Belizean cruise tour operators, shipping agents and some ancillary cruise tourism industry operators are unsure as to what the new protocols for dealing with cruise ship visitors to the country will mean for their business, but most are uneasy that the impact will be negative.
At a press conference last Friday, Immigration Minister Hon. Godwin Hulse announced what he termed a new protocol for cruise tourists to Belize City. Hon. Hulse told the nation: “Persons who would travel beyond the tourism village would be the ones who would present themselves to immigration for the necessary permission to land. Persons who would remain within the vicinity of the tourism village were ticked-off on the manifest. Effective immediately, that protocol has changed: every single person who disembarks from the cruise ship, the passport of such persons will be reviewed by immigration to ensure that no person has been in the high risk area of West Africa within the last 30 days.”
Hon. Hulse had also announced a ban on visitors from “… Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and any other country the Ministry thinks is affected …” by the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.
Belizean cruise visitors tour operators in particular are openly questioning the need for the new protocols and are convinced that it will have a negative impact on their industry. One operator has opined that it would literally take several hours to check the passports of the thousands of cruise passengers seeking to visit Belize when the ships hove to in Belize’s harbor. The delay would drastically reduce the time visitors have to spend onshore and would preclude many from going on tours.
Neither Hon. Hulse nor any other government authority has said how they intend to address the logistical bottleneck that implementing the new protocol will create.
Coincidentally, the cruise tourism season is all set to kick into high gear this coming week with visits on Thursday by two large cruise ships with nearly 6,000 visitors. Operators are hopeful that their fears and concerns will have been addressed by then.
The prospect of cruise visitors having to wait in line for hours to enter Belize is daunting one. Operators are convinced that few will, and that as a result, their economic prospects will nose-dive.