Last Thursday, newly appointed Minister of Tourism Honorable Godfrey Smith and members of the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) visited “La Isla Bonita” and met with Area Representative Manuel Heredia Jr., Mayor Elsa Paz, San Pedro Town Councilors, Ambergris Caye Chamber of Commerce and members of the media. Along with Director of BTB, Tracy Taegar-Panton and Director of Public Development, Anthony Mahler, Minister Godfrey Smith explained that they were trying to find ways in the product development budget to address key destination areas, such as San Pedro, Placencia and the Cayo District. Their main goal was to have meetings with officials and the general public of these areas and to find out how they could better assist with some needed projects. A large group of business owners and citizens took the opportunity to meet the new Minister of Tourism, listen to his views and express their concerns.
The first issue discussed was the Cobblestone Project, which as it seems has been in the “back burner” for quite some while (see Cobblestone streets– a reality! story). Honorable Godfrey Smith agreed that the conditions in which these streets remain during the rainy season are disastrous. Mayor Paz and Honorable Heredia discussed the progress of the project, stating that it was set to begin on February 14th, 2005. With the assistance of the private sector, it is believed that Phase 1 will be completed in six weeks. Although the cobblestones have been purchased with the $150,000 government had granted the town council, the labor, which is set to cost $308,000, has not been fully collected. Mayor Paz explained that they will go ahead, begin the project, and through donations will hopefully be fully completed. Minister Godfrey Smith committed to assisting with an undisclosed amount and also promised to speak to Honorable Jose Coye, Minister of Works, to find out how and if he could render any assistance.
The other point tackled was the marina. Honorable Heredia explained that although three million dollars has been invested into it, it remains unused. “Almost 600 feet of limestone and rock needs to be dug in order to make the marina accessible,” commented Heredia. To dredge the rock, Heredia explained that it would take approximately $200,000. The Port Authority had agreed to donate containers that may be used as warehouses at the marina. These containers will house the goods until they can be delivered to the respective owners. Delivery was another cause of concern since the streets will now be paved. Big trucks would ruin the streets after a long time of use. Alternate measures will be considered and the discussed. Minister of Tourism agreed.
Among the other topics discussed were the sewer system and how it could be extended in order to prevent further contamination of the Caribbean Sea; assistance with the Tourist Information Center; street lights needed on San Pedro and Caye Caulker; the responsibilities of Tourism Police stationed on the island; and the cruise tourism impact on Hol Chan.
Honorable Godfrey Smith, Tracy Taegar-Panton and Anthony Mahler stated that they would look into all these concerns and find the best ways to assist the community. Honorable Smith ended by saying, “I would like to nail one or two at a time. I will be taking a personal interest in the cobblestone project and the finishing off, it is terrible, to have the marina investment is just on the ground and not being utilized doesn’t make sense. So, those two will have my immediate attention along with the sales tax the others will have my personal interests and you will hear from us soon.”
After the hour-long meeting, Honorable Smith gave the public an opportunity to voice their concerns during a question and answer session at the weekly Ambergris Caye Chamber of Commerce meeting. Some of the biggest questions raised were: why doesn’t Belize re-invest in its source of income; the retirement card and plan still in the works; the different fee and different reserved parks; the possibility of forming a welcome committee to greet tourists; and a few others. He promised to take these suggestions with back to his main office and find possible solutions. Smith ended by thanking everyone for their patience and support and said he would return soon.