Last night on UNCUT, the guest was Tourism Minister Anthony Mahler and host Jules Vasquez asked him about all things that fall under his ministerial portfolio, which includes Belize's cruise tourism future.

Previous guests such as Prime Minister John Briceno, and Ministers Abner Andre Perez and Roswell Ferguson have all shared their opinions on the 3 mega cruise port projects that are jostling for prime position in the Belize District. So, Jules asked Mahler about which of the 3 he supports. Here's that part of their extended conversation:

Jules Vasquez
"Where do you stand on this? Which of the 3 existing projects do you support?"

Hon. Anthony Mahler - Minister of Tourism & Diaspora Relations
"I support creating an enabling environment for investors to - I knew you would do that (laughs)."

Jules Vasquez
"You are dodging."

Hon. Anthony Mahler
"No, no, that is what government should do, create an enabling environment whereby the private sector is enabled to invest and thrive, building the economy, and that's through partnership. I believe if the numbers are right, and I believe, from talking to cruise executives or so, or over the last year, the western Caribbean can blossom during this time of COVID. We're already seeing the interest. The numbers are going to grow as we move forward, and I believe that there is an opportunity for more than one cruise port to be built in the Belize District."

Jules Vasquez
"Seriously, okay so..."

Hon. Anthony Mahler
"All the contracts that I've read, starting at the original Fort Street contract, to all the other ones, have outlined the requirements for 2 additional cruise ports, including the FSTV."

Jules Vasquez
"Okay, so the Government put out a position paper saying that Waterloo can't happen."

Hon. Anthony Mahler
"Well, as a result of the environmental issues, but what if you are able to move past the environmental issue?"

Jules Vasquez
"I hear you on that, sir."

Hon. Anthony Mahler
"But listen."

Jules Vasquez
"But, I'm saying the document put out by the Cabinet had already heard all those environmental workarounds those environmental workarounds."

Mahler Proposes Stake Bank As Short Term Solution

And coming out of that dodge, the Tourism Minister did give an interesting answer about the Stake Bank Port Coral Cruise Port, which the Feinstein group is currently building at this time. According to Mahler, the completion of this project could prove to be a major strategic benefit to the country's push to scale up cruise tourism - in the short term.

He explained the logic:

Hon. Anthony Mahler - Minister of Tourism & Diaspora Relations
"I'll say this from a professional standpoint, no personal interest in any of the projects or anything, I believe that Stake Bank is crucial for us during this period. It provides an opportunity. The cruise lines set their itinerary in 2 to 3-year cycles. This will enable us to - if they are able to finish the project sometime next year, or early 2023 - I'm hoping it's next year. Then, that allows us to go aggressively after some new itineraries into Belize. And then, as we continue to build out the infrastructure, what a cruise port does is 1, you have the ships being able to dock. So, people can come off and on the ship multiple times. They can stay longer in port, safer for people. At some point, we may be able to home port, but in cruise, we're not just talking to the mega cruise lines. We're talking to very luxurious types of smaller cruise ships that are based on luxury, and we believe that we can attract a few of those as well. In terms of yachting as well, we were in Fort Lauderdale, and we believe that we can get some of the mega-yachts that rent for 150 to 200 thousand, maybe 300 thousand US a week to stay in Belize for 6 months to a year, and then they sail back out, attracting a high-end clientele."

Jules Vasquez
"So, you're saying that Stake Bank has strategic importance, but they don't have any signed agreements with the cruise lines - with the major, the big 3."

Hon. Anthony Mahler
"Well, I've talked to them, and -"

Jules Vasquez
"You've talked to Stake Bank or the lines?"

Hon. Anthony Mahler
"The lines - well, both, and in fact, I believe that agreements will be made in due time."

So, what about those controversial causeways that make up a part of the project. It is still unclear whether Ministry responsible for the Environment will give the Feinstein Group the necessary environmental clearance to build them. Without those causeways, the shore-side berthing of cruise ships would take place only at the Port Coral Facility. If guests want to visit the Belize City mainland, they would still have to be transported via tendering, which is a regression to the current system at the Fort Street Tourism Village. The Minister was asked about that, and here's his response:

Jules Vasquez
"Without a Causeway?"

Hon. Anthony Mahler - Minister of Tourism & Diaspora Relations
"Without a causeway."

Jules Vasquez
"Because then that reintroduces tendering to get the mainland because only a small percentage come and want to stay on an island, however lovely that island will be."

Hon. Anthony Mahler
"Well, Belize is known as a tourist destination. We have some of the most exotic tours in the Caribbean, and that's what we're - we're not a shopping destination per se, but for tours, we are high up there in terms of ranking."

Jules Vasquez
"So, at Stake Bank, they would still have to get back on a boat and be tendered into Belize City. So, that's your vision. How does that make sense, Minister? You know this tourism -"

Hon. Anthony Mahler
"Well, it's not my business. I'm not building anything."

Jules Vasquez
"Yes, but I'm saying the vision incorporates a causeway. No causeway -"

Hon. Anthony Mahler
"But, it still can work. It still can work in the short term."

Jules Vasquez
"In the short term. They are investing hundreds of millions of dollars."

Hon. Anthony Mahler
"Well, I mean before you invest that, you have to do your due diligence right? And so, as I said, the Government is to create an enabling environment. If he believes that - or the investors believe they can make off their investment, the way it is, then they do so. If they need to make necessary adjustments, they'll have to do so."

Channel 7