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May 13, 2008

Cruise ship industry plans vital improvements

Story PictureIt employs a significant number of people, particularly in Belize City, and while it is debatable how much cash the cruise ship industry really leaves in the country, there is no more debate on whether or not we want cruise tourists in Belize. Instead, the issue has shifted to making their experience as mutually satisfying as possible. News Five’s Marion Ali reports.

Marion Ali, Reporting
With cruise tourism an established fact of life in Belizean tourism, those at the helm of the industry embarked a year ago on an initiative to strike a balance between making the almighty dollar and preserving Belize as Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret.

That initiative, supported by the Belize Tourism Board Conservation International and the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, included consultation with over sixty people in four core sectors in the industry. The finished product was presented on Monday in the form of a document called an Action Plan for the Shared Stewardship of Belize’s Natural Heritage.

It includes eight recommendations that seek to, among other things, to establish zoning and regulations for highly visited marine recreation areas, improving city planning and basic tourism infrastructure, implementing a tourism plan for Belize City and restoring historic buildings. It’s a document that Project Consultant for Conservation International, Valerie Woods, explains was long overdue.

Valerie Woods, Project Consultant for Conservation Int’l
“The country has taken on cruise tourism but as many know for many, many years that sort of just grew on us without a proper plan for it. Back in 1996/97, as I mentioned earlier in the presentation, there were just a few, a trickle of cruise ships coming and passengers and so we were not really prepared as a country to take on the half a million that came several years later. What this does is allow us to accept that that’s where we are with visitation for cruise and then to plan for it better.”

But while having the text is one thing, implementing it is quite another. And that’s exactly where the movers and shakers come in.

Manuel Heredia, Minister of Tourism
“We fully endorse the work plan and have agreed to lend financial support for the specific projects and activities identified by you as priorities. To solidify this commitment, the Belize Tourism Board has set aside fifty thousand dollars in its annual budget and work plan for 2008/2009 to support the installation of mooring buoys at highly utilised, sensitive marine sites. We will adopt the process that has led us today in our future planning.”

Laura Esquivel, Dir., Product Development, B.T.B.
“Some of the recommendations are really long-term and they have a lot to do with legislation but the short-term projects, as Valerie and the others have mentioned, there are sub-committees working on these short-term recommendations and these short-term recommendations have really good focus groups for them. There are three main projects, which today two were highlighted. They are the cruise video which will serve to educate the tourists about Belize and about our product and about how we want to ensure sustainable tourism.”

Woods says that, even in this highly competitive global market, if closely followed, the Action Plan should keep Belize among the world’s top tourism destinations … and not just for cruise visitors.

Valerie Woods
“Keep in mind that the areas that we addressed here are not areas visited by cruise, these are areas visited by the overnight sector as well. And so what it does do is ensure that that quality of experience will be improved and enhanced and by extension, yes Marion, it ought to get us yet another level up.”

The recommendations of the Action Plan were formally endorsed by a signing of a Declaration of Commitment by representatives of the relevant parties, including the Ministry, the Working Group and the Conservation Groups and the City of Belize. Reporting for News Five, Marion Ali.

Last year while overnight arrivals increased slightly to over two hundred fifty-one thousand visitors, cruise arrivals dropped almost five percent to six hundred twenty-four thousand. Esquivel says the B.T.B. is currently developing a tourism master plan for the entire country that will focus more on eco-tourism and attracting a higher-end clientele.

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