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Nov 29, 2007

Four ships in harbour mark start of cruise season

Story PictureAfter three weeks of north winds and hard rains, perfect weather has finally returned to Belize…and while last week’s U.S. Thanksgiving holiday is the traditional start of Belize’s tourist season, the warm sunshine and streets crowded with visitors made today feel like the real beginning of big business. But as News Five’s Janelle Chanona discovered, Cruise tourism can be a fickle friend.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
Bright and early this morning, four ships docked in the Belize City Harbour, signally the start of this year’s cruise tourism high season.

And within the hour, thousands of their passengers had set off on foot, by bus and in tour vans to see a little bit of Belize.

On Fort Street, vendors, guides and tour operators were waiting, eager to separate the visitors from their cash. Every sales pitch is different…

…but the serious hustling isn’t one sided.

“I’ll just walk.”

Tour Guide
“I’ll do it for twenty.”

“Okay, he’s going to do it for twenty, the kids are free.”

These slick salesmen are dealing with savvy shoppers…

Janelle Chanona
“You find the tourists deh de get to hustling you down rather than yu deh hustle deh down?”

Enrique Ramos, Vendor
“They deh hustle we down haad. They deh hustle we down haad, right now. They deh try beat we down to fu deh price and we deh try mek they come up to fu we price but it kinda hard, alright, not to bad.”

…and cut throat competitors.

Albert Alvarez, Tour Guide
“Dat da all part ah the game so you have to be smart out yah. We have tour guide mix up with taxi man and taxi going for less all the time so as a tour guide you have to explain to the tourist that it’s more than just a drop, it’s a guided tour so doing that, you have a possibility of getting your price but the price cut to the minimum when yu deh out yah.”

Down the street, the taxi operators have gripes of their own.

Stephen Bowen, Taxi Driver
“Well right now it bad fu we because then they di try keep we out. They done seh they no wah we in deh and thing, check and then you have some of the tour guides weh di tell the people crap bout we weh noh go so same way but den we no deh watch dat. All we come out yah come do da fu mek wah lee money everyday. If I go and get a gun and decide fu rob somebody you wah hear I way out, and they wah want lock me up dah jail and all deh thing. You no wah hear deh de stop me from mek money fu mek I mek I could do wah honest living.”

The hair braiders working on Fort Street also have complaints.

Ruth Smith, Vice President, Hair Braiders Association
“We deh ova dis side. The people deh over that side. They no wah we go ova deh go work. I don’t think that’s fair and our job is negotiation.”

New zoning rules by the Belize City Council have regulated the braiders to one side of the street but the women say the spot is hindering sales.

Ruth Smith
“We noh really like it because presently right now we was over on that side and then they move us and put us this side, between Mirab, where the tourists can’t see us. Whenever they ask about where you do the braids, you have to tell them over there. Over there, where? So we don’t really like that.”

But while the street was teeming with opportunity, Brown Sugar Market Place was a ghost town. Earlier this year, the owners of Brown Sugar and Harbour View filed a claim in the Supreme Court, asking that walls erected by Fort Street Tourism Village, which block the tourists from entering their properties, be removed. The Chief Justice’s decision in the case is still pending.

Christian Riveroll, Manager, Brown Sugar Market Place
“For us to operate we need this wall to come down. That is what we’ve been fighting for and that’s the basis of what we need to get down so that we can enjoy the successes of the industry.”

Janelle Chanona
“If the wall has to stay up by court order what is the backup plan?”

Christian Riveroll
“Our focus is trying to get them off the boardwalk which is the City Council’s plan as well but if that doesn’t work then I guess our focus then has to change to the other side and we have to take other measures, whether it’s more marketing, whether it’s turning local, all of that has to come into play.”

But all the news out of the cruise industry today wasn’t depressing. This afternoon Canadian visitors Celine and Marilou Dupuis stopped by the Yabra Community Centre where they handed out early Christmas gifts.

Celine Dupuis, Cruise Ship Passenger
“It’s a dream for her and for me it is too. I am very happy because I know that I will give something…for us, it’s not very big but if they have a smile, I will be very happy. I’m anxious to give them.”

Before heading back to the ship, the Belize Police Department awarded Celine and Marilou a small token of appreciation.

Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

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