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Nov 27, 2008

Top tourist spots benefit from $30 million development

Story PictureFour top tourism destinations got a boost this morning when the Ministry of Tourism, Belize Tourism Board and Inter-American Development Bank unveiled a thirty million dollar sustainable tourism development project. The five-year plan has four components: strengthening industry governance with new legislation and structure; planning and zoning; re-energizing the industry with jumpstart initiatives; and expanding the industry, growing capacity through direct government investment, private sector investment, and marketing. Initially, the project will focus on San Ignacio, Ambergris Caye, Belize City, and Placencia. Tourism C.E.O. Michael Singh outlined some of the infrastructural ideas that the ministry has for those areas.

Mike Singh, CEO, Ministry of Tourism
“Most of our will projects focus on the town cores. The reason for that is that we find that many visitors who come to Belize go to the hotels, but they don’t visit the middle of the towns because there is not a whole lot to see. The idea that we have is that we will create town cores that will encourage visitors to not just go to hotels, but they will also enjoy the community and spend more money within the community, they will spend more money at local businesses and contribute more to the economy that way and broaden the employment scope of tourism.”

“One of the things that was identified in the feasibility portion of the project was that San Pedro lacks a proper beach in an unbroken manner. All the beaches are cluttered with docks and piers and there is not a nice wide sandy beach if someone should say I’m gonna go to the beach and go swimming. So we feel that that is important so that is one of the options we’re looking at. The other option we’re looking at is for the development of an entertainment complex on the west side of the island in the area where the football field is to be able to develop and expand it into more of a commercial activity for more events on the island. That area has been named Saca Chispa and I think the minister can probably give you a lot more details on that one. Another component is to develop an Ambergris Caye marine spatial plan which is really a plan to determine how we’re going to use the marine resources in San Pedro to the benefit of tourism.”

“In Placencia, the project components are a village centre improvement program and a disaster preparedness plan. This is an outline as to what the village center revitalization program would look like. It would have several components of landscaping the village, expanding the sidewalk system, focusing on the southern point of Placencia to create a visual plaza with walkways, landscaping, water features, and to build a new dock which will double as an entertainment area with shops and restaurants.”

“The idea is to segment the entire waterfront of Belize and to zone it into areas that will have its own feel, look and its development components. The new city water front area is that area by the new Marine Parade boulevard with the new lands were reclaimed behind the old hospital, that area will be designated as a new tourism development area with its own style and we will designate exactly what type of hotels, what type of attractions, and what will happen in that area. The Heritage Quarter as the area around Fort George is called, is designated as an area that we will preserve the historical nature of Belize City. The third area is designated as the Bay Front area, we are in part of that now and that encompasses the entire harbor, the entire waterfront area around North Front Street, Southern Foreshore, Albert Street, Regent Street, and to create that area into a downtown bay front, more cleaned up area, better sidewalks, better streets.”

“In Cayo there are four components, the San Ignacio Town center urban design strategy. Again, focusing on revitalizing the downtown area of the Cayo District, to develop a Cayo Welcome Center which will become a center for activities for showing off what Cayo has to offer. It will have some commercial activities around it which will also earn money to sustain that center. Again, there’s a component that will pay for an upgrade of the Cahal Pech Heritage and Nature Park to make it more functional, more entertainment capability, more of a showcase for what Cayo and Belize has to offer.”

Singh stresses that the ideas are conceptual and are subject to change.

The I.D.B. provided twenty-six point six million dollars in funding for the project, while the B.T.B. is footing the remaining three point four million. It doesn’t sound like much money for all they want to do, but the stakeholders stress that they can stretch the dalla and make the project come to fruition.

Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism
“It is a matter of how you implement it and who are the people who implement it and also speaking about the amount of money that maybe might not go a long way and so too. Again, it depends who is doing it. Corozal, for instance, we redo the complete airstrip over there for a little less than half a million dollars. Nobody believed that it could be done, but it was done so it depends who does it and how it is done.”

Caroline Clarke, I.D.B. Country Representative
“The I.D.B. itself provided assistance in bringing good practices in two areas: we looked at environmental and socially sustainable tourism and therefore looked at best practices in for example, physical planning, taking into consideration very detailed local conditions, environmental conditions and also looking at what kind of safeguards need to be put in place so that as this progresses we really are protecting our underlying resources. Alsso, with bank financing comes indeed good practices for ensuring accountability of resources so the B.T.B. hiring internal auditor, there will be annual external audits and good reporting on financial performance and the I.D.B. will provide assistance with procurement and the nitty gritty things that really ensures that the money is well spent.”

Tracy Panton, Director of Tourism
“Certainly with the support of the government and that has been tremendous, the experience with the implementation that Belize Tourism Board brings, I am very confident that we will be able to deliver if not a hundred percent of the project, at least eighty percent and that will be time and money well spent.”

The ministry is hoping to start moving on the project in the next two months.

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