There's big news coming out of the cruise tourism industry tonight - even bigger than last night's bombshell that NEAC has rejected the Waterloo EIA proposal.

7News has confirmed that one of "The Big Three" cruise lines, the Royal Caribbean Group has signed up as a partner with the Port of Magical Belize. In the race to decide which port will control the cruise future of Belize - a bonafide, signed commitment from one of "The Big Three" is seen as the gold standard - and by proof of this letter which 7News has obtained from government sources - Port of Magical has positioned itself as the frontrunner.

The letter dated November 21st and signed by Royal's VP of Destination Development says, quote, "Royal Caribbean - abbreviated as "RCG" - has decided to back and partner with Portico Enterprises Ltd and Boskalis International on the Port of Magical Belize...(which) has proven to encompass the adequate environmental and operational criteria required for RCG development involvement and investment…." End quote.

It's of important note that Royal Caribbean currently owns 49% of the Fort Street Tourism Village and the letter adds, quote, "RCG commits that Magical Belize will be the exclusive development project and port of entry for RCG amongst Waterloo and Port Coral. RCG will offer no support to these competing developments. RCG must honor its current fiduciary responsibility to FSTV and at such time that the concession is no longer valid or FSTV is no longer a port of entry, all RCG ships will transition to Magical Belize."

So, there it is - a concrete development whose significance cannot be overstated in Belize's uncertain cruise future. The letter also notes that the ships Royal Caribbean will be sending to Belize are Oasis and Icon class, massive vessels which cannot tender at the current FSTV. Under this arrangement, they would be berthing directly at the Port of Magical Belize.

It's a coup for Portico's developers - who were seen for a long time as the least likely to emerge in the race between Port Coral, Waterloo and the Port of Magical Belize. But quietly, lead developer David Gegg has navigated between two governments, first getting an MOU from the UDP in 2017, and then an EIA approved under the PUP in 2021. Little known is that the project also got a "Definitive Agreement" under the UDP, signed one month before the election in October of 2020.

So, what's next? Well, a Memorandum of Understanding now has to be signed with Royal Caribbean and its new partners. The project, in the southern Belize District near Northern Lagoon will cost an estimated 355 million US dollars, and is slated for completion at the end of 2025. Developers say it will create five thousand jobs.

As we said at the top, this radically changes the state of play in the cruise sector, where the race to be the chosen cruise port has been intense. But even with Waterloo getting a firm NO from NEAC, and Port of Magical now getting a signed commitment from a major cruise line, we'd say the fight for cruise supremacy still has a long way to go in the courts and in the corridors of power.

Channel 7