Friday, June 21, 2024

Tourism stakeholders discuss Hol Chan Marine Reserve’s new increase in park fees

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On Tuesday, May 21st, tour operators, tour guides, fly-fishing guides, and other business community members in San Pedro Town convened at the Lion’s Den to discuss the increased fees to use the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Hosted by the San Pedro Tour Operators Association (SPTOA), and led by President Roberto Canul, the discussion in the public meeting heard most of the attendees disputing the increase, which was not yet official, from US$10 to US$20 to access the famous reserve. Many of those opposing the increase demanded a proper justification for such an increase and a public meeting with the Hol Chan management to understand the need for a 100% increase.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize Tourism Board representatives, and Area Representative Honourable Andre Perez did not attend the meeting. This absence was felt as the discussion, which started just after 6PM, included members from the SPTOA, the tour guide and fly-fishing associations, and Mayor Gualberto’ Wally’ Nuñez.
Canul noted that the meeting is not to start a fight with Hol Chan but to work together and better understand the increase in park fees. “I do not agree with the increase being 100%,” he said. “I think there needs to be a proper study for a financial justification.” He said that during meetings between the reserve’s board and heads of the different stakeholders’ associations on the island, an increase of US$15 was recommended. However, the US$20 prevailed. Canul shared that when the new Hol Chan management took over in 2020, they reported mismanagement and an organization almost went bankrupt. He states that the organization seems to be doing well now and suggested that the usual US$10 has been working. Thus, no increase may be needed. He emphasized that if an increase is required, they will support it if it can be justified.
Mayor Nuñez said he would support the tour guides and operators. He noted that an increase to US$15 could be reasonable and added that it is important to listen to the residents’ concerns, particularly those of tour guides and operators, who are the main drivers of the tourism industry on the island. He hopes for better solutions.
While many tour guides agreed with Canul and called for a consultation with the Hol Chan Marine Reserve management, others supported this move by the reserve. One of them was the President of the Tour Guide Association, Philip’ Billy’ Leslie. He took the microphone and said times are different and the reserve has expanded in size. Leslie said the operations costs are different today, and the visitors will absorb the additional cost. However, other tour guides raised the point that such an increase can affect the influx of tourists registering for tours. Some shared that with such increases, tourism may decrease in San Pedro. Additionally, they question the proposed time for the new fee, July 1st, considered a slow season.
The discussion continued, with former Mayor Daniel Guerrero siding with the tour guides and operators opposing the new fee. Guerrero agreed with Canul that a proper study is needed to explain the increase to the stakeholders. Guerrero said that times are different, and the cost of operations is different, but transparency is important, and those questioning the new fees deserve an explanation.
At the end of the meeting, it was agreed that a follow-up would be scheduled within the following week. They hope to meet with the Hol Chan Marine Reserve board to understand the situation better. As such, the tour guides, operators, and other stakeholders opposing this increase in the reserve’s fee asked for it to be put on hold until this issue can be resolved.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve management has not commented on the issue but is expected to do so by next week.

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