BTIA AGM - a meeting with renewed spirit-Chairman of BTB pledges financial marketing assistance

The new BTIA Board - From left to right, President Susan Fuller; 1st Vice President Alexander King; Mundo Maya representative Maria Vega; 2nd Vice President Mike Panton and Treasurer Teresa Parkey. Not pictured is Secretary Jack Nightingale of Toledo, who had to catch the last airplane home.

The Annual General Meeting of the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) was held at the Fiesta Hotel in Belize City on Saturday, June 14, 1997. Guest speaker for the occasion, Minister of Tourism and the Environment, Honourable Henry Young recalled the efforts of his ministry to address the problems affecting the tourism industry and the tourism product of Belize. Young said most of the complaints from the industry were with regard to high taxation. He reminded hoteliers that when he took office there was a fear that hotel taxes would be increased from 6 to 9%. "I agreed to hold the tax at 7% for as long as we could. Four years later it is still at 7%. Belize has relatively low taxation compared with other Caribbean destinations, in the Bahamas hotel tax is 12%, in Barbados 10% plus VAT, all of Central America has a higher hotel tax rate."

With regard to lower tourism arrivals, the Minister said the methods of counting were unreliable and that 1996 statistics were inaccurate and unreliable. This was attributed to the Immigration Department's method of recording business travelers and tourists, and a small portion of hotels that are not reporting their taxes (occupancy rates).

"With eco-cultural tourism as a cornerstone of the Belize tourism product it is difficult to justify increasing the length of the International Airport's runway," the Minister said. "Longer runways mean mass tourism - bigger planes, more expense for fire departments, hospitals, etc. The extra expense will not help the industry." Young announced that a mid-July conference to resolve problems with the airlines serving Belize was scheduled. "We have to show them we have a better product." The carrying capacity has to be addressed. The high cost of getting to Belize on the airlines exceeds getting to London and Canada. "Why is it more than $400 just to cross the Gulf of Mexico?"

"We are supporting the new tourism organization that has formed because they feel born Belizeans are not getting a fair share in the industry, I would prefer that this problem be addressed by affirmative action. There is only one type of Belizean - whether they come from abroad or are born here."

The Minister said there was much to be accomplished. Standards in the hotel industry need to be implemented, and a waste management plan needs to be established to find a solution to "this God-forsaken plastic".

On the Ministry's agenda are nationwide tourism university courses and national promotion of tourism. "Over the past four years we have established centers and museums in Santa Rita Village, the Corozal Museum, the Orange Walk Center, the Belize City Marine Terminal, Cayo Information Center, Government House Museum, Cahal Pech Center, Punta Gorda Visitors Center, the Punta Gorda Beacon, San Pedro Visitors Museum and the Xunantunich Visitors Center. We will circulate a list of these accomplishments so Belizeans will know. Some of the press spends its time attacking personalities instead of addressing issues and accomplishments."

Mrs. Yvonne Hyde, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Development brought an encouraging message. "Tourism holds the greatest potential for the development of Belize," she began, "however, it has to be accomplished with a public/private sector partnership."

Government has actively been providing the infrastructure for growth and development in tourism. Capital investments have been made to provide water and energy, improving the International Airport and the paving of the Southern and Hummingbird Highways. Studies are underway to safeguard the environment, to develop solid waste management, and a $25,000 grant has been awarded for assessment of the tourism industry. Mrs. Hyde spoke extensively on programs available for small businesses to access DFC funds to expand and improve.

Outgoing president Paul Hunt thanked the outgoing board of directors for their service over the past year. "The circumstances were unusual to say the least. There were two over- riding factors - 1. the members were upset by events and wanted the dust to settle and secondly even before we started this crisis year - we knew it would take a tremendous effort for the association to maintain itself. We are now just beginning to see the effects of our struggles. BTIA is a national resource."

The 1996/97 board of directors was dissolved and nominations were accepted for officers. Susan Fuller was elected president. Serving as 1st vice president with emphasis on finance and marketing is Alex King; Mike Panton was elected to 2nd vice president to head membership; Jack Nightingale was elected secretary; Teresa Parkey will serve as treasurer and Maria Vega was elected Mundo Maya representative.

Also on the agenda was a discussion relating to proxies and organizational review. A motion to limit the number of proxies per member was tabled at the last AGM. A resolution to vote on the issue was to have been presented, however, the Association's by-laws state that if such resolution is made, a meeting must be called no earlier than fourteen days and not later than 30 days to ratify. As the discussion regarding proxies came up late in the evening and many had left due to transportation schedules, the matter was not voted on. The new board will determine how the matter will be dealt with. (Due to space constraints, the concept proposal for re-organization and the discussion will be printed in its entirety next week.)

Following the election of officers, Chairman of the Belize Tourist Board, Santino Castillo congratulated the new officers and pledged financial assistance toward BTIA's marketing efforts. Castillo received a standing ovation from the membership.

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