By Tia Brueggeman, staff editor While visiting Belize, I was struck by the dichotomy between the tourists and local people. Thousands of tourists disembark cruise ships on the shores of Belize every year. This influx of tourists is beneficial to the Belizean economy, but there are consequences for the local people and the natural environment. This trend in Belize began in 2002 with an agreement between a major cruise line and a local Belizean businessman to construct a mega-terminal. The Belizean Prime Minister Said Musa signed the controversial agreement that was later challenged by the Belize Tourism Industry Association over regulation details.
The San Pedro Sun, a newspaper in Belize, poked holes in the contract. They report that a major problem is that "the government of Belize will not require (Carnival) to use any third parties including Belizean entities, nationals or government agencies in connection with...docking...(or) any aspect of the project and/or any business operations relating to the project." The organizations connected to the tourism industry fear that the country will be overrun with cruise line guests, reducing the exclusivity factor for guests who come and spend more money as overnight guests. There is also the obvious problem of environmental degradation.
According to website of the Belize Tourism Industry Association, an organization representing tourism’s private sector, some of their primary goals include sustainable and eco-friendly tourism. They have the challenging goal of preserving the natural environment of Belize, while encouraging thousands of tourists a year to come and destroy it.
On the upside, mass tourism in Belize brings in foreign exposure to the country and thus foreign investment. I experienced this pitch for investment first hand, especially for real estate investment. “Retire in Belize” was a popular theme among my tour guides. The grand, expensive homes located close to the fabricated port are evidence enough that this message is effective. Of course, close by is the other face of Belize – the depressed downtown Belize City.
The country is already impoverished, and extra visitors increase the strain on local infrastructure, including water and sanitation. An agreement needs to be reached to share the profits with the community, including local contracting. The future is potentially hopeful for the Belizean people as long as the government can work with private industry to find ways to distribute the growing wealth to the local people.