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Jul 22, 2004

Cruise ship departs: no buses for tours

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Pay attention to all the press releases and you know that cruise tourism is the fastest growing economic activity in Belize. What you don’t always hear, however, is that behind the scenes it is an arena of high stakes poker with ever changing rules, shifting alliances and enough backstabbing to fill Lord’s Ridge. Today that combination of greed and mistrust at the highest echelons of the industry led a Carnival Cruise ship to say “anchors aweigh” as it pulled out of the harbour as it arrived, its over two thousand passengers unable to visit Belize. The reason?: no buses for their tours. The explanation? That’s what I’m still trying to figure out.

Patrick Jones, Reporting

The relationship between BELITUR and Novelo?s Bus Line Limited has deteriorated to a point where all their communication is on paper. This morning it hit another bump in the road, which left dozens of buses parked at the Tourism village and hundreds of tourists unable to go on scheduled tours. According to General Manager of the beleaguered Novelo’s bus company, Robert Garcia, BELITUR’s regular request for fifty buses came in on Wednesday morning. But before Garcia could respond to the first request, another order came in, this time for sixty buses, with additional stipulations.

Robert Garcia, G.M., Novelo’s Bus Line

“We subsequently wrote to BELITUR saying that with the condition that the buses must have fire extinguishers and first aid kits on board, each MCI then there are zero buses available. Please advice. We waited until the end of the normal work day and we had no such response.”

Still anticipating a last minute approval from BELITUR’s General Manager, Derryl Bellini, Garcia says all the drivers and other work crew showed up at four o clock this morning, ready for dispatch. Five hours later, the phone lines between the offices of BELITUR and Novelo?s Bus Line were silent. Garcia says it was clear from the get go that this was an orchestrated attempt to make the company look bad.

Robert Garcia, G.M., Novelo’s Bus Line

“At any rate we did not get the advice from BELITUR as to what we should do. I had suspected that there is indeed some mischief afoot. And I had expected for this to become a media event.”

“At four o’clock in the evening, it was near impossible to provide or to meet those conditions. There is no way we could have found all those fire extinguishers and first aid kits. And indeed the timing was as bad as one could get it. However, from when we took over the company on fourth March, the buses were being provided under the same type conditions and in fact in an even more enhanced condition than they were on fourth March.”

And while Garcia was diplomatic in his assessment of the situation, the Receiver appointed by the financial institutions that foreclosed on Novelo’s, Kevin Castillo claims to know the source of the sinister move.

Kevin Castillo, Receiver

“Although we have made major effort to move forward and we are moving forward, there are some elements within our community that continues to try to bring the bus company down. You all will recall quite vividly of course the sabotage of our eight buses in Benque. We have dealt with that situation and we have brought those buses back up. Here is another situation that is occurring whereby, it is my belief that we are confronted with a problem whereby, somebody has an agenda to bring in fifty buses and so what they are doing is to try to make Novelo’s Bus Line limited look bad in the face of the people who are providing the cruise ships to Belize, so that those fifty buses can get the permission to come into Belize.”

Castillo would not divulge the name of the person or persons who had enquired about purchasing buses from Marco Polo, but said that Novelo’s has adequate buses to provide services to anyone who requests them. BELITUR’s public relations officer Ismael Garcia says the notion of anything underhanded by his company simply does not add up.

Ismael “Miley” Garcia, P.R. Manager, BELITUR

“I can’t understand how you would want to do mischief on a day when you already have a ship in the port when you have paid up in advance forty-three thousand dollars for the bus services when you have ordered from your people who provide and your caterers. In fact as we speak we are now distributing some of the food that was prepared to some of the homes for the needy; prepared twelve hundred plates of food. I don’t think anybody who was intent on doing mischief would go through all those pains just to create mischief. This thing is business for us and when you look at it, at the end of the day BELITUR lost a whole lot more than Novelo?s Bus Line today.”

While estimates are that BELITUR lost in excess of a hundred thousand US dollars, Garcia concedes that the cost to the country’s tourism product was much more, and all because of a simple communication breakdown.

Ismael “Miley” Garcia

“The truth is that when we sent in payment a little after three o’clock in the evening, we sent this note along with it. On our records you will see there is a correspondence on April twenty-eighth in which we had requested the same thing. So to ask for it in this letter was not like an unusual request or a sudden demand that we were making. It was just in an attempt to be consistent with the standards that is required by the Cruise lines. And so we didn’t take it to mean that everything hinged so much on those last two words.”

Patrick Jones

“Would it be safe to say then that a simple miscommunication ended up embarrassing the entire tourism industry today?”

Ismael “Miley” Garcia

“Patrick yes, and it is very unfortunate. We at BELITUR we regret very much the inconvenience. We were hurt, we’ve lost a lot of money today, there is a lot of other people out there who are affected.”

The damage caused by today’s fiasco is not expected to be long lasting, but the incident does show just how cutthroat Belize’s cruise industry has become. The primary danger of this situation is that when local tour operators create a situation of instability it makes it easy for the cruise lines to create their own operations, further reducing the already meagre level of Belizean participation.

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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