NCL is coming - Jobs Now and Plenty More Later Print E-mail
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Written by Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 15 August 2013 00:00

Norwegian Cruise ProjectNorwegian Cruise Line’s (NCL) proposal to invest no less than US million on the Harvest Caye project has satisfied the Government’s criteria for foreign investment in Belize and the Cabinet Sub-Committee with responsibility for foreign investments publicly gave its nod of approval on Wednesday, August 14th, in Belize City.

Honourable Senator Godwin Hulse, Chairman of the Cabinet Sub-Committee, says it is a relief to be finally able to put all rumours about the Memorandum of Understanding to bed. He says there is an obvious reason the details of the agreement was not discussed in public earlier: “There is no secret behind this thing. It is called negotiation.” He says this is the first Government to establish a committee that will oversee all foreign investment in the country and in order for NCL’s or any other project to be approved they must satisfy five criteria.

To do business in Belize the project must be socially and economically acceptable and legally doable. Hulse explains that sociably acceptable mean it would not hinder Belizeans' way of life. He says there have been rumours that Belizean boats would have to stay a certain distance from Harvest Caye and that is nonsense. In terms of economically acceptable it must benefit Belizeans in terms of jobs and other developmental opportunities. NCL must also provide training opportunities to Belizeans for all available jobs.

Second criteria for investment in Belize demand that those jobs be meaningful employment that pays well. Colin Murphy, Vice President of NCL with responsibility for destination development, says that the project will create over 1,000 direct and indirect jobs. That does not include the couple hundred temporary construction jobs. Murphy says there are even more jobs available apart from the Harvest Caye project as NCL is looking to hire an additional 8,000 crew members over the next three years. As a sign of good intention, Murphy promises to implement a crew recruitment program to start hiring Belizeans immediately to work on NCL ships. Upon completion of the Harvest Caye project, individuals hired as part of the crew will have the choice of working on the island or staying on the ships. There is also a five year phase out plan that will see jobs that are initially held by foreigners assumed by Belizeans.

The third criterion for investment is the project must create an increase in revenue for the Government of Belize and the fourth is that it must bring foreign exchange. NCL has been bringing tourists to Belize since 1998. In 2012, NCL brought 180,000 tourists to the Western Caribbean and 98,000 of those visited Belize. The Harvest Caye investment will make Belize the premiere Western Caribbean destination for NCL and cruise line expects to increase the number of tourists visiting the Western Caribbean to 408,000 by 2016. There is a head tax of US$7 for every passenger on the ship that docks at the port. Government receives US$3 from that head tax. The head tax can be increased by as much as US$1 after every five years. Hulse says Government decided to accept US$7 per person because it is already established and the playing field should be balanced. Most countries in the Caribbean receive less than US$7 and in this case NCL is using their own money to construct the port. Furthermore, Hulse explains that the head tax is only a small piece of the pie. He says the goal is to get the passengers to come off the ship and “then they will spend their money”. As part of the MOU, NCL must generate a minimum of 25% of manifested passengers on tours. Though NCL will be given the same tax exemptions that are available to both local and foreign investors in the tourism industry, they are still required to pay General Sales Tax and any other taxes that are paid by other operators. Hulse says it is projected that Government will receive between $43 and $45 million in foreign exchange in the first year of the Harvest Caye operation.

The fifth criterion for investment is that the project must preserve and possibly enhance the environment. There are individuals that have raised concerns over environmental impact. Murphy says that there should be no concern about that because NCL is committed to protecting the environment. He says the environment is the main reason that Belize was chosen as the premiere location for the project. He says, “In terms of tourism Belize is attractive because of its worldwide reputation for eco-tourism.” Hugh Darley is the Coordinator of the Harvest Caye Project. He was an Imagineer of Walt Disney and the Art Director that help designed the original Disneyland in California. He says the goal is to create a world class cruise destination in Southern Belize with minimal impact on the environment. He says Harvest Caye will be an island destination that is attractive enough to lure someone away from a five star hotel, which the NCL cruise ships are. According to Darley, NCL’s proposal will have less interference with the island than the previously approved project for a resort on the island. The previously approved environmental impact assessment was for a project that featured the development of over 40 acres for a resort. Darley says their project is looking closer at a development of 12 acres for a tourism village. The island will be raised by three to four feet and will include an internal lagoon. The docking facility will be built using a floating pier system whereby the 400 feet pier will be built inland, in order to create minimal damage to the environment, and then transported to the project site where it will be placed upon piles. Darley says their investigation has shown that manatees are active in the Southwest part of the island; therefore, nothing will be done in that area. He says the goal is to provide a unique destination where tourists will want to visit multiple times. The Garinagu culture will be promoted heavily on the island. Darley says, “Belize is the only destination where we can really tell the Garinagu story.” Several small structures will be built by local craftsmen to be used for shops and other purposes.

The NCL Southern cruise will offer passengers the choice to visit as much as 30 communities and 60 attractions. There will be one ship per day and during the high season NCL will make calls four to five days per week. Construction is expected to be completed in two years. Laura Esquivel-Frampton says, “The BTB has 24 months to prepare. We will visit the benefitting communities to consult and provide information on the opportunities that will be available to them.” Hulse summarized the agreement saying, “Norwegian Cruise Line has been bringing tourist to visit the northern part of the country since 1998. Now they will be bringing some to the South.”