No Port Down South Print E-mail
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Written by Shane B. Williams   
Thursday, 24 March 2011 00:00

SeleniOn Monday, March 21, the Director of the Belize Tourism Board, Seleni Matus, and the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Tourism, Lindsay Garbutt, met with the press to formally publicize the recommendations of an independent consultant group tasked with measuring the public’s response to the introduction of cruise tourism in southern Belize.

Rich Wilson of Seatone Consultants was tasked with providing an impartial report on how the residents of the South felt about a proposed port near the Placencia Peninsula and cruise tourism in the attractive South. In the report “A Social Viability Assessment of Cruise Tourism in Southern Belize”, Seatone recommended that “the government of Belize should not approve a new port of call (port designation), contract or agreement with cruise lines, developers or their affiliates for operations in the Placencia Peninsula.” Wilson said the report was based on two methods of collecting data. There was a series of public meetings held to allow stakeholders to express their support for or concerns about the proposition of cruise tourism in the South. Secondly, Seatone had private conversations with a wide range of people, from investors to the ordinary man on the street. The report went on to say “Not only is there widespread resistance to the establishment of cruise tourism in Placencia, as demonstrated by public sentiment, there is also abundant and compelling evidence that communities in the surrounding area are ill prepared for cruise ship arrivals.”

Matus and Garbutt explained to the media that they will adhere to the recommendations. Garbutt said, “Once you go to consultations you should respect the results of the consultation. So in saying that the consultation is not recommending any cruise ship tourism development in Placencia peninsula, we are prepared to respect that.” While the outcome of the process may seem to halt development in the south, that is not the case according to Matus. The report also includes recommendations on how to move forward. One of the recommendations can be easily adopted into the Tourism Master Plan 2010-2012. Seatone recommends that the BTB conduct a “Limits of Acceptable Change” (LAC) survey in southern Belize. This, like the focus of the Master Plan, aims to center on effective planning and visitor management. Tourism policies will consider the “knowledge, expertise and economic needs of local citizens and residents.” Matus said that the BTB will focus on those areas of acceptable change to develop the tourism industry in southern Belize and across the country. She said there will be greater emphasis on bringing stakeholders and residents to the table, allowing them to pave the way for development. According to Matus, over the next twelve months the BTB will be looking at ways to provide more affordable finance options for Belizean investors.

Some look at the decision to reject the Placencia port proposal as a tough blow in the fight to bring economic development to the South. However, it was also another victory for democracy. Though the government might not agree with the decision, the democratic process was allowed and the results will be accepted. Questions that may linger have to do with how the proposal was presented and whether or not the right steps were taken to highlight the pro’s of the proposal. Too often good ideas are shot down by their holder’s failure to prepare a defense. Perhaps this is one good idea that was dead from the beginning. Democracy was exercised and the noisy ones won.