Tourism Village concept shrouded in secrecy ... Caracol declaration results

Press Release - Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) - Belize City - March 31, 1998 at the Caracol Room of the Radisson Fort George Hotel, the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) and its affiliates and supporters including the Belize Eco-Tourism Association, Water Taxi Association, Belize National Tour Operators Association, Belize Hotel Association, The Belize City Council, The Belize Audubon Society, interested stakeholders, members of the public and Belize Tourist Board convened in general session.

The meeting was a response to an outcry from the private sector for involvement in planning and decision-making for proposed developments within the country, especially to obtain reliable information to dispel unsettling "rumors" which were being circulated about the Marine Terminal and the proposed Tourism Village and the Cruise Ship Port. This concern had been expressed at the BTIA Third Quarter General Membership Meeting of March 21, 1998 at which time the BTIA Board of Directors had been charged with investigating and reporting findings to its members and the public on March 31, 1998.

BTIA had been informed by officials of the Belize Tourist Board that the rumors of this occurring had arisen from purely speculative discussions by a member of the BTB staff. That in fact these discussions with various individuals were simply the ideas of one person which had not even been considered significant to have been presented to the Belize Tourist Board. The Chairman of the BTB affirmed that any discussion which involves the Marine Terminal will include the stakeholders prior to any further developments. It will be recalled that the BTIA holds a ten year contract until 2006 with the BTB for the management of this facility.

Those assembled requested that, at the minimum, the individual responsible, be required to send a letter of apology to Marine Terminal staff and Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association who felt they had been insulted and threatened in the process. In other boating matters, the new Draft Statutory Instrument for Commercial Craft and Watersport Activities met with much objection.

To date, efforts by BTIA to discuss the proposed plans and to gain documentation from official sources for the proposed Fort Point Cruise Ship Terminal have been unsuccessful. Directors of BTIA and BTB met with Ms. Marisa Quan and Mr. Nick Coye of the Belize Port Authority (BPA) with BPA's position at this meeting being there is no written information to be had and that the first draft of the feasibility study being conducted by the Lugano Group from New Orleans is not due until two weeks time.

Through other sources and by testimonials at the March 31 meeting, BTIA has now established the following: Plans exist for the Fort Point Cruise Ship Terminal/Tourism Village dome by the Lugano Group dated August, 1997. Architects preparing the blueprints are identified as Guerra Consulting Architects. In Miami on January 15, 1998 a Belize delegation organized by the Belize Port Authority met with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association to promote the project that they now claim to know nothing about. The Belize Audubon Society (BAS) brought attention to the fact that title to the land they are currently occupying in the Fort Point area had last year also been issued to BPA within the Cruise Ship Terminal Tourism Village Plans. The Lugano Group Plans show that the property of the BAS is to be converted into parking lots. Further confirming that there is some Fort Point Cruise Ship Terminal/Tourism Village Proposal, the BTIA read in its entirety a written communication bearing the signature of the Minister of Tourism and the Environment, soliciting larger tenders for cruise ship passenger transport and announcing ground breaking of the project to commence May 1998 for a Cruise Ship Port similar to that just completed in Barbados. This date was confirmed in the Prime Minister's Budget Speech regarding ground breaking ceremonies in May 1998.

The BTIA is currently amassing these materials to present to its members and the public. The Caracol group demands that the Government of the day require BPA forthwith to involve stakeholders in the discussions and plans for this very important undertaking. The Caracol group insists further that copies of any documentation of these plans be made public before they are approved and that the BPA cease and desist from any commercial tourism activities outside its jurisdiction. Evidence is now emerging that BPA has used its office to extract privileged information from the tour industry and had at the meeting with FCCA circulated a brochure advertising its tours to undersell existent operators who had, in confidence, supplied insider information.

BPA's mandate is to build ports and ensure public safety in the maritime sphere. The Belize Port Authority has shown that it has no expertise whatsoever in the Belize National Tourism Policy of Eco-cultural Tourism which has as one of it guiding principles: involvement, consultation and ownership by local communities. BPA must account to taxpayers whose resources it is spending by making these plans public.

The Belizean public needs to be aware that there is every chance that BPA will be privatized someday. It is also known that BPA has requested that the Government of Belize grant them 3 acres of land on many pristine islands of Belize even those in nationally protected areas.

The tourism industry is a vital and sensitive one, and we strongly advise the Government of Belize to exclude tourism from any free trade agreements until such time that there is a tourism plan for the country of Belize that the public and private sector can agree upon and until such time as Belizean authorities have the resources for effective monitoring and enforcement of national regulations.

Already there is a mushrooming problem whereby foreign operators are allowed unfair rights and privileges within Belize which the Belizean operators cannot enjoy. Guatemalan and Mexican operators are being allowed to guide in this country, bring their own fuel duty free (atop their vehicles), import their own food and soft drinks and are using Belize as a connection to other destinations outside of Belize. Although these entries boost tourist arrival numbers, Belize gains nothing but loses revenue from fuel, food, drinks and tours and adds to the cost of road repairs which Belizean tax dollars pay for.

Therefore, for Belizean tourism not to be "sold out" the Caracol Assembly endorses the idea of a moratorium on additional foreign tour companies operating within Belize. In the interim, Belizean authorities must start taking their responsibilities seriously and enforcing existing Belizean laws impartially.

The Caracol Group wishes to congratulate the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their tenacity in dealing with the matter of the Sapodilla Caye Range and the Aboard Magazine. However, it has now come to our attention that both Guatemala and Honduras have been including the Sapodilla Caye Range as Marine Reserves on their tourist brochures and maps as belonging to each of these countries. We hope that these matters will be handled with the same vigilance as the past.

The group also calls upon the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to revoke the dual citizenship of those persons belonging to countries that do not recognize the sovereignty of Belize. We are aware that there are tour guides from such countries that bear dual citizenship with Belize and have gained tour guide licenses using their Belizean passports.

The BTIA Toledo representative identified grave occurrences in the south with fears of unplanned and unbridled development destroying the area in the near future.

The Caracol Assembly agreed that the Government of Belize and the pertinent agencies be exhorted to conduct comprehensive reviews of these developments with special concern for the Archaeological Site at Wild Cane Caye, the World Heritage Site status of Frank's Caye, the environmental fragility of West Snake Caye, the Belizean sovereignty over the Sapodilla Cayes and the true motives behind the Golden Stream Corridor Project and Belize Lodge and Excursions Development.

Major concern was expressed about law enforcement especially the fact that a select few are always exempted by the "discretion of the Minister". The group called upon the Government to remove the term "discretion of the Minister" from the laws as the ability to override all sound technical advice and legal requirements lent itself to abuse and exploitation. The laws of the land should apply fairly to all.

BTIA and the Caracol Assembly will forward letters to the relevant Ministries for these issues to be dealt with. The BTIA shortly will be submitting to all political parties a unified Tourism Industry Policy. The BTIA and its affiliates are prepared to work with the political parties which give this plan their highest recognition and which display a genuine effort to work with the private sector and people of Belize. The Board of Directors of BTB was commended for their continued willingness and openness in regards to private sector participation. The next meeting slated for April 15, 1998 will include an update to the general public, further necessary action to be taken, and the presentation of a draft of the plan which will be sent to the political parties.

The stated positions and recommendations are supported by the Members of the following organizations, representing over 1000 persons: Belize Tourism Industry Association, Belize National Tour Operators Association, Belize Hotel Association, Belize Eco-Tourism Association, Belize Audubon Society, Belize Water Taxi Association, Belize National Tour Guide Association, Belize City Council, Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association, Marine Terminal Taxi Association, Fort Point Planning Committee.

Tourism Village concept shrouded in secrecy ... Caracol declaration results

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