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Sep 28, 2004

Tourism industry takes a hard look at cruising

Story PictureIn a time of intense financial pressures it’s the only real bright spot in the Belizean economy. Tourism–more specifically cruise tourism–is showing the kind of annual increases that even as recently as five years ago were unimaginable. But while those at the top and bottom of the cruise ship feeding frenzy seek to expand their operations, there are serious doubts being raised about the phenomenon, ranging from the environmental to the financial and even the political. This morning a two day forum on the subject kicked off in Belize City and while the talk remains polite, the battle lines are slowly being drawn.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

The numbers don’t lie…tourism in Belize is making big bucks. In 2003, the estimate was more than a hundred and forty-five million U.S. dollars.

But on the heels of this cash cow is reality’s stench: sites and attractions are under severe pressure to meet rising demands; there’s a clash of expectations between cruise and overnight visitors; and minimal monitoring of natural resources has resulted in negative impacts to the environment.

Mariam Roberson, Belize Hotel Association

?For Belize to have a successful tourism industry in the future, Belize must protect, preserve, and manage our natural and historical resources. Once these resources are pillage, damaged or gone, the cruise ships will stop coming, our overnight visitors will stop coming and our industry and natural heritage including our economy will be gone forever.?

According to the Belize Hotel Association’s Mariam Roberson, the boom in cruise tourism is an area of concern for every sector of the industry. Speaking this morning at the Cruise Tourism Impact Forum held in Belize City, Roberson maintains all agencies must take a positive, healthy and educated approach to formulating a new tourism strategy for the country.

Mariam Roberson

?The growth as we’ve identified has grown tremendously in a very short period of time and that’s to be commended for the cruise sector. But it does have its impacts and the accommodation sector of tourism in general is very concerned about the impacts of that growth. I think what we are looking for is a balance. By having forums like this and bringing forefront the issues and the concerns, we hope to achieve that balance. We are not here to say we don’t want cruise tourism. That’s here; it’s been here. What we are here to identify–it is called the phenomenal growth–what we are calling an unplanned growth.?

Tom Greenwood, Belize Cruise ship Industry Association

?There are serious differences among some of the sectors and of course there are certain concerns that are the concerns of all in the tourism. So this is good. We have no objections whatsoever. We are willing participants and we encourage it.?

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

?As it is now, do you think the growth is uncontrolled??

Tom Greenwood

?I don’t think it is; not yet. So this is why we must meet and ensure that things go well.?

But even as tourism’s movers and shakers meet over the next two days to discuss ways forward, there are rumblings of discontent over a contract signed between the Government of Belize and the Carnival Corporation for the operation of a new cruise terminal in Port Loyola.

Tracy Panton, Director of Tourism

?There is an agreement signed by the government of Carnival Cruise Lines. I believe that was a subject matter two weeks ago at Cabinet. They were certain conditions of that contract arrangement that was of concern and Cabinet has asked for the BTB to lead the way in renegotiating those terms and conditions. I think at the time, the Prime Minister felt that having that investment was in best interest of the country. But we do have to do with in accordance with the policies and legislations that are in place and in terms of looking at our growth management strategies for the future.?

Janelle Chanona

?So that’s signed now? Are you locked into that or do you actually have leverage to negotiate with??

Tracy Panton

?There is some leverage to negotiate with. The BTB is in the process of developing new legislation that will govern the cruise sector. Currently the cruise sector is managed under the Hotels and Tourism Accommodations act. And we believe with this legislation we will be able to put in the correct mechanism to monitor growth and to manage growth and this certainly will give us leverage in negotiating any future or other contract arrangements.?

While some industry observers are less optimistic that the contract can be altered, all sectors of the tourism industry agree that natural attractions are the key to our success in a highly competitive global industry. The trick is how to both exploit and preserve these resources.

Wayne McNab, Belize Hotel Association

?That I think is what is most important that we balance the level of visitation to the level of facilities that we have. We are not saying that the current level of cruise ship arrival in terms of passengers is the right number. It’s the number we have; it’s the number we’re using. But we feel that some additional management; some additional creation of other areas for people to got would help in crowding and making sure that all visitors have a good experience while they are in Belize.?

The two day Cruise Tourism Impact Forum ends Wednesday at the Radisson Fort George and has the support of the University of Belize, the Protected Areas Conservation Trust, the Belize Hotel Association and the Belize Tourism Board.

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