The new reality of cruise tourism in Belize City is unravelling for the worse, especially for those who depend on it within the Tourism Zone. The tour operators, guides and other entrepreneurs who work outside the gates of the Tourism Village are struggling mightily to take home some earning from what was once considered a very lucrative industry. Ever since the relocation of NCL to Harvest Caye a couple years ago, business has taken a downward spiral and many persons who once depended on the ships for their livelihood have had to seek employment elsewhere. Sadly, this number continues to increase by the day.
The efforts by the Belize Tourism Board are lackluster to say the least, and the cruise ships that are now arriving to fill in the gap are not making the situation better. We have all been deceived by our government when they indicated that NCL ships would have still come to the Belize City harbor after the Harvest Caye project was completed in southern Belize.
Another major blunder in relation to the management of this industry is the lack of an adequate berthing facility for these cruise ships in Belize City. Having to use tender boats to bring in cruise ship passengers is like a bone in the throat for these cruise lines. 2016 was the deadline for the government to have remedied this situation, but nothing happened. Norwegian decided to develop Harvest Caye and the other cruise lines now send their worst ships to the city. Besides the negative anti-Belizean propaganda on the ships that continues to affect us in the zone, management inside the tourism village has also adopted this ploy to contain the cruise passengers within the walls of the village. This 2017-2018 high season for cruise tourism is the worst ever since we have been doing business outside the Tourism Village.
The removal of the tour guides from the gates of the Tourism Village and putting them at Marion Jones Sports Complex is just another system that the BTB is trying to implement to create a so-called better guest experience outside the tourist village. The guides were informed about this issue over six month ago. We as tour operators and employers of these said guides have been in several meetings with the authorities to have them reconsider this decision. We have never agreed to this new approach and will continue to defend the rights of the tour guides in the zone as they are a very important component of our business.
The bigger picture however, is the fact that business outside the gates of the tourist village is at an all-time low and it will take the collective efforts of all stakeholders, in particular the authorities and regulators of this industry, to solve this problem. Many jobs have been lost and if nothing is done the Belize City Tourism Zone will become a dead zone as all indications are suggesting at this time.