Norwegian Cruise Lines is nothing if not persistent. Denied permission to build a cruise ship terminal on an island off southern Belize earlier this year, NCL announced on Wednesday the purchase of another set of islands, called Harvest Caye (pronounced “key”), that it plans to turn into a southern tourist attraction for its cruise ship passengers.
The big difference is that the original island, Crawl Caye, was in a marine reserve that formed part of the barrier reef — a World Heritage Site. It was a clumsy, insensitive move that was ultimately rejected by the Belizean government, despite its outspokenly favorable attitude toward the cruise ship industry.
The government, which has a memorandum of understanding with NCL encouraging eco-sensitive development of an off-shore port in southern Belize, said it would approve the right proposal.
NCL may have found the right one. The 75-acre Harvest Caye, three miles off Placencia, has already been approved for resort development.
Currently all cruise ships check into Belize City to the north, the country’s largest and most crime-ridden city. Some cruise lines have cut back on stops in Belize, the major reason given being port congestion. Belize took in 728,000 cruise passengers on 315 cruise ships last season, October 2012 to May 2013, according to Business Research & Economic Advisors.
The entire population of Belize, a country the size of Massachusetts, is about 300,000.
A second cruise destination would certainly relieve pressure on Belize City, for a short while. NCL has several new ships under construction and says it wants to quadruple its business with Belize.
While NCL would like the cruise terminal open in time for the 2014-2015 season there are many critics lined up against the plans. The sudden disgorgement of thousands of passengers runs contrary to the country’s eco-tourism strategy, they say.
NCL promises the $50 million project will be sensitive to the surroundings and “eco-friendly,” but a project this large is a game changer regardless of what is promised.
According to an NCL press release, “While the master plan for the 75 acres is still under development, the vision is to create a world-class cruise destination, consisting of two locations: an island destination with docking/tendering facilities and a mainland connection point for inland tours.
“Major components of the project are anticipated to include a floating pier, island village with open-air structures on raised platforms, marina, transportation hub for tours to the mainland, a lagoon for a variety of water sports and a relaxing beach area. The goal is to design an authentic experience grounded in the storyline of nature, ancient culture, art, adventure and music that celebrates Belizean, Mayan and Garifuna history and culture.”
That’s some pretty big stuff.
IDEA Inc., a Florida company that designs ”branded ports” has been hired to carry out the vision.