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Government of Belize and BTB to assist Sargassum problem Print E-mail
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Written by Administrator   
Friday, 02 November 2018 00:00

On Wednesday, October 31, 2018, Hon. Manuel Heredia, Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, and Director of the Belize Tourism Board, Karen Bevans, held a press conference to inform the public of the next steps to be taken to address the sargassum problem plaguing Belize and the greater Caribbean. In September 2018, there was a massive influx of sargassum in 4 tourism destinations: San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Placencia, and Hopkins.

In an effort to determine short term solutions in combatting the sargassum, a team, comprised of Minister Heredia, Director Bevans, and Chairman of the Board, Einer Gomez, visited the affected destinations. During those visits, they immediately began engaging with stakeholders to discuss the issue. In those meetings, they discussed ways to clean as well as contain the sargassum, especially as the high season in tourism approaches.

According to Bevans, the results of those meetings led to several agreements, including a 2% decrease in hotel tax to those accommodation stakeholders being affected. “Based on our consultations with stake holders, we are pleased to officially inform you that the following assistance has been approved and will be implemented immediately to assist those properties which have been impacted by sargassum. Two percent from the 9% hotel tax view, which is a 22.2% reduction on the monthly accommodation tax returns, for all coastline properties affected by sargassum in the 4 affected destinations of San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Placencia, and Hopkins.” This temporary reduction in monthly accommodation tax is applicable from October 2018 until January 2019.

While this 2% reduction in taxes will result in approximately $2 million in losses for the Board, they are cognizant that accommodation stakeholders are incurring additional operational costs to clean up their properties and to implement solutions to contain the sargassum. Bevans says that the Board will do what can be done to reduce the effects of revenue lost and that it is with certainty that there will be no cuts in marketing nor anything that can directly affect the tourism industry. “The tourism industry has been recording double-digit growth in overnight arrivals over the past 3 years. In fact, Belize is one of the top 3 destinations recently recognized by the Caribbean Tourism Organization for the highest growth in tourism arrivals. BTB is therefore committed to taking all possible measures in minimizing any negative impact on the tourism industry and continue to develop and grow the Belize tourism product.”

Besides the reduction in taxes approved by BTB, the Government of Belize has agreed that coastline properties in the 4 affected destinations wishing to import sargassum materials and equipment can apply for duty exemption from the Ministry of Finance through the BTB. GOB has also agreed to contribute $1.5 million to assist BTB in assisting municipal and village bodies in the 4 areas in containing and controlling sargassum. This includes contracting backhoe and other machinery to clean up as well as purchasing and installing berms. Minister Heredia endorses that these funds will be used in public spaces, not spaces managed and or owned by hotels or other stakeholders.

Minister Heredia also confirmed that there are studies being carried out to use the sargassum. This is being done by the Mennonite community to possibly use it as feed and by the Sargassum Task Force, the Fisheries Department, Coastal Zone, BTB, BTIA, and the ministries of Health and that of the Environment. “All these bodies are working together to come up with long term solutions so hopefully for the next season we are better prepared.”