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Jul 29, 2003

Belize assumes presidency of C.A. tourism body

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Today, Belize officially assumed the presidency of the Central American Tourism Council, with Minister Mark Espat accepting his new role during brief ceremonies this afternoon in Belize City. Espat says chairing the subsidiary body of the Central American Integration System, SICA, will give Belize the opportunity to drive our local agenda, but in such a way as to benefit the entire region.

Mark Espat, Minister of Tourism

“Very shortly there will be an agency opening up in Madrid that will promote Central America as a region, specifically in Europe, specifically to Asia. Right now we get a vast majority of our visitors from North America. We see this as balancing our marketing activity if we can get more visitors from Europe and Asia. In terms of the integration of visitors, issues such as immigration and customs are critical to us, we would like for visitors to have a seamless transition from one country to the other. These are things that have been on the agenda for a couple of years. After last year’s San Jose declaration, they are even more important and we are hoping that we can make a big push during this relatively short period of six months to bring some of those things to fruition.”

Janelle Chanona

“So small, so big, but I daresay so different. How do you go about coordinating a strategy that will suit the countries that are so diverse in what they are offering to a tourist?”

Mark Espat

“Well I think that the reason that integration has become so important is because when one is trying to attract and airline for example, and this is a discussion we’ve had, to have a hub of one of the European airlines somewhere in Central America, perhaps not necessarily in Belize… But the fact is if an Iberia or Air France or British Airways would decide to set up a hub, perhaps in Panama, or Costa Rica, or maybe Belize, then it is easier to service the other nations of the region. When we are taking out marketing advertisements, it is easier to negotiate as a region, because you get more bang for your buck; those are the kinds of practical things.”

Belize took over the rotating presidency from Panama.

One hot issue on the local tourism scene is the controversy over those large catamarans being introduced to serve the cruise ships. The big boats have divided the leadership of the Cruise Ship Association and left many of us with more questions than answers. Are the imported vessels an inevitable development in this growing industry or are they the first step in the elimination of the small boatman? This afternoon, we asked Minister of Tourism Mark Espat which vessel he’s riding on.

Mark Espat, Minister of Tourism

“The issue of the election of officers or the leadership of the Belize Cruise Ship Association or any other association for that matter, from our point of view, we would prefer that there be unity in the private sector. We have always advocated that a strong private sector, a united private sector, is better for tourism, so we certainly don’t support the apparent infighting that is taking place. From our position on the specific issue of the tender boats, the B.T.B. has issued a position against any concession, no such concession has come to Cabinet for any formal consideration, and so at this point it is more hearsay and more public quarrel than I think a quarrel in substance.”

“The Government operates as a team. Our role is to attract the visitors here and to make recommendations, for example to BELTRAIDE, who is responsible for concessions, for example the Port Authority, the Ministry of Communications responsible for licensing vessels and we will discharge that responsibility as best as we know how to and in line with our established cruise tourism policy. And so really, we act as the issues come to us, we have a committee right now that is considering a more macro tourism policy and we will be making that public and sharing it with the industry shortly.”

Former Vice-President of the Cruise Ship Industry Association, David Gegg, has already imported one two hundred passenger catamaran and indicated his intention to bring in several others…a move that has prompted sharply negative responses from other members of the industry, especially the smaller boat operators who contend the vessels would put them out of work.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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