The Government of Belize has managed to broker a temporary solution with Carnival Cruise Lines, the main cruise operator servicing Belize, and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, that provides a buffer and buys some time for local boat operators in the tourist industry, who were facing an abrupt, financially devastating ejection from the industry by a suddenly imposed passenger policy originating overseas.
Carnival has firmly indicated to a high-level government delegation, led by Prime Minister Dean Barrow, that if locals don’t get ready for the new passenger policy fast, the cruise line will take some of its business elsewhere by reducing the number of calls to Belize.
Towards this end, local tender operators today appeared united, and the government has pledged financial assistance to help them meet the new tendering requirements being handed down by the international cruise lines.
Carnival was to implement the change last week Thursday, January 6, but has agreed to suspend it. That change would require tender operators to be able to accommodate at least 150 passengers, which no local vessel is currently able to do. It also requires local operators to carry an expensive US$2 million insurance.
The Miami journey was intended to resolve contention over the cruise line’s immediate implementation of changes in its policy, which would, in turn, change their contract with local tender provider, Eurocaribe, thereby leaving a majority of small tender operators unemployed.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow returned from Miami with what he called a report of success, following the two-day business meeting with executives of the leading international cruise lines – Carnival and Royal Caribbean, over the weekend.
Barrow told the media at a press conference in Belize City this morning that the Miami meeting was a success, because Carnival has allowed more time for the “scale-up” of all Belizean tender providers.
Barrow said: “Carnival had said that this became necessary as a result of a mix of factors — foremost amongst them, according to Carnival, was safety. They claimed that they were being hounded by safety watch-guard organizations. They also said, of course, they wanted to move passengers with a maximum of efficiency and a maximum of comfort….
“The question as to why we were not given prior notice [of the new policy]; Carnival insisted that notice had been given to the tender provider. I am not sure if this is accurate.”
According to Barrow, the local tender operators will all have to unite. This proposition was agreed upon by all of the tender operators, Barrow told us. The Government of Belize has also been assured that Carnival would enter into an exclusive contract with this collective tender provider agency.
Barrow announced that the president of the new tendering agency would be Stanley Longsworth, owner of Belize City Tenders Limited, who was selected by local tender operators.
Barrow continued by saying, “The main focus of the mission there [in Miami] was never a question to try and persuade Carnival to roll back their decision, to proceed by way of the larger tenders. So our objective was always to buy as much time for this transition to take place.
“What was agreed by Carnival is that there will be a transition period during which the status quo, the current arrangements, will be maintained; so by that point of view, I believe we can justifiably claim that the mission was successful.
“Basically, the Government said to Carnival, we want the transition period to be as long as possible; Carnival’s response was that they want it to be as short as possible. We said we’re thinking in terms of a year; Carnival said they’re thinking in terms of weeks.”
A specific time frame for this transition was never agreed upon, the Prime Minister indicated.
“Ultimately, though, because we insisted that in any event, there is still not the amount of the large scale tenders in the country to service (at that level) all of the cruise lines, there really is no choice but to wait until the additional tenders could be procured. This was accepted by Carnival, except that they made the point clear [that] if it took too long, they will reduce the number of calls to Belize.”
This transition process is necessary, Barrow insisted, as the cruise lines are proposing to increase their ship sizes and in turn, the amount of tourist visitors to this country.
The government has projected that for the year 2011, there is to be an 8% increase in cruise tourism visitors in Belize. That is the same percentage by which it increased from 2009-2010, but far less than the 18% increase registered the previous year.
Statistics provided by the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) indicate that Belize received 597,370 visitors in 2008; 705,219 in 2009, and 762,380 in 2010.
The BTB information further indicates that, “Carnival Cruise Lines accounted for 56% of calls and 64% of visitors to Belize; Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines accounted for 11% of calls and 15% of visitors to Belize; [and] average per-cruise passenger expenditure ranges from $45 USD to $88 USD.” Therefore, the annual revenues would translate, on average, to roughly BZ$100 million.
Three port tender providers are listed: Eurocaribe, Caribbean Shipping Services (owned by Stanley Longsworth) and Marine and Services, which have 165 workers in the tendering business.
At today’s press conference, Longsworth said: “Certainly the challenge will be to protect the current small tender owners who have boats with a capacity of between 60 to 120 passengers.
“They are Belizeans who have invested in these boats, and if they are phased out too quickly, it will definitely pose a threat to their livelihood.
“We have no choice, it has to be successful, we have to negotiate an agreement that is just and that is fair, and one that permits both the tender owners and the cruise lines to take our product to the next level.”
To aid this new initiative’s success, Barrow announced, the government will make funds from the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) available to upgrade vessel capacity.
One of the more vocal tender operators, Jason Marin, told us during an interview today that he sees this transition as necessary and sees no reason why it cannot work:
“Well, basically, we feel protected to a certain extent, because the Prime Minister has told us that, provided we get our acts together and form a company fast, Carnival is willing to negotiate with us, with the new group, all local businessmen, no foreigners,” said Marin. “Yes [the unity will be successful] if we, as Belizeans, really put our minds to it and really stick together. Definitely it will be successful; we know it will work.”