David Almendarez, president of FECTAB, says the “further development” of cruise tourism in southern Belize through a GoB partnership with Belize Island Holdings spells bad news for Belize City’s tourism dollar.
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. May 12, 2022
Today, representatives of the Federation of Cruise Tourism Associations of Belize (FECTAB) hosted a press conference at which the president of FECTAB, David Almendarez, went to great lengths to condemn the Government of Belize’s current attempts to “explore the possibilities of expansion of cruise port possibilities down south.” Almendarez expressed his view that any such possible move would result in a diversion of cruise ship passengers and revenue from the Belize City cruise tourism hub, to Norwegian Cruise Line’s Harvest Caye destination, owned by Belize Island Holdings Limited, a subsidiary of the mega cruise company, located in southern Belize.
In a Cabinet release issued on April 28, the government mentioned the proposed development.
“Approval was granted by Cabinet for the Ministry of Tourism and Diaspora Relations to initiate a formal process of review of the current definitive agreement between the government and Belize Island Holdings Limited to improve and facilitate the future growth and development of cruise tourism in Southern Belize,” the Cabinet release stated.
While Almendarez said that the government may try to forward this agenda at tomorrow’s sitting of the House of Representatives, there is no indication that there is a motion to introduce any expansion or further development of the Harvest Caye facility at this time.
Almendarez, for his part, cried foul on the part of area representatives on the Southside of Belize City who he suggests are supporting this government decision. He added that persons with ties to big business interests from Southern Belize may be behind this recent push for further cruise tourism development down south. The Harvest Caye facility is located just off the coast of Placencia.
“As far as I know, Placencia has never been a cruise-ship-destined port. I am very good friend with the people from Placencia, and they are upset that this one is there now; now because of some well-connected Southern businessmen who are very well-connected, I could hala names and unu wa know, they have the master plan… It’s a well-designed plan to keep the money inna wa central location, but the saddest part about that, when you do that, the money gets charged by credit card, and when you get charged by credit card, that nuh coh yah, ih nuh benefit we yah, nobody yah. That nuh stay, that goh soh.” Almendarez said.
Almendarez believes that the expansion of southern cruise tourism would result in a decline of the industry in other areas and is calling on the Government of Belize to backtrack from any such possible move. “If the ship they goh down south….everybody goh pan one island; everything control by credit card by that island, everything got a big operator. You know bout H20 Tierra, you know bout Chuckka, you know bout Dark Night, den deh da the bigger people. They wah win! You hear who wah win, they wah win, cause they have the contracted tours with the tour company. We all know they cruise ship wah keep all they money inna they pocket. We at FECTAB, we are not suppose to be here, the private tour operator, we nuh suppose to deh inna the business, we suppose to fall inna line and goh work fi Chuckka and goh work fi Dark Night and they companies; that da weh they wa we do, and I do tell unu open unu eyes. They do sell we out,” Almendarez said.
The Belize Invest website states, “The Eco/Adventure Cruise Port will allow cruise line passengers to experience Belize at its finest on the island that has all the imaginable amenities to pamper the discerning tourist.”
While FECTAB has blasted the possibility of cruise port expansion in southern Belize, one particular cruise project in the Belize District, Stake Bank’s development at Port Coral, has the full approval of the federation, which has at various points publicly defended that mega cruise port development, despite in some instances pushback in some quarters based on environmental concerns. It has been reported that the federation and Stake Bank Enterprise Limited have entered a 25-year arrangement through which members of the federation would be granted opportunities to work at and alongside the Port Coral cruise facility.
“We at FECTAB are proud to tell the nation of Belize, those years ago, not long ago, in fact, we managed, under the last administration, to get a twenty-five years bonafide, guaranteed, contract with Port Coral—access, complete, unfettered access. It was given, I know about it, and so does the president. It was given in great glee; the Feinstein group was happy to do it. And when we showed it to our membership of tour guides, operators, taxi drivers, etc. everybody was quite happy, and thinking only of we are waiting for this thing to happen,” Tom Greenwood, president emeritus of FECTAB stated in an October 2021 interview.
Of note, Act 1 of 2016, the Belize Island Holdings Facility Development Act 2016 ratifies the September 2014 agreement between the Government of Belize and Belize Island Holdings Ltd., and grants cruise port exclusivity to the company in Southern Belize. Section 7 of that legislation states, “During the term of the Agreement, the port facility shall be the exclusive cruise ship port for the Stann Creek and Toledo Districts.”