Monday’s press release by Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) contained bombshell news – Carnival Cruise Lines seemed to be in the midst of a serious conflict with local tourism authorities including the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) concerning its future here. Ahead of the high season, Carnival informed that two of its ships which make multiple stops in Belize throughout the year would not be calling this year – a total of 14 calls lost out of about 300. So were the reports of millions in lost revenue and imminent trouble in the industry justified and accurate? No, according to Director of Cruise Operations and Destination Planning, Valdemar Andrade, who hosted the press this afternoon. Here is his explanation for the canceled calls.
Valdemar Andrade – Director of Cruise Operation, BTB
“I just want to clarify some misinterpretations because yes, let me first say that Carnival did redeployed two ships which affected our call schedule by 14 calls for 2016. But this is a normal part of our scheduling process. Every year we have a process where they book calls, so they hold certain call positions to ensure that their ships can call on Belize. As you well aware we receive anywhere between 300-350 calls in Belize per annum and so people vie for those positions. We also have a 4 ship schedule policy, so we can only schedule 4 ships a day, so people try to hold their positions for those days especially in high season and so it’s a management issue. So as cruise lines go cleaning up their call schedule, as they come to the end of the year then they want to secure and be sure of which days they have to call whichever destination. So as they cleaned that up they send us which ships they want to remove, which ships they are redeploying, which ships they are deploying to Belize, because they might be moving ships from other destinations to here. Which happens very often. In fact every year this happens.
Andrade says the BTB and cruise lines regularly correspond and other issues mentioned in the COLA press release such as tendering and treatment of visitors coming off the ship are noted but not considered dealbreakers for their continued business here. But the Board is working on changing Belize’s image on the ground in the Fort Street Tourism Village, starting with tour guides.
A major complain that we get is people being bombarded as they exit the Fort Street Tourism Village. They get attacked. Because everybody is looking in trying to make business, whether you are a tour operator, whether you are a hair braider, whether you are a vendor. At the end of the day you want to make some money off the guests that comes here. Remember each guest spend like $75 US dollars in Belize and so what we are doing is we are preparing our stakeholders to have a better approach, to have a better business space, but in an effort also to create a better experience for the guests. Remember, this is a partnership with us and the cruise lines. The cruise lines are not doing this is a demanding way or anything. They are basically saying to us, this is a partnership and can we work together. Remember they make revenues from a tour. They make revenues from a good experience and we also make business from a good experience as well. We create jobs, we create businesses out of that.”
According to Andrade stakeholders are soon to meet on consultations regarding regulations for the million-dollar industry which may become legislation. The Cruise Ship Passenger Tax also known as head tax has been legitimised and the Board’s portion is being used to further fund industry development.