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Oct 30, 2008

Tourist resorts facing cancellations due to flood waters

Story PictureBy now you will know that all flood-prone areas around the country have been affected by Tropical Depression sixteen. There have been many stories to tell of how the floods have affected life and property in the cities, towns and villages. And today a News Five team travelled north and west for a first hand look at how the tourism sector is faring. Arrivals in the first part of this year were down point six percent and from what we found out today, major tourist spots along the Northern and Western Highways are taking a beating from the floods. Most of the resorts along the Ladyville, Lords Bank and Burrell Boom areas have been shut down by rising waters. Heading west, some tourist sites are operating, but not at their normal pace and the story is not as grim. Marion Ali reports.

Marion Ali, Reporting
Owner and Manager of Black Orchid Resort or Belize R Us in Burrell Boom, Douglas Thompson, says the flood has been devastating to his business in more ways than one and so far, he has lost tens of thousands of dollars in one week.

Douglas Thompson, Owner, Black Orchid Resort
“We’re in the process now of cancelling or refunding monies to folks that are on their way or were on their way to Belize. I guess some of them are still gonna be coming. And so in that sense it’s extremely devastating. For our employees, we have approximately eighteen employees full time and obviously they cant be working now; the entire operation is shut down, in addition to lodge crew that’s been working on construction site for us, that’s all shut down.”

But at least for one employee, Evelena Dawson, who cooks at Black Orchid Resort, the water has not inundated the top floor of her house. And that can happen anytime but Dawson is now taking the time off from work as vacation and is also volunteering to transport schoolchildren in her small boat.

Evelena Dawson, Cook, Black Orchid Resort
“Give yoh wah lee off from work. We feel a little bad but we can’t do nothing bout it.”

Marion Ali
“You have had no job for the past week and by all estimations around here, it will be another three weeks or a month. How will you do, I mean no income and you have children, you have a family.”

Evelena Dawson
“I still wah mek it. I have a little. I always put a little thing on the side so I’ll make it. We eat whatever we have to eat, we noh have to eat nothing. I tell Mr. Doug this morning breakfast dah whatever yoh find.”

Marion Ali
“How long has it been this way for you; no jobs at all?”

Douglas Thompson
“It’s a week now since we evacuated the folks that we did have here. We sent them out to Belize City.”

Marion Ali
“So you had tourists here that had to be taken out?”

Douglas Thompson
“Oh yes, we had to take them into Belize city and we have pumps or functioning parts that are not going to be able to work after this is done.”

But before the whole thing is done, Thompson estimates he will lose big business in the not too distant future.

Douglas Thompson
“In the next three weeks we have a huge group that is scheduled to be here of over thirty-four people and I don’t see right now based on the water still coming up that we will be able to handle that. So that will be a major hit for us but again, it’s a part of doing business, it’s a part of living with nature and it’s a beautiful site even as it’s flooded. But the reason we’re on the river is because of all the benefits of being on the river.”

Marion Ali
“This is one of the disadvantages.”

Douglas Thompson
“Yeah, whenever it’s good there’s a bad, there’s an opposing factor so it balances.”

Meanwhile, out at Jaguar Paw six miles off the Western Highway at mile thirty-seven, Cave Tubing Tours has cancelled all cave tubing tours for at least another few days.

Jose Garbutt, Gen., Mgr., Jaguar Paw Jungle Tours
“It put a standstill on everything, tours coming in for overnight stay, for day tours, or people just coming in from San Pedro. Everything just went on hault.”

Marion Ali
“For how long?”

Jose Garbutt
“Right now going for about three weeks now and still we’re trying to recover from it. Just today we started getting back more tourists; just a few one and two coming in to try and do the tour but as of right now we still haven’t opened back our caves because the water was still too high.”

Marion Ali
“Okay, how long you think before business will be back too normal?”

Jose Garbutt
“Hopefully, in the next two to three days. Everyday we monitor the river to see the level and to see if it’s safe enough to take our guests in there. Right now, the government has opened back the caves since yesterday but we haven’t taken tourists into the caves because we feel that it is not that safe yet. It’s a heavy, heavy loss, especially when it comes to the cruise ship industry. We have cancelled, I would say, roughly about over eighty-five thousand dollars so far in three weeks. It’s a very heavy loss because we can’t do any tours for our hotel guests, we can’t do any tours for guests just coming in, we can’t do anything for the cruise ship industry as well.”

The flood has also affected visitors to the Belize Zoo at mile thirty-one on the Western Highway and water trips to Backa Bush Tours. But while it has devastated the tourism businesses in the affected areas, we discovered on our return trip that many people had taken advantage of the rising waters to fish for tilapia.

And while they do that, Douglas Thompson is also keeping a positive mind towards the whole ordeal.

Douglas Thompson
“As soon as the water is low enough we will start cleaning up and training and ready to go. so it’s gonna be probably a month before we reopen but when we do we’ll make a big splash, we’ll have a big grand reopening and move forward.”

Reporting for News Five, Marion Ali.

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