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Dec 16, 2016

Welcome to Harvest Caye: Alcatraz or Paradise?

Almost four weeks after officially opening its multimillion dollar cruise tourism investment on Harvest Caye, Norwegian Cruise Line formally invited members of the local media to visit the exclusive island getaway.  It was our first and likely only invitation to the much talked about location and our news team made the most of the experience.  But, along with the breathtaking sand, surf and world class amenities comes controversy.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano and cameraman Chris Mangar headed south to Placencia and then journeyed by boat to Harvest Caye to bring you the following story.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Welcome to Harvest Caye, a lush island escape for guests of Norwegian Cruise Line who call on the Jewel while enjoying leisure in the Caribbean.  Its emerald green waters, pristine stretch of white sandy beach and a botanical garden, which boasts a cornucopia of tropical plant life, are all features that accentuate the beauty of this tourist attraction.


It’s a sunny day, the sky is clear and from a distance we’re able to make out a very distinct aspect of the island, as we approach journey’s end.  Towering high above the coconut trees, a lighthouse stands magnificently in the backdrop.  Drawing closer, we realize that this coastal beacon is in fact the support structure for a pair of zip lines that span great lengths in either direction.  The Flighthouse, like the sprawling swimming pool elsewhere on this exclusive property, are among many characteristics that define Harvest Caye.


Colin Murphy, Senior VP, Destination Development, NCL

Colin Murphy

“We focused a lot on things that people can do without being charged.  So the pool is obviously a great feature, it’s fifteen thousand square feet.  I’m sure it’s probably the biggest in Belize.  If it’s not the biggest in the western Caribbean it’s close to it.  Even when the big ship is in with four thousand, five hundred passengers, the pool doesn’t seem crowded.  So the pool is a great feature.”


So too is the butterfly farm, a green enclosure that’s teeming with insects of various species.  With equal emphasis on flora and fauna, there’s a lot to see on Harvest Caye, including a terrarium which houses juvenile boa constrictors.


Tony Garel

Tony Garel, Conservationist, Harvest Caye

“When we were developing the island we came across boas on the island.  So this one is actually from the island.  A lot of the offshore cayes have boas on them, as you would probably know already.”


Well-known wildlife conservationist Tony Garel is a member of staff here.  He’s part a group of about two hundred and thirty Belizeans employed directly by NCL.  Jobs on the island are as diverse as they come.


Colin Murphy

“I’m incredibly proud of the team that we’ve created here.  So we have, and when I say we, Belize Island Holdings Limited  which is our operating company, has two hundred and thirty full-time staff, Belizeans working on the island and we also have some in our offices on Malacate.  Our food and beverage concession, ProVisions Belize which is Mr. Bowen has another hundred and thirty and probably there’s another fifty in the retail program.  So there’s close to four hundred locals working on the island.”


Among them is a pair of Maya women dressed in traditional garb.  Together, they have journeyed from the mainland to find work on the island.  Skilled in weaving and basketry, the duo has woven trinkets and other items for sale on the retail floor.


Manuel Heredia Jr.

Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism

“I believe that the livelihoods of the [people of] southern Belize will start to flourish. I believe that southern Belize, with Mr. Wilson, there are at least over sixty persons that are being employed.  The bus owners, I think it’s Mr. Romero from down south who is being contracted by Mr. Wilson to do, all the drivers are Belizeans.  Likewise, if you look at the kitchens over here, Dustin is one from my constituency and I consider him a real San Pedrano.”


The Minister of Tourism is referring to Dustin Bowen.  The celebrated chef is the recognized face of the Riverside Tavern.  Bowen’s business venture is quite similar to his restaurant and bar in Belize City.  The major difference, however, is the scale of the operation that Land Shark has undertaken.


Dustin Bowen, CEO, ProVisions Belize Ltd.

Dustin Bowen

“We were very honored to get the contract and also very aware of the challenge based on the number and the volumes that you’re talking about.  But we’ve had a lot of support coming from Norwegian Cruise Line with their staff, their executive chefs and trainers.  On the same token, Margaritaville, which is a Jimmy Buffet brand, along with Land Shark has brought down a team to help us train and go through these processes to ensure that we are successful in knowing how to handle these volumes and these particulars.”


Notwithstanding the myriad of amenities and highlights on Harvest Caye, the initiative isn’t without its share of criticisms and detractors.  The exotic location has been compared to an island in San Francisco Bay known as Alcatraz, simply meaning that once on the island, tourists are not able to escape elsewhere to enjoy the Belizean experience.  That dysphemism, if you allow other tour operators to tell it, is furthest from the truth.


Thomas Wilson

Thomas Wilson, Tour Operator, H20 Tierra

“We’re the primary tour operator here for the time being. We have five tours here currently, four are on shore and one is a marine tour.  NCL’s tenders brings in the guests in the morning and we put them on buses and those buses take them to various venues in southern Toledo District and there’s one up in the Stann Creek District.  I also have a marine tour that is run off the island.”


Since its inception, NCL has had to contend with industry stakeholders who are intent on seeing the project’s demise.  Having come this far, the company is still under fire from local operators, particularly from the Federation of Cruise Tourism Associations of Belize.  FECTAB maintains that Harvest Caye is robbing Belizean tour operators of their livelihoods.


Colin Murphy

“We’ve been working with the government, with BTB, for years on this project and everyone knows what we were planning to do.  Everybody knew what the start date was and actually, as you know, we delayed this project for a year so the folks in Belize City got an extra twelve months from us than was originally planned and was originally communicated.  So everyone knew what the start was for Harvest Caye if they’re taking passenger bookings for days that the ship, they knew, wasn’t going to be in Belize City.  I don’t understand how that can happen. There are other folks that don’t appreciate what we’re doing or don’t understand what we’re doing but really we are very focused, we’re very guest focused as an organization.  Our first concern always is guest satisfaction.”


Manuel Heredia Jr.

“Apart from the job creation which is the bigger part of what we envisioned, the creation of jobs, we still have our, the same taxes that are collected in the village are being collected over here through the Belize Tourism Board.  So it will be additional monies that will be able to be spent on marketing, not only for cruise but for overnight tourism also.  So there again, we have a substantial benefit that will be deriving from this.  I think it’s four dollars per head that is being paid.”


That is US four dollars per person who disembarks from NCL’s vessels.  The largest cruise ship calling to port at Harvest Caye carries approximately four thousand, five hundred passengers.  That’s about thirty-six thousand Belize dollars in taxes and that’s because on average there are three ships that call to port here weekly.  All things considered: a private investment north of fifty million US dollars, job creation and economic stimulus; is Harvest Caye really Alcatraz or is it Paradise, as its owners describe it?

Isani Cayetano reporting for News Five.

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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