A few weeks ago, the Bureau of Standards of the Belize Tourism Board held a meeting at the Sunbreeze conference room. There were about 50 tour guides and operators there…representatives from the marine reserve and the local newspaper.
It was the second in a series of meetings around the country (first in Belize City) to present the Draft of the new Water Sports Activities Standards for the country of Belize by the Belize Tourism Board.
Water Sports and water activities are the #1 reason tourists come to Ambergris Caye – from sailing to kayaking to snorkeling and diving – and standards and SAFETY are of the utmost importance. And this DRAFT version that they laid out for the group is comprehensive and far-reaching.
My #1 issue leaving the meeting is that though this was a “Public Consultation”, I saw little representation from some of the largest stakeholders in this industry – the hotels and lodging of Ambergris Caye. And since almost all hotels and resorts, big and small, have amenities like kayaks and/or Stand Up Paddle Boards, sailboats and/or snorkel equipment – I thought I’d highlight some of the proposed new regulations here. Note: Amenities count as rentals – I asked at the meeting.
This is not just Ambergris Caye – this is the entire country.
My other major concern is everyone who owns or uses their own sailboat or kayak or SUP or goes fishing recreationally. Residents, citizens, frequent visitors. Are you going to be able to continue your use?
This is the FINAL DRAFT of the standards. The BTB will gather public comments until January 17th, 2020 and then answer each and every comment, discuss and revise internally and then issue final standards. This January 17th deadline is the only time for public input. (You can find the form and the email address here.) ** It’s a doozy.
Here are the Draft Standards. And a few things that stuck out to me.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding –Two (2) members of staff shall be present with participant(s) at all times while the activity is being conducted. NOTE: the 2 persons should be a tour guide and a spotter
Kayaking – is a bit more vague. A tour guide is required for a kayak tour…but is that more than one person?
Recreational Fishing – Sports fishing and Recreational fishing shall take place with a licensed
Sailing – Participants shall be advised to stay in close range of the facility.
6.9.7 Operators shall ensure that there is a reliable observer on the beach at all
times while sailors are on the water.
6.9.8 A dedicated rescue safety craft shall be available for immediate use whilst facilities are in operation.
I FULLY understand trying to protect our reef and the safety of our visitors. Briefings on where to go and where not to go and educational material, safety devices…all make perfect sense.
But requiring tour guides for paddleboards or kayaks makes those amenities almost impossible to offer for smaller hotels.
How does this affect personal use? If I own a SUP (as a resident of Belize), can I use it without spotters?
How are these standards going to be enforced? Are only properly registered tour operators going to be held to these higher standards?
Many of these regulations seem vague at best and arbitrary, at worst – why are SUPs deemed so dangerous? What is “close range” for sailing? Is ALL recreational fishing (from a dock or from a kayak or from the shoreline) something that requires a guide?
What is a “tour” – who is a “provider”?
Everyone who owns a hotel or even just a kayak or a paddleboard should take a close look at these provisions since the next time that we see them, they could be law.
And be sure to fill out the response form to the BTB by January 17th.