Cruise Industry Armageddon?
We didn't want to do it, so they did it for us. Tonight, all three major cruise lines, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have suspended operations for 30 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
US President Donald Trump said in a Tweet this evening that they did so at his request.
A release from the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation confirmed that the cruise lines are suspending global services for 30 days. The release adds, quote, "the decision of suspension of cruise services was made to prevent the spread of the virus to unaffected populations, countries, and crews." End quote.
It's a massive blow to the region's cruise tourism sector where the losses will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And that will have a direct impact on the livelihoods of the thousands of persons who make their living from cruise tourism. In Belize, where the margins were already razor thin, it is expected to be devastating blow to long suffering small operators, as well as a huge dent to foreign exchange earnings.
This evening, we spoke to Tom Greenwood from FECTAB, and he discussed the grave implications for small operators:
Tom Greenwood - President, FECTAB
"First of all lets deal with Norwegian, they are the ones who move from Belize City to that establishment in the south, Placencia, a move that we did not support by the way, so that will be catastrophic for the operators working there, couple of hundred people working that island and for all of the others both in Placencia and on the mainland - I should say to the west of the development that have been involved in there and it's catastrophic for them. Where the other cruise line is concerned, well that is Belize City. We for saw that, when we saw the cancellation of bookings with tour operators at our level. It was phenomenal over the past 3 weeks or so and it turn to catastrophic. One operator has his tours for next week cancelled, I had something like 28 cancellations of groups in the past 10 days. So we could we Armageddon heading, we're talking about tour operators, then they're tour guides, you're talking about independent movers and shakers within the industry from your hair braiders, right up to those manning their desks of handicraft pain-shakenly made, those who supply the industry. At the top would be the transporters and we have one huge transporter who handles large buses and all those drivers and their families".
"This goes into the tens of thousands, very easily, tens of thousands of people are going to feel the effect immediately of cancellation. It's shaking us to our roots, we knew it, we saw it coming and we sat down and thought well, we're going to have to think our way through this one. One thing I will tell you, I learnt this from the army, is planning ahead, we're going to have to just put our heads together. This is one time Belizeans are going to have to look at each other and say bwai, how can I help you, how can you help me. The one thing I'm looking forward to, in the future as we put the industry back together and with god's help, we get rid of the threat of this virus, is that the agreement signed with the cruise lines is some 30 years old and it's out of whack. I see agreements with other countries, Central America, the Caribbean which far, far outshine the agreement we have. So that is one thing we have to plan as well when the industry kicks over again. The tourism ministry, Tourism Board, government of Belize have to recognize this is the one time, one moment that the good lord has decided, okay, this is bad, let us work our way out of that but here is a chance to put this industry in the hands of everybody, not just one or two players."
And while Greenwood spoke for the small operators, we also got comment from Valerie Woods, Country Manager for Chukka Tours. She said, quote, "this is a historic first in the history of tourism in Belize with many implications: legal, Labour, social security and several others. We are currently in several meetings sorting through and not in a position to comment on the full extent of these implications." End quote. She added, quote, "Belize will rebound but until we get there it will be challenging for all in the industry, but the industry will survive."