Belizeans can see the value they're getting, they'll willingly pay.

Dr Kenrick Williams
"We have to be innovative, we have to be very careful with how we introduce it, but I think the quality of the product speaks for itself. When we look at people's willingness to pay, we see they're willing to pay, I think what people want to see is that that money is being reinvested into the sites, that the quality is there, again not just for the international visitors but for the local visitors. So, we are looking at various financing mechanism, so once you pay a fee, we are looking at mechanisms that we can ensure that that money is restored or reinvested back into the sites. Reinvested back into the human presence on the ground, security guards, maintenance and that type of thing."

The Ministry is also responsible for Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management and, following the effects of Hurricanes Eta and Iota, has a lot on their plate. So, we asked the CEO of their decision to put some priority on this project while simultaneously being involved in disaster relief.

Dr Kenrick Williams
"While this investment has come before us, we're really taking on that. We see the importance of overall improving the quality of the tourism product at our various protected area sites, so while this is only an example of one of them, we want to look at that across the country, because we really have to move past this idea of locking up our protected areas, we have to look at the type of product that are available and maximize the economic opportunities from them."

According to Dr Williams, other protected areas within Belize also have the potential to assist the economy in terms of sustainable harvesting, agriculture, and forestry.

In October 2015, the IDB's Board of Executive Directors approved a US$15 million loan facility, and in January 2016, a loan agreement was executed between the IDB and the Government of Belize for this new program.

Channel 7