Wednesday, January 26, 2011


By Ray Auxillou, Jan. 2011.
Interesting program, didn´t resolve anything much, but it did point out that the government does not lead the tourist industry in Belize, it follows the private sector developments.
That said there were some interesting things. Last year the Prime Minister in interviews has said the revenue of Belize was $800 million Belize currency, for 2010. We take him at his word in this case, as he does not publish quarterly government economic reports like the previous PUP administration did. In the TV discussion on tourism, it was stated by knowledgeable guests in the Business Perspectives panel, that $600 million Bz currency is coming from the Tourist Business of the country. That means the tourist business is 75% of the government revenues. The Prime Minister has said that cruise tourism contributes $100 million to the country. No matter how I run the numbers and my own estimates, I only get a figure of $25 million. So some exaggeration here and the Prime Minister is well known to exaggerate, evade, spread disinformation and anything else said, to mislead, to promote his political party image, over the FACTS. Any time you hear him speak, you don´t say is he liar, you look , listen and guess what he is misrepresenting with a bias, or slant, to favor his political party, as he speaks. He speaks DOUBLE SPEAK, but in a truthful manner. At any rate, when he says $100 million for cruise ship tourism impact, I say $25 million and I will take my estimate from what I observe, over his any day of the year.
That means between overnight tourism, there is a discrepancy, of $575 million by the small family owned outfits ( about 600 of them ) versus $25 million for the cruise ship business in 2010. The panel all agreed the government and Belize Tourist Board bias toward Cruise Tourism is out of whack as a Cabinet policy. There are a number of obvious reasons for that. First off, BTB is first and foremost a port town government institution. The port itself and the CABINET is dominated by port town politicians. The government itself in all it´s departments is dominated by port town bureaucrats. The bias toward the port of Belize City is known by the rest of us in the nation. We don´t like it, but not much we can do about it under the system of government we have.
In essence what we have is the rest of the nation, versus the port Belize City interests. In that competition the rest of the nation and six districts lose out. The tourist business is about tourist operations and enclaves like San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Placentia, the TWIN TOWNS area out West, Monkey River and the hundreds of small tourist places in the boondocks, versus the Port of Belize City hotels and mainly the port Tourist Village for the cruise ship business. The money flow says, the rest of the country is the most important and all the money is being generated for government revenues by Mom and Pop tourist operations. Most of which are under 10 rooms, one panel expert said. That sounds true enough to me, as the type of tourism in unique Belize, is primarily based on the individual rapport, between proprietor and guests. The average guest visits Belize 3 different years, before getting bored and deciding to go someplace else. The experience is totally based on the personal friendships and family feeling created by the 600 small guest hotel/resort product. In the tourist trade we call that ambience. We sell uniqueness and ambience. Tourist businesses rotate and are sold, or leased and run by new people on an average of every ten years. New people bring new customers and fill a new sales niche.
The port of Belize City is overwhelmed by the growing floating visiting hotel, cruise ship business. For them it is their ( the port town) business, just as Caye Caulker has their brand of reputation and tourist niche. By rights the whole thing should be run, or controlled by the Belize City Council, and not either by government, or the parasitic entity called the Belize Tourist board.
The panel seemed at a loss in understanding some facets of the tourist business. This business is always private sector owner led, and not by government. True we are always entertained by government bureaucrats bragging what they have done for the tourist industry. They do nothing, outside of some magazine and television advertising. It distressed me to hear one panel expert ( salaried worker-not an investor in the business ) express the opinion that hotels should be regulated. He was complaining about the quality and service in a Santa Elena hotel. First off, if he didn´t like it, he should have gone to CHAA CREEK and got what he wanted, at an obviously higher price. There is no quality control needed in diverse tourist operations, that way lies disaster. Some sell experience, roughing it, camping, cooking over a wood fire, outdoor toilets and cold showers, and some sell 5 private attendants serving every customer guest, lighting your cigarette and wiping your toilet seat with a wash cloth after every use. Here it is AMBIENCE and price, that designs the package for what sells, in whichever tourist niche you are catering to. In the Mountain Pine Ridge you sell tents and pooping behind the nearest bush.
The cruise ship business should be expanded. No question in that. It has a role to play as part of the overall package. The expansion should in my mind, take place in Deep River of the Toledo District with a cruise ship paid by them, for the dock. It could also work at Sapodilla Caye in the Southern end of the barrier reef. The port of Belize City is maxed out. All cruise ship tours and intransit functions should be Belizean owned and operated whenever their guests step off the ship. There is a commercial war here between the tourist hotel ships and the product locally.
The question arose about whether Belize can continue to attract cruise hotels. The answer is yes and indeed we have two new locations mentioned above, to expand our cruise ship product as destinations. There is only Roatan, Belize and Cozumel in the Western Northern Caribbean. In the Southern area you have Isla San Andres.
What should government do? Concentrate on infra-structure. The move by the MUSA government previously 12 years ago, to restore lost beach sand on San Pedro and Caye Caulker was one of the smartest moves made by any government, BEFORE, or since. It also is due for replenishment again. Island tourist locations without beaches will neither grow, compete, or survive. The tourist product disappears. This is in the government´s own revenue interest.
Another point, concentrate on airlines and cheap budget fares. Instead of the Belize Tourist Board wasting money on travelling to trade shows worldwide, spend the money soliciting, or even subsidizing in some way, a budget cheap airline from the USA. There seems to be an add on tax at our airport, nobody is accountable for, responsible for our high ticket prices. That needs to be got rid of. The air fare subsidy idea needs some innovative solution, something outside of the box thinking. I can think of several ideas, surely those academic bureaucrats can too. I remember when I used to fly from Florida to Havana for $10 usa each way. Same with the Bahamas. The tickets were subsidized by the casinos. In our case, by the BTB money. For overnight tourism, nothing will blow the government revenues sky high, faster than a cheap airline ticket. However you do it, get it done and fast. Forget everything else, that is the single most important thing, as it could double that $575 million a year revenues the government gets.
Again I was disappointed by our bureaucratic panel on the TV show. They again were talking about a constant academic refrain, about our not having the facilities and rooms to handle bigger overnight volumes. That is nonsense! It may be true in the short term of six months, but not on a seasonal basis. Nothing creates capital investment by the private sector faster than overbooking, or having too many people. One follows the other. Bring the guests and the investment will bloom like a desert after a rain shower, full of flowers.
Just my 2 cents. As qualification I would remind you the Auxillou family have been in tourism since 1964 and pioneered it and we are still expanding.

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