Wednesday, February 16, 2011


File photo, of older program.


There were three guests this week. A port town CUSTOMS BROKER. A port town ARCHITECT. The "professional" manager of the posh CAANA RESORT in Western Belize.

A critique and what I got out of this week´s program.

The subject matter was trying to deal with the SERVICE sector of our economy, in which 65% of the jobs are provided by the TOURIST INDUSTRY. There were other facets, but they were dominated by the impact of the tourism sector on government revenues and the employment jobs they provide in the economy of the nation.

The Belizean resort manager, Ian Lizzaragua, from the upscale, high end big price resort, CAANA, dealing, I always believed; mainly as a tax writeoff for the OIL INDUSTRY, people owners, had some good things to say for development. Mostly a critique of our government efficiencies, or lack thereoff, and their attempt to stagnate the development of tourism and business in general, through over regulation.

In Ian´s view the tourism product of Belize was second to none in the world. I would certainly agree with him there. Where I disagreed, was he was promoting more foreign investment, bigger facilities and copying places like Panama, or maybe Miami Beach. This is were I disagreed.

From my viewpoint as a tourism pioneer and whose grown adult children are themselves investors in the business ( we have more guest rooms than CAANA resort in total ) I would say that the tourist business is right where it should be, for the size of our population. Not for our growing and expanding tourist capacity possibilities, but more on the way we have developed over the last fifty years.

Our tourism product seperated by intention, back when Ian Lizaragua was still a child in school, from the Caribbean brand of package sealed fenced hotel beach enclaves owned by foreign colonial capital. In Belize we successfully developed the small entrepreneurial tourism businesses. There are over 600 guest hotels in the registry. Not counting the unregistered smaller outfits. For the size of our population that is a lot. As a pioneer from the beginning, this was the way we planned to go and this is what we have achieved. A diversified tourist product, up and down the scale of prices, facilities and offerings. Something for everyone. A wider participation in spreading the tourism dollars around villages nationwide than found elsewhere in the Caribbean. What Ian seemed to be proposing, is that we move on to the concentrated, skyscraper, type condo building, of 50 stories, with a bunch of them crowded like some central metropolitan area. It is an opinion of future development to be considered, but my generation wanted preservation of what is unique in Belize. We wanted to be more like Jackson Hole, or Banff, keeping the environment pristine as possible, to enjoy for future generations of Belizeans unborn. Me personally, you can take Panama, Isla San Andres and Miami, or downtown Paris and shove it. I wanted what we developed here in Belize. Something quaint, small entrepreneurial family run operations. We have it and I´m proud of it and want to keep it that way. We do have still lots of potential tourist destination areas to be developed. The mountains, the gold producing area, several places that are now protected forest reserves, but have a tourist potential for another hundred small tourist operations. These will come from population growth.
Foreign investment in Belize mostly came from immigrants from the USA and from Europe. These nearly always became Permanent residents, or Belizean citizens. Locals are heavily invested in the small scale tourist product also. I watched with dismay all the PUP generated BIG tourism promotion deals, fall into bankruptcy with ruins of speculative dreams scattered over the tourist landscape like abandoned rusted car hulks. Small investment is good and it works.
For a number of years I ran, in my off season, tourists down the barrier reef islands by sailboat, camping out and over to Puerto Cortez in Honduras and by bus to the Southern goldfields of Honduras. Wrote articles in magazines about it. ( Gold Prospector magazine and Scuba Diving Magazines ). I always wanted to do the same to the placer gold area in the Southern mountains of Belize. Unfortunately there was no four wheel drive track there and no airstrip for a small plane. You could still build a tourist resort there for that unique adventure for example, in the future.

The government obstruction, over-regulation, and inefficiencies, were noted by all parties on the panel as a big problem. The biggest problem! The reasons of course, it is a small country, and most jobs in government are politicial party patronage. The budget is small and some departments like BELTRAIDE are non-functional and wasted money. While others like the LANDS Department, or Immigration Dept. cannot keep up with the customers they have wanting service.

The question of tourism came up a bit. What was not mentioned, that in 50 years the PEAK TOURIST SEASONS, when you make the gravy to carry you through as a small operator are only 15 weeks out of a 52 week year. This is 6 weeks from 3 days before Christmas to the 28th of January. The three weeks of EASTER holidays and the six weeks of the summer holidays, July and August. The rest of the year for the 600 tourist accommodations are dribbles of guests that cannot show a profit and usually through the FALL empty months, run up lots of bills you owe, that can only be paid at the end of January after the first big winter PEAK SEASON.

Ian did bring up the nonsense promoted in new legislation by the labor department, who represent about 9% of the employment sector. He questioned the right of this department to make LAWS governing the other HUGE employment sector working in seasonal jobs. Particularly in the tourist business. The major problem being OTHER PEOPLES HOLIDAYS ARE OUR national TOURIST BUSINESS. We are in this together, both government, labor and the private sector. When our labor are expected to work the most, is during HOLIDAYS. That is what tourism is all about. Yet the new legislation he pointed out is requiring temporary hotel workers for example getting paid 3.5 times their regular daily salary for working tourist holidays. Like Christmas, New Years, etc. It is of course typical bureaucratic nonsense, unquestioned by allegedly elected representatives in the CABINET, who should know better. Enough said, I´ll leave that battle to be fought by the industry professionals. The small tourist business simply does without labor and tries to do everything themself during the HOLIDAY HIGH PEAK TOURIST SEASONS. ( Been there-done that! )

The architect of course wanted job protection from foreign competition. A MONOPOLY is what this group of professionals want, to guarantee them a good living as parasites living on the backs of the common citizen. I´m not for MONOPOLIES myself.

The CUSTOMS broker did bring up a good point. Customs Brokers are on the job training. It is not a difficult job, just repetitious. I´ve done it myself, so I know. The man did point out though, whereas import stuff paperwork is usually standard, that they as an industry, need some sort of training venue to keep up with all the foreign requirements for EXPORTERS in Belize, trying to sell their products to places like CARICOM, the European Union, to Canada, to the USA and to Mexico and Guatemala, Honduras and Salvador. That is an excellent College Level night school course should be offered some place. Instead of every small entrepreneur taking YEARS to assemble all the paper work knowledge necessary to export their product to buyers abroad. Mistakes while learning are expensive and ruinous to the small entrepreneur. The customs broker did want protection also, or a monoply to protect against customs brokers in foreign countries filling out all the paper work through online sources available.

Interesting program and a younger generation than mine in outlook. But looking back over 50 years, I would say for the growth in our population, the revenues we can afford to collect for our government have us just about where we should be. Some efficiencies in government priorities and spending seem obvious things to correct and I have the faith these will be dealt with as circumstances permit. Will everything work like a SWISS CLOCK? Unlikely! Not for wanting and trying. Simply because of the nature of political effects and dealing with new generations of inexperienced people re-learning old lessons of how to do things. An endless process in bureaucracy.

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