Screen_shot_2011-07-14_at_8.17.52_PMIt’s been a long time in coming, but if all goes well, very soon Orange Walk will have its own Tourist Information Center and Gift Shop, the initiative of this district’s branch of the Belize Tourism Industry Association. It’s an initiative that has caught the interest of different important organizations and individuals, all who were present this morning at the Orange Walk Town Hall for the groundbreaking. Here’s the story.

Carmelita Perez- Reporting

Osmany Salas – President OW BTIA

“We are here again for a more formal event but we are here today to mark the beginning of a very exciting process for us. Luisa our Marketing Director for the Chapter reminded me that we started to think about this idea three years ago that is even before I joined the BTIA and the board. We have always felt that we needed to have a physical occasion for BTIA Orange Walk allocation from which we could promote tourism in Orange Walk.”

This morning representative of the Ministry of Tourism, the Belize Tourism Industry Association, the Belize Tourism Board, the Orange Walk Town Council and other tourism stakeholders all showed up at Town Hall for the launching of an initiative that is expected to do great things for tourism in the north of the country.

Osmany Salas – President OW BTIA

“We need a one stop shop for information Orange Walk as it is right now already has quite a number of attractions but the people are not really sure how to get there. One of the things that is really lacking in this country is a good system of signs. There are a lot of folks who don’t know how to get to particular places so we envision the centre to play that role. We will have maps, brochures, staff members to assist. We will also have a one stop shop for information of potential investors in the industry, people who want to talk to someone that may give a good feel for what the opportunities are here in the district. We also want to have a space there for people maybe artisans I see the Town Hall already has a place for artisans but we feel that an additional place for that will not hurt and it will also serve as the office for the BTIA Chapter.”

Manuel Heredia – Minister of Tourism

“We have now embarked into not only Orange Walk but other destinations in Belize like Corozal, Benque because Belize has wonderful products to offer and only when we have a tourist information centre like what we are doing in Orange Walk we are been able to have an area where people can go and get information, get the knowhow as to what important archaeological park or as the mayor said the sugar cane field and other things we have to offer and for that I feel it is our duty, our responsibility to make sure that we assist whatever municipality or whatever destination need assistance.”

Phillip de la Fuente – Mayor OW

“I think it is very important and I could safely say that both parties think that it is priority because we both campaigned in bringing tourism dollar to Orange Walk. If we bring the tourist to Orange Walk and we don’t have where our artisans can market their product then we are defeating the purpose. It will be the first of its kind very important artisan’s area where our tourist can get some souvenirs.”

It’s a great initiative, no doubt, but there’s one concern which none of the parties we spoke to could ignore. Orange Walk Town’s infrastructure…that is, its streets and drains are in dismal condition and hardly something that tourists would appreciate, seeing that promoting the north’s tourism potential is one of the primary goals of the tourist information center.

Osmany Salas – President OW BTIA

“We certainly have a lot of needs when it comes to infrastructure and this is country wide. I always remember a Mexican visitor asked me about a year ago how come our roads, highways, streets and signs are in such a bad state and my answer really was and this is the answer I will give generally is that we have a ways to go.”

Manuel Heredia – Minister of Tourism

“Well my job at as the Minister of Tourism is to lobby for infrastructure to be done; at this point I am almost sure that central government will be coming on the rescue to approve an amount to an extent to about three hundred dollars to start fixing the infrastructure in the municipalities.”

And recognizing the problems right in front of us, both the Mayor and the Minister say help is on the way, though neither of us seemed any too confident of what they were claiming.

Screen_shot_2011-07-14_at_8.17.33_PMPhillip de la Fuente – Mayor OW

“Development is not only putting in one aspect of tourism, improving an outlet for our tourist to come here, you have to improve where they can buy their products, you have to improve the conditions of the streets, you have to improve where the buses park, you have to improve the general good looks of the town so it is a continuous process and it is something that we are starting now.”

Mike Rudon-Reporter

“Three hundred thousand that will be coming on stream for municipalities, is this part of the five million per municipality that was promised by the Prime Minister a couple years ago or is it separate?”

Manuel Heredia – Minister of Tourism

“Because there is also the funding that will be coming for drainage and other things, this is an additional package that the government is doing because we understand yes they need to repair infrastructure and in this case the surroundings of this area, if you have a nice area and the surroundings don’t look good then it doesn’t make sense, hence whatever little money that are available to government they try to spread it across to be able to help them.”

Mike Rudon-Reporter

“You have any idea being a Minister of Cabinet when the five million dollars be coming on stream?”

Manuel Heredia – Minister of Tourism

“Well that one I cannot say an exact date, I will be truthful I think the PM is the one that can give you a better answer.”

Like we said, it’s a great initiative and the stakeholders are to be applauded, but there’s a whole lot of work that needs to be done in Orange Walk Town before it even begins to realize its tourism potential, and we left the gathering today less than confident that we’ll see that work done anytime soon.

Today representatives from the Belize Tourism Board presented a check to the BTIA for $22,000, while Atlantic Bank presented one for $5,000. President of the Orange Walk BTIA Osmany Salas says that all necessary funding for the building to get underway has been secured.

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