NCL representatives describe the benefits of the Harvest Caye project

Harvest CayeNCLThere has been much hullabaloo about the proposed project for an island eco-park at Harvest Caye in the South Stann Creek District. The Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Belize and Belize Island Holdings Limited, the official owner of Harvest Caye and bought over by Norwegian Cruise Lines for a confidential amount, proposes a US$50 million investment into the project. But exactly what will it look like, and what will it be used for? NCL vice president for destination and strategic development Colin Murphy cited the surveys among passengers that reveal the good and not so good about Belize City, currently the only port of call for cruise lines. He says the results of those surveys demanded this new project.

Colin Murphy –  VP, Destination & Strategic Development, NCL:

vlcsnap-2013-08-16-07h53m32s73When you mix the guest satisfaction ratings and put them all together, it’s a low satisfaction rate.  This is what the Belize City experience is like.  So the passengers that take a tour will enjoy it and mark it well.  So that’s only a minority of our passengers.  Most passengers don’t take a tour and they rate it very low.  Those these are your competitive set in terms of ports : Cozumel, Rotan, Belize City, and Belize City doesn’t deliver particularly well right now.  Again, passengers who take a tour have a fantastic time, passengers who want to hang out at the Tourism Village, or whatever, not so much.  So again, the Belize City experience is not optimal.

Project designer Hugh Darley, who has worked on projects as large as Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and Wynn Casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada, projected that when finished, the eco-park resort will both physically represent, and directly link to the Garifuna and Maya culture of South Stann Creek and Toledo, as well as Belize’s natural environment.

Hugh Darley, Belize Project Director, NCL:

vlcsnap-2013-08-16-08h14m52s10One of the stories we’re going to tell is that of the Garifuna, and the fact that there is an unique story to tell about this part of the world that’s not being told somewhere else.  So the style, the language, the culture, the history, the connection to the Mayan history and pre-history of Central America, the story of people in way stations and islands in the Caribbean and how trade and commerce happened.  Cruising is really just that again.  If you take an old map out of the 17th and 18th centuries, those same ports today are what?   There the cruise ports of modern day tourism.  What we want to do is put this location back on the map as part of the tourism “must see” in the Western Caribbean.

According to Director of Tourism Laura Esquivel Frampton, the Tourism Board will lead the way, but there is a change of attitude needed. She says there are numerous opportunities to be gained from the project.

Laura Esquivel Frampton – Director of Tourism:

vlcsnap-2013-08-16-08h40m12s199Of course there’s all the Maya villages in the area, plus NCL can benefit Independence, Seine Bight , San Juan, Red Bank, Georgetown, Maya Mopan, San Roman, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Maya Centre, Silk Grass, Hopkins, Sittee River, Dangriga, Bella Vista, Trio, Bladen, Medina Bank, Monkey River, Punta Negra, Golden Stream, Indian Creek, and Big Falls.  We talk on this with some authority.  Our team has actually been out.  We went in a car and tracked and saw how long it would take to get to get to these locations, to make sure they would be in line with a six to eight visit here in port.  All of these are distinct possibilities.  What we are saying is, we are bringing economic opportunities to all of these villages.  I notice here that we have the Cacao growers, there are banana farm tours, of course we also know that we have orange fields there.  So, all the possibilities are there.  I think Marie Sharp also already does a tour of her site.  So, all of these things can be incorporated.

Tto sweeten the pot, Colin Murphy announced the start of a campaign by Norwegian to hire Belizeans to work on the cruise ships.

Colin Murphy –  VP, Destination & Strategic Development, NCL:

[There could be] up to a thousand jobs, direct and indirect jobs, related to this project, but the problem the product will not be         ready and operating for maybe two years.  So we won’t be hiring people for those things, apart from construction people, for some time.  So we’re thinking about, what can we do to kind of move that forward, so that we can demonstrate that we’re a good partner in bringing opportunity sooner rather than later.  So I did a check on how many Belizeans we have on our fleet, working on our ships.  One of the biggest ships has sixteen hundred and fifty crew.  Dual-class ships have eleven hundred crew.  So we have thousands and thousands of folks, who are raising their families and providing for their families, based on employment on our ships.  We had ten for Belize.   So we felt that that was something we could do something about.  So what we’re going to be doing is implementing a crew recruitment program in Belize, with a focus on the South, to commence later this year.  We’re got to hire thousands and thousands of new crew.  Remember, we were saying about all the new ships that we’re building.  So we’ve got to find maybe eight thousand new crew members over the next few years.  No, they’re not all going to come from Belize, but we think we can create some great jobs for people, and some great opportunities for people.  We’re very good at that.
vlcsnap-2013-08-16-08h59m12s43During that press conference, we raised the question of the ongoing spat between the BTB and BTIA. Representatives from the BTIA have held no punches in expressing their discontent with the project. Director of Tourism Laura Esquivel Frampton reiterated that the BTIA has representation on the Tourism Board, which will not change, but still, she is disappointed with their response to the project.

Laura Esquivel Frampton – Director of Tourism:

For my part, as the Director of Tourism, I am very disappointed that they came out against a document that they knew not to be the actual MOU, that they came out against a project before they heard the information about the project. So, this has to be a meeting of the minds where they are willing to hear what we have to say, as well as we are always open and willing to hear what they have to say. They have a seat on our board, as an example, of how much we’re willing to hear what they have to say.  But, at the same time, they have to be willing to listen.  They have been given opportunities, because this was at a Government level, as you know.  Negotiations happen at a Government level.  It is now at the level where it is coming out to the public, and the implementers will begin to implement.  There are opportunities for this conversation to continue. 

NCL’s Colin Murphy also had a few choice words towards the BTIA.

Colin Murphy –  VP, Destination & Strategic Development, NCL:

[I was] disappointed that an organization, that is there to promote tourism to Belize, would come out against this significant investment in tourism, when they don’t know what the project is.  So they were against it before they knew what it is.  Also, the tone of the debate, (you’ve seen the T-shirts and the cartoons) it’s demeaning and it’s not adding anything to the conversation, I would say.  So I was a little disappointed, but we’ve seen this many times, in many different countries, that resort developers fear that we’re going to somehow damage their business, and yet we’ve proven many times that it’s actually complementary.  I think over a period of time, the leadership of BTIA  will see that.  I know a lot of their members are not against our project, as they told me so.  We think that we can change some minds, once people understand and see the benefits.

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