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UTILITY CRISIS: Tourism in Caye Caulker Suffers

UTILITY CRISIS: Tourism in Caye Caulker Suffers
January 03
11:19 2020

UTILITY CRISIS: Tourism in Caye Caulker Suffers

A water and electricity crisis in Caye Caulker over the past week has led to a mass cancellation of tours and an exodus of tourists from the island, a disaster that tourism stakeholders say will surely create an economic dent on the island, and will also be reflected in the BTB’s annual statistics for overnight arrivals.

The small community of Caye Caulker thrives on its tourism arrivals, especially at the height of the tourism season, but over the holidays they experience what they classified as another “chronic episode” of a prolonged interruption in their water and electricity supplies. That interruption caused guests to check out of their hotels and head back to mainland Belize City, while others canceled their tours to the island.

Apart from coping with the revenue loss from tourism, irate residents had to endure days without electricity and water on the island, and on Thursday they took to the streets in protest to show their outrage.
At a press conference today hosted by the Caye Caulker Business Association, Vice-President Darren Casson pulled no punches.

‘We are here today to speak out against the Government of Belize and the Public Utilities Commission. You are destroying our brand as Caye Caulker as well as the Belizean brand, and as a tourist destination. This week has been absolutely devastating to the island, not only from a business side but also from a resident and tourist side. We feel almost helpless inside of our homes and businesses because we prepare for this season…this week we have done nothing but lose money. We have had tourists cancelling their reservations. We have had hoteliers that have had to give full refunds to people that stayed there for a week,” Casson stated.

The island has been without water since Sunday, December 29th, when the water treatment plant on the island experienced a shutdown due to a broken main drive shaft. A BWS release explained that the shaft had been replaced on December 24th, but that it was slightly out of alignment and was prone to failure. A replacement was immediately ordered from the US but by Sunday BWS’ 150,000-gallon reservoir had already been depleted. The company had to resort to trucking in water by barge to distribute to hotels and residents. It wasn’t until Tuesday that the company was able to fully restore water to its distribution system.

As if that wasn’t enough, on Monday, December 30th, power supply to the island was also knocked off following the failure of one of the Belize Electricity Limited’s generation units. BEL issued a release stating that a high demand in electricity caused one of their units to malfunction, and caused a third to trip as well due to an overload. Only one of the units was working but was only able to power a small portion of the island. BEL’s release noted that their fourth unit has been out of commission for the past four weeks. Power was not fully restored to the island until today, January 2nd.

On Tuesday, Chair of Belize Tourism Industry Association’s (BTIA), Caye Caulker branch, Maria Vega commented – “it’s more than this season. We have been experiencing shortages in water. That means no water, low pressure, sometimes dirty water for more than a year. And we have been patient as a community, working with the agency responsible and every time that it is a very important critical time for our economy, the failures are all too great in terms of not enough water.

This is also compounded with the matter of electricity supply. We have had problems over repeated Christmas holidays, Easters, Lobster Fests have been total disasters. So, that’s a big economic blow for the island. However, it is a worse aggravation for the visitors that come and expect that they’ve earned the right to relaxation.”

Calling for long-term solutions as the negative experience has been a detrimental ramification for the entire country of Belize, BTIA’s Executive Director John Burgos told the Reporter that “The sustainable development of the tourism industry in Belize must always remain at the forefront of the public and private sector. Failure of our basic infrastructure and basic utilities are detrimental to any tourism destination, the negative economic impact on tourism will be a great loss for Belize.”

A source from BTIA told the Reporter that they are not yet in possession of data that can show the number of cancellations and economic loss, but that the negative impact will be long-term.

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