Should Belize be bracing itself for, gasp, mass tourism? Some think so

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A colorfully decorated Norwegian Cruise Line ship. The company built its own port is southern Belize on Harvest Caye, off the coast of Placencia. The new port landing opens in February.
A colorfully decorated Norwegian Cruise Line ship. The company built its own port is southern Belize on Harvest Caye, off the coast of Placencia. The new port landing opens in February.

Industry news website Travel Pulse sees a “reckoning” ahead for the cruise industry in Belize in 2016.

The reckoning is triggered by the opening in February of Norwegian Cruise Lines’ $50 million Belize fantasy island, Harvest Caye, coupled with the country’s already “strong tourist arrivals growth.”

So, I reckon that means Belize had better be bracing itself for even more tourism growth in the future?

Travel Pulse sees NCL’s move to its own private paradise — floating dock, beaches, water sports in a protected cove, a life-like Belizean village — as a good thing for the country’s robust cruise tourism sector.

“Harvest Caye’s debut will boost the country’s already strong cruise sector growth. Despite lacking a dedicated ship pier and terminal, Belize is on the verge of becoming the eighth Caribbean Tourism Organization destination to exceed one million annual cruise ship visitors,” says Travel Pulse in its 2016 Caribbean Tourism Outlook.

In another story on NCL, Travel Pulse says “the cruise line’s website claims visitors will find both ‘solace and adventure’ in Harvest Caye” when it opens in February. We’ll have to take travel Pulse’s work for it because the Norwegian Cruise Line website link produces a page that ominously says “Action not found.” Although we’re pretty sure their cruise passengers will find plenty to do on the caye without ever actually stepping on to mainland Belize — to the relief of little Placencia, which at one point was the designated drop off point for thousands of passengers.

Here’s to solace and adventure on Harvest Caye in 2016.

Indeed, even though NCL has picked up its ball from Belize City and taken it south, there are others in line to play nice with the awkwardness that is Belize City as a cruise destination. (The remote anchorage and dependence on motor launches to transport passengers to dry land has sent a few ships packing in stormy weather in the last year, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost tourist spending.)

A publicity shot of the MSC Divinia in Istanbul, Turkey. This week it ported in Belize City for the first time.
A publicity shot of the MSC Divinia in Istanbul, Turkey. This week it ported in Belize City for the first time.

Caribbean Journal reports that Jamacia-based MSC Cruises has just made its first-ever stop in Belize City. MSC Cruises is a division of the Mediterranean Shipping Company.

The delightfully named Fantasia-class cruise ship Divina ported in Belize after departing its home port in Falmouth, Jamaica, and stops in Georgetown, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico. It is testing the waters, so to speak, on what Belize has to offer its passengers.

MSC has four 139,400-ton ships in its  Fantasia Class. They are so big, they can’t squeeze through the Panama Canal until the widening is completed later this year. The Divinia boasts 1,751 staterooms, holding 4,363 passengers. The crew adds another 1,300 personnel aboard. Eighty percent of the staterooms have ocean views.

You can bet that the Belize Tourism Board and Belize Cruise Port are going all out to show them what a good time they can have in this beautiful and diverse little country.

“We welcome the new European cruise line, MSC Cruises, in their inaugural call to Belize,” says Director of Destination Planning and Cruise, Valdemar Andrade. “We are happy to have them as a new cruise line partner for our destination …” Andrade hints that yet another cruise line is investigating Belize City as a port of call.

With well above 300 cruise ships stopping in 2015, and more on the way, the port indeed expects to remain robust.

According to Travel Pulse, “Belize hosted 986,131 cruise passengers in 2014, an explosive 42.9 percent increase over the 677,350 cruise vacationers hosted in 2013.

“Despite a slowdown in 2015, Belize’s land-based tourism has also surged in recent years. Last year Belize recorded 321,217 land-based, overnight visitors, a 9.2 percent increase over 2013. While the 101,747 tourist arrivals hosted between January and March represents a slight 1.1 percent increase over 2014, the country is still considered on track to continue as a fast-growing Caribbean travel destination.”

Without even considering the explosive “Southwest Effect,” which has seen a jump in vacationers with the entry of low-cost Southwest Airlines into the Belize airspace, Travel Pulse is wondering how “the transition to mass tourism will impact the once-sleepy exotic destination.”

Seriously? Mass tourism? Is that where we are headed?

I’ll believe it when I see the mega hotels and resorts break ground in far northern Ambergris Caye . . .

Wait. Are you serious?

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14 thoughts on “Should Belize be bracing itself for, gasp, mass tourism? Some think so

    Tom Cawthon said:
    January 2, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    Hopefully, the result will be similar to what happens on the ‘private cruise ship islands’ in the Bahamas. People only go there, spend the day, and the Bahamian government makes money off the leases. Of course, these islands are a pretty good distance from any significant local civilization and rely on keeping their audience captive, so they spend money on the cruise line’s amenities and don’t contribute much to the local economy. Since most of these ships are generally only in port for four to eight hours, the passengers really don’t have much opportunity to see, or do, anything else.

    Liked by 1 person

      Jack said:
      January 2, 2016 at 5:19 pm

      Yeah I would have to agree this Harvest caye concept, it’s designed to not let local people mix with the people who cruise! This giving the tourist a white washed skew on reality of island life. they can control what people spend their money on, not much will trickle down to the local economy, what will get and should get their fair share is government form taxes and leases then hopefully and I say hopefully that money will be used for local projects and nation wide fund for infrastructure!

      Most people who cruise are only interested in their stateroom the bar, casino aboard ship and how many times they gorge themselves in 24 hr period very few are interested in the ports of call. they have little or no imagination they need someone to spell it out for them cruising ” A la Disneyland”

      Side note “Fantasia Class ships” it will be interesting to see what new garbage floats up on shore, get ready!!!

      Like

        robertjhawkins1 responded:
        January 3, 2016 at 3:16 pm

        I’ve heard of people who rarely leave their ship when it is in port, and others who won’t leave the gates of their all inclusive resort. It takes all kinds to travel, I guess.

        The Cruise Ship Village in Belize City is really a fortress with a bunch of bars and jewelry and trinket stores inside. Leave at your own peril. Those who do leave for road trips to our many natural and archaeological attractions get the best deal, in my opinion.

        I do hope these newer ships (Fantasia was put in service in 2012) have more sophisticated systems for waste management. Has anyone ever done a study on the ecological impacts of cruise ships?

        Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 3, 2016 at 3:36 pm

      NCL originally planned to use Placencia as a staging area for motor launches that would bring people in for eco-adventures in the Belize interior. The rightful fear was that 2,000 to 3,000 people a day would overwhelm little Placencia and drastically alter its character, and not for the better.
      I believe they will now go directly to the mainland where a staging area has been carved out.
      Still, I wonder how many more people will simply find Fantasy Island to be adventure enough for their stop in Belize?

      Like

    donalddavis42 said:
    January 2, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    Thanks Bob……
    Great posting……i have to do a lot more reading on impact and effect on cruise ship invasions but i have to assume its progress and unavoidablel
    I was listening to BBC the other day on convincing the people of Madagascar that ecotourism will be the savior of their Island/country and they rightfully equated it with Colonialism all over again.
    The locals get to be hotel room cleaners, tour guides and all of the other services jobs to the first world polluters and money folks on how their world use to look like……

    Liked by 1 person

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 3, 2016 at 3:31 pm

      That is interesting. The trick to keeping ecotourism from becoming a metaphor for colonialism is to empower natives. In Belize, no expat can take a job that a Belizean is capable of doing, in principle. Consideration is given to businesses tht demonstrate how they will train Belizeans to one day take command.

      Entrepreneurship trumps colonialism. I do see many Belizeans who are extremely successful independent business owners — and sure a lot of those businesses service the tourism trade. But that is true in Florida, California, Cape Cod and any ski resort town.

      I can see where a culture that does not empower its own people could create a neo-colonial atmosphere.

      Like

    harry bonnell said:
    January 2, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    this is nothing compared to the havoc of a new airport on the north end of Ambergris Caye. a North-South runway is the only option and that has them landing or taking off over San Pedro and as well as the north end. All the northern resorts will be airport hotels and also plan on night flights in and out.

    Liked by 1 person

      rebelbill said:
      January 3, 2016 at 1:40 pm

      That’s the future for Ambergris Caye unfortunately. A big new northern airport with all inclusive megaresorts. It will be just like Cozumel with English speaking staff.

      Like

        robertjhawkins1 responded:
        January 3, 2016 at 2:47 pm

        Is it true there is supposed to be a hospital attached to the construction of the airport? I could see a lot of rich old society dames dropping in to North Ambergris Caye for some major face-lifting and tummy tucks and then lounging about the pool until the scars heal ….

        Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 3, 2016 at 3:08 pm

      Not a pretty picture. Can’t see the point of airport hotels, but I have heard a number of all-inclusive majors will be laying foundations up north. Just a rumor, mind you.

      Like

        harry bonnell said:
        January 3, 2016 at 3:12 pm

        not a rumor; plans have been submitted and some approved; mega-resort on southern tip has started construction and laid foundation’ Palapa bar on north end has been evicted by developer and is now located on Wet Willy’s dock near Blue Tang Inn. Prepare to take your profits and re-locate.

        Like

    SPmQQse said:
    January 4, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    PARADICE…..LOST

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 6, 2016 at 10:26 am

      So, you’ve tried the dice at Captain Morgan’s casino, Moose?
      🙂

      Like

        SPmQQse said:
        January 6, 2016 at 1:04 pm

        i do not gamble ,drink alcohol,smoke cigarettes or bed sheep.

        Like

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