story / george
Written by Jennifer Mathews Photos by Angela Agnew
Bay Islands' Businesses are Dealing with Dwindling Number of Tourists
Worker makes renovations and improvements to Cannibal Café.
tourist dependent economy in the Bay Islands has had to
deal with a growing list of hardships: world economic downturn,
swine flu, earthquake, June coup and political crisis, spike
in crime and resulting negative press. Any one of these
events would have caused a significant decrease in tourism
revenues. Most business owners agree that this is the slowest
they have ever seen, even slower then after Hurricane Mitch
in 1998. Bay Islands Voice interviewed many business owners
to find out how they are coping. These interviews revealed
prevailing attitudes and creative business survival tactics.
Some ask weather you can, or even should, market a tourist
destination that is engulfed in a political conflict. US,
Canada and EU countries all have travel warnings for Honduras,
and carving out of Honduras areas that are "just fine"
is a tricky strategy.
At an October Central American Travel Market convention
in San Salvador, Ricardo Martinez, Zelaya Minister of Tourism,
was quoted by Time Magazine saying: "I'd like to tell
everyone to come to Honduras and that it's a tranquil place
and everything is beautiful, but you think I'd be successful
with that message? Of course not."
According to Martínez, Honduras' tourism industry,
which grew by a 9% in 2008, has gone into a freefall and
is down 70% this year. According to Martinez, the 155,000
Hondurans in the tourism industry are barely surviving if
they have a job at all.
Martinez presented his views accompanied by a video of Honduran
protesters clashing with riot police. "I'm not saying
I am encouraging travel to Honduras, because I have shown
you that the situation [for tourism] does not exist,"
Martínez told the journalists in El Salvador. "But
what I am saying is, Please don't forget us, because we
are going to solve this crisis. And once we do, we are really
going to need your help."
Some argue that last year, the Bay Islands were actually
benefiting from the world economic downturn as an economical
destination, thus making the perceived tourist drop more
dramatic. Yearly figures calculated by Coconut Tree Divers
show a 66% drop from last year. With 2008 being a record
breaking year in revenues, numbers in comparison to 2007
reveal a 50% drop.
Compounding the downturn are other problems: high unemployment
and spike in crime. Reports of multiple robberies, usually
petty theft, in excess of five break-ins a month have been
reported from the neighborhood behind Pura Vida. Kevin Braun,
member of the West End Patronato and owner of Seabreeze
hotel and Cannibal cafe, has been working to raise funds
for the new police station in West End, and for crucial
supplies such as gasoline and flashlights for the increased
number of officers.
The rising cost of electricity makes it even more difficult
for businesses to stay open and some business owners have
decided that it is simply not worth it. They have either
sold their business, gone bankrupt, or closed for a period
of time, working elsewhere to make money and ride out the
Every business interviewed indicated they are spending their
savings, financial cushion, or personal funds just to stay
afloat. Throughout the Bay Islands, the dive shops seem
to be the most affected. "The reality is," said
PJ Rowntree, Coconut Tree owner, "we're really just
barely scraping by, just like everyone else." Many
businesses reported not knowing how they will make rent
this month: "we're hoping things will pick up by the
end of the year."
Despite all the hardships, Bay Islands business owners are
in remarkably good spirits, thinking positive, and are utilizing
creative survival tactics. "We're too stubborn to go
under," laughed Akel. Some Utilians even point to the
downturn as a positive situation, saying that development
was out of control on the island, and this has slowed the
Some businesses are taking the opportunity to invest in
their locales, upgrade their service offer, and prepare
for the return of high season numbers. Romeo's Restaurant
in French Harbour, used three weeks of the summer to refit
their location. "It's the first time we shut the restaurant,
ever," said Romeo Silvestri, restaurant's manager.
Cannibal Cafe also closed for three weeks for renovations
and improvements. The Shark Cave is sticking to its five
year plan of expansion. "When tourism comes back, we'll
be ready and in prime position," said Roland Brooks,
Shark Cave manager. Local fruit and vegetable truck vendor,
Victor Antonio Cruz is looking to get in on the ground floor
of a supplemental business opportunity to expand his earning
empty main road in West End on a Saturday afternoon.
of the unstable situation in which Honduras is portrayed, potential
tourists are canceling their trips. Business owners are making
attempts to create positive associations with tourism in the Bay
Islands, sometimes contrary to what might be read by potential
tourists in their home town newspapers. Rowntree has been working
actively with PADI on publishing articles promoting Honduras.
Tyll's Dive Shop has been giving stacks of brochures and information
to any travelers going through Central America to leave at hotels.
Several businesses are active on Facebook, MySpace, Trip Advisor
and blogs, and are encouraging their clients to post that it is
safe to visit. It seems to be working. Most dive shops and hotels
reported that inquiries are beginning again for the end of the
year and beyond.
Several businesses have been using national tour operators to
promote Bay Islands to mainland Honduran clients and stay afloat.
Palmetto Bay Plantation, Fantasy Island, Turquoise Bay, Henry
Morgan, Paradise Beach Club, and Infinity Bay have advertised
special promotions dropping prices as much as 50% and sometime
offering all inclusive packages for ads low as $40 a day. "We're
not making a lot of money, but it's paying the bills," said
Cecilia Mendez-Chamer, Palmetto administrative manager. "When
things start getting better, we'll make more adjustments."
de facto Tourism Minister Abarca claims that Hondurans coming
to Roatan do so as a show of support for Micheletti government,
Martinez said that they do it because its cheap enough where
they can finally afford it.
Utilians, in even deeper dire straits that Roatan businesses,
has been employing the same strategy. In October, Ana Abarca,
Minister of Tourism, met with several Utila businesses in
to draft economical packages that promote Utila to mainland
travelers. "On the weekends we're definitely seeing more
Hondurans vacationing here," said Julia Centero-Keller,
owner of Jade Seahorse.
Bay Islands industries not necessarily related to tourism
have also been negatively affected. Martin Midence, Roatan
electrician, had to drop prices to ensure that people can
afford to employ him. "I can't afford to go anywhere,"
he said. "So I'll do what I can to help people out. At
the very least, I can work. And if it doesn't help the economy,
it helps in self-esteem." On Utila, according to Centero-Keller,
prices have been cut to 60% for carpentry and maintenance
services to ensure continued work.
Employee cutbacks have been a necessary strategy for some
in the slow season. Coconut Tree Divers is down from seven
to four instructors, which is reported as normal for this
time of year, but wages and commissions are down for those
they have retained. Tyll's Dive Shop is down from their normal
two instructors and one dive master to one captain and one
instructor. To compensate, they employ freelance dive professionals
from the other dive shops that have closed. Restaurants have
had the highest firing rate. Douglas Greene, manager of the
Beach House Restaurant, has had to let all of his employees
go, handling everything himself. His employees work on daily,
as needed basis. "They actually make more money that
way," reported Greene. Some restaurants, such as Pinocchio's,
have cut their opening hours to a couple days a week, or to
open upon request. One Roatan gallery owner will only open
on cruise ship days. Employees at Chillies hotel were given
the option of keeping their position, but with pay cuts. They
will gain bonuses when busy.
For many, personal spending cutbacks have also been necessary.
Business owners are canceling annual vacations and postponing
planned purchases, even considering taking their children
out of local private schools. Some are finding ways to be
penny-wise in meals. The dive community is meeting regularly
for group dinners and potlucks. "I've been having fun
finding ways to keep meals to under Lps. 200 per person. If
you can get it down to Lps 50- 60 per person you're doing
well," said Rowntree. Many are also looking to their
own natural resources. "We're lucky we still have a forest
with food," said Centero-Keller. "I can go to my
land and get avocados, crab and breadfruit." "It's
financially hard right now, but we live on the island,"
said Brooks. "We fish, we farm, and we work."
In some cases, the downturn has created a sense of community
cooperation. With a group of DMT's and no students to train,
Gaynor Pook, owner of Coconut Tree Divers, offered open water
classes to the local community, snorkel guides, islanders
and teachers. "It helps my DMT's and helps the community,"
said Pook. Perry Wintle with the Reef Glider floating bar
plans to offer specialized packages for events, weddings,
and school occasions, that include water taxis and restaurants
for transport and catering. "I want to do anything I
can to include other businesses and help people out,"
said Wintle. Dorte Bockwoldt of Tyll's Dive Shop has enlisted
her international community of friends, inviting them down
for a dive vacation.
Fighting boredom is on the top of most people's minds. When
morale started to drop at Coconut Tree, Gaynor Pook tried
to keep the atmosphere light with activities such as BBQ's
and wakeboarding. Kevin is re-opening Cannibal Café
because "the employees are so bored, they're asking me
to open." Midence reported. "I'm spending more time
with my family and friends. The slow season is giving me extra
time to enjoy it." Others are focusing on time at home,
working on economical home repairs.
Roatan business owners are hopeful about the increase in tourism
from the upcoming cruise ship season, particularly with the
opening of the Carnival Cruise Ship terminal in November.
"The cruise shippers who are coming are the ones who
are paying the bills right now," said Bockwoldt. "Once
more people come, there will be more and more exposure that
Roatan is safe and calm," said Braun. The cruise ship
business supports local jobs such as gift shops, clothing,
massage, and braiding. The new Carnival Cruise Ship Terminal
dock is expected to employ up to 500 locals directly or through
tenants, with up to 1,000 more jobs created indirectly through
taxis, tours, and other related business.
Utilian business owners are looking to national traffic to
carry them through the hard times. This gives a different
timeline for recovery in Utila, where business owners anticipate
Semana Santa for the next high season. "Ultimately, however,
we depend on international traffic for our economy,"
said Centero-Keller. "It's the way people are invested
here and the way the island is set up."
While the Bay Islands remain dependent on the tourist industry,
all business owners speculate about the recovery cycle. Factors
that will indicate how the tourist market might behave in
the upcoming years are the upcoming elections, the holiday
season, and the world economic market. "We won't know
what will happen until after November," said Governor
Arli Thompson "It's basically a waiting game right now
and just about everyone is holding their breath," said
Braun. "We're holding our breath for sooner than later,"
said Mish. "When it does come back, I hope that makes
it into the news." The question is not whether the tourists
will come back, but when.
Tyll's dive masters play cards to pass the time.
story / george
/ local news
______________back to top
at All Cost by George Crimmin
the original contract we Bay Islanders basically got nothing.
I believe that there were members of the British parliament
that understood this principle and made various amendments
that benefited us in significant ways. Queen Victoria's
final letter sent to the inhabitants of the Bay Islands
in May 1860 was read at a public meeting by then lieutenant
governor Thomas Price at Coxen Hole. Queen Victoria's final
words were, "My loving subjects, I now leave you to
govern yourselves accordingly." In my lexicon that
translates to autonomy.
According to my research, the governor General Uwins Elwin
was in London at the time trying to have the treaty revoked.
There were various demands which my late grandmother Joana
Randleston, whose father John Randleston was born in Scotland
U.K., assured me were granted. Included are: the freedom
of religious observance for present and future generations,
non-military service for Bay Islanders, freedom to elect
our own representatives, ability to implement laws formulated
and regulated by the local population and their representatives,
the use of the English language in the counts and public
records for perpetuity, and a key provision that we would
be governed by resident officers of our own choosing.
Since I have never discovered or even heard of a document
disclaiming these rights or denying these guarantees, my
logical conclusion is that my late grandmother's memory
and knowledge were totally accurate.
We have the documentation, what we need is the courage and
the will to come together as one people and aggressively
peruse what is rightfully ours. Let us not allow what we
cannot do interfere with what we can do. We have dedicated
educated and courageous individuals who can not only lead,
but help us establish a prosperous, honest, law abiding
community. To accomplish this we must elect individuals
who are willing to put the common good before their own
personal interest- a contingent that would pretty much disqualify
most of the current office holders. We desperately need
bold new leadership.
We may never get another chance. We must take charge of
our own destiny, otherwise we will become irrelevant in
our own land, if we are to survive as a people with a history
and a future.
since I was a boy I dreamed of Roatán and our sister
Islands becoming autonomous. This dream is widely shared
by a multitude of Bay Islanders. We have many role models
- most of the other Caribbean Islands I have visited have
enjoyed autonomy for generations. For instance, the Bahamas
declared their independence in 1973 after three centuries
of British colonial rule. Role models are important because
people seldom improve when they have no other model but
themselves to copy.
At this particular time in our history it is more relevant
than ever that we energize ourselves and use every avenue
possible to achieve this goal. I am a firm believer that
the harder you work, the luckier you get. The current problems
facing this country are enormous. We should not have to
suffer for the incompetence and corrupt leadership of the
mainland. We deserve much better.
On July 24, I received a phone call from U.S. congressman,
Democrat of Massachusetts James McGovern, who confirmed
the fact that the leadership in Tegucigalpa was responsible
for the mess we find ourselves in mainly because of the
manner which in the former president was deposed. I found
myself trying to defend the indefensible.
I also believe it's fair to say that we Bay Islanders, although
we are suffering from the consequences of decisions made
in Tegucigalpa, had little to do with what actually took
place. Well, I propose the perfect antidote: autonomy.
years I have been focusing on the November 1859 treaty which
was really a draft, agreed to by John Lennox Wyke and Honduran
president's envoy, Francisco Cruz. The treaty then had to
be ratified by both houses of the British parliament. I
can assure you that the final product that emerges from
these ratifications rarely resembles the original version.
It is my contention that the original treaty was significantly
amended by the British parliament.
story / george
/ local news
Care Center Provides Needed Care by Jennifer Mathews
Roatan Children in Crisis Center Opens, Reaches Capacity after Two
infants in the center are on an intended six month program. "The
first priority is to place babies back with mothers if their treatments
and rehabilitation have been successful, second with extended families,
and third with a home placement or adoption, strictly to local nationals
or residents," said Nelson. The center works closely with INHFA
(Honduran Institute of Childhood and the Family), treatment programs,
extended families, and donors toward this goal. "The whole
idea is rehabilitation, not financial support to the families."
The facility has capacity for ten cribs, and the center has to screen
vigorously to keep numbers manageable, unfortunately turning away
children. According to Nelson, the requests for help are overwhelming.
Strict parameters must be kept in order to function effectively.
The child must be determined to be living in "dangerous circumstances,"
and the parent must be formally working toward rehabilitation and
treatment, which usually occurs on the mainland. Admission is ongoing
as the center operates with a revolving patient base. Nelson sees
a definite need to expand, but is not planning on it in the near
future. "In addition to space concerns are financial capacity,
volunteers, and supplies, in order to provide quality support services,"
Several Roatan businesses have supported the center with fundraising
events and donations, including Bananarama's crab races, West Bay
Lodge's baby formula donations, Hyde Shipping's donation of air
conditioning equipment, Vegas Electric's donation of solar panels,
and the Christmas Concert for the Angels fundraiser.
Support also comes from volunteers and students from the ESBIR bilingual
school who receive their community service credit. Students Cheyenne
Schaub, 14 and Kaela Watkins, 14, have even returned for a second
Saludables staff members Ingrid Evette Conner, Valerie Nelson, Sol
in the first week of August, the Morgan Jayne Infant Care Center
in Sandy Bay is already working to capacity. The idea for the center
began in September 2008, and culminated with the opening of the
building in August 2009. The center transitionally cares for infants
in crisis from exposure to AIDS, or mothers who are recovering from
illness, drugs, or mental problems, and is the only care facility
on Roatan to specialize in infant care.
Central to the Morgan Jayne center's mission is providing physical
and emotional support during crisis and rehabilitation. "This
is a treatment center, not an orphanage," said Valerie Nelson,
who spearheaded the Morgan Jayne Project. Her daughter Jane is the
Nelson is director of Familias Saludables, HIV and AIDS support
center in Coxen Hole. Begun in 2001 under the umbrella organization,
The Dawn Land Foundation from Alberta, Canada, Familias Saludables
was initially a project for reducing mother-child mortality on Roatan.
The non-profit currently provides support, education and counseling
to the AIDS community and beyond, as well as baby formula, clothes,
vitamins and medications. Familias Saludables currently helps 78
families, 175 of them children. The Morgan Jayne Project expands
the scope of services offered by Familias Saludubles.
About Girls Basketball
Sandy Bay Program Gives Girls Court Priority
Trish Flanagan leads them through an intensive program designed
to whip them into shape. The girls have been practicing for
two months, two days a week. They are part of a new basketball
program offered by the School of Life International Foundation
(SOL), which offers several after school programs such as
sports and fitness, art, health, and academics.
this stage in the program development, Flanagan is teaching
the girls fitness, discipline, teamwork, and the finer points
of basketball. The goal is to develop a girl's basketball
team to compete on the island and possibly in national programs
to the mainland. The team is open to playing boy's or girl's
15-20 year-old girls come from Sandy Bay and Coxen Hole to
participate in the program. Nine girls participate in the
program and this number is growing as popularity for the program
Flanagan initially got to know the girls through a literacy
project she spearheaded in 2008, the reason for her coming
to Roatan. In addition to the literacy program, Flanagan is
now the assistant director at the Sandy Bay Alternative School,
as well as basketball coach on the courts. Originally from
St. Louis, she has a professional background in teaching,
social work with at risk kids, and coaching basketball. She
has been playing basketball since she was in the sixth grade.
"The biggest challenge will be rainy season," said
about the open-air courts Flanagan. The courts are provided
by AKR for the SOL programs. Flanagan is searching for alternatives,
so that the program may remain consistent, no matter what
the season. Flanagan knows the girls want to practice. "I'm
most impressed with the discipline of these girls. They never
say 'no' to whatever drill I give them."
The hard work of the girls is showing. "They are running
drills at a level that I wasn't doing until after years of
playing," said Flanagan. "This is my first time
playing basketball and I love it," said Lisa Pinnace,
one of the program's players. "All the girls do. I'm
meeting people, getting exercise, and having fun."
routine with trainer Trish.
the crowd of kids on the Sandy Bay basketball courts, a group
of girls have court priority as they run intensive drills -
first layups, then a series of dribbling skill sets, into a
suicide drill, moving into core movement positions, running
through passing sequences, and finishing with full court laps.
The girls did not stop to rest.
Ridge Squatters Taken off by Police
Help did finally come and in the early hours of October 15,
local police and fiscals descended on the unlawful tenant
community. No one was injured during the forced removal of
the people, but dozens of people ended up on the side of the
The day after the evictions, people were still scrambling
to salvage wood from their sites. Some were loading the wood,
onto trucks and howling it away to other living arrangements.
About six families were camping underneath plastic coverings
and on old mattresses.
The squatters claim that as many as 80 houses were built here.
The site shows many fewer structures, some of them shacks,
skeletons of structures mostly, most of them uninhabitable,
but meant to serve as a claim markers for the lot owner. Some
of the evicted said that they lived on the site for nine months.
"The people [who wanted lots] came here from Los Fuertes,
Coxen Hole, Sandy Bay," said Jorge Mejilla, one of the
evicted. "They left us alone for the last three months.
And we thought that it was all over."
Mejilla said that the group would hire lawyers who promised
to help them legalize the properties, all 200 lots of them.
The small lots, approximately 40 by 50 foot each, were according
to Mejilla sold for cheap, even given away.
young squatter carries his belonging away from the eviction
the last nine months, the budging street side Loma Linda community
of houses and stores located on the side of the main road burst
onto a valley due west of the road. The owner of the property,
Servido Bush, lived mostly in the US and found it difficult
to guard the property against invasions. "These people
are destroying my property, digging holes. Nobody wanted to
help me seven months ago when this happened," said Bush.
story / george
Bay Opening for Business
Cruise Lines Project is Expected to Provide Great Economic Impact
for Decades to Come
main attraction in the center is Coral Cay and Mahogany Beach. The
extended beach area provides space for beach lounging, kayaks, glass
bottom boats, and a playground area for kids. Development on the
Cay utilized existing structures to create the Hurricane Hole restaurant
and bar. Cruise shippers will access the Cay by pedestrian bridge,
or a specialty aerial tram.
The tram was not in the original plans. Carnival did budget for
a special attraction in the MBCC, but did not decide until later
in the construction phase what that would be. "Every [cruising]
facility attempts to find a popular feature to give extra value
and provide something memorable for the passengers," said Mike
Reimers, General Manager for Mahogany Bay. Reimers worked on Utila
as a divemaster 15 years ago and has been working around the world
ever since, his past appointment on Grand Turk. "Returning
to the Bay Islands for this position is like coming home,"
said Reimers. The tram was built by Rainforest Aerial Trams, US
company that has built trams in Costa Rica, St. Lucia, Dominica,
and Jamaica. The $1 million tram project took one year to build.
Moving at a speed of 1.3 meters per second, the 65 chair lift can
move 1,650 people per hour. The passengers should reach Coral Cay
in five minutes.
It took three landscaping contractors to finish the job and attempts
at bringing in over 20 foot tall trees from Florida were foiled
by Honduran Ministry of Environment (SERA). The project ended up
utilizing local flora and fauna. According to Reimers the most difficult
part of the project was dealing with natural factors, such as the
earthquake and an unusually intense rain season, and the changing
The main plaza in Mahogany Bay is made up of 15 buildings housing
22 retail spaces, as well as three food and beverage spaces, two
car rental offices, and a tourist information booth. In late October,
all but one space had been leased. One building houses 15 craft
stalls for local vendors and artisans. Also available for lease
will be portable vending carts.
The plaza also contains a tourist educational area with two exhibits:
one focusing on the Garifuna history and culture, and the other
on the shrimp industry in the Bay Islands.
at the Mahogany Bay cruise ship dock
first cruise ship is due to arrive on November 20 at the new Mahogany
Bay Cruise Center (MBCC). Construction on the $62 million project
began in November 2008. This is the largest facility Carnival has
built in the world, and one of the largest in the Caribbean.
Up to 600 Hondurans worked on the project as construction workers,
welders, divers, underwater inspection, and environmental monitoring.
Once finished, Carnival will directly employ 75 locals in the areas
of food and beverage, retail, transportation, tour operation, security,
and maintenance. An estimated 350-400 people will be employed by
tenants in retail and food and beverage. An estimated 1,000 people
will be employed indirectly through tours, taxis, and other tourist
Carnival representatives say that they made an effort to employ
local companies and workers for all phases of construction. "We
were conscious of the fact there had been problems in the past and
wanted to keep the focus on hiring almost all locals, thus helping
the immediate economy," said Reimers. Exceptions are American
Bridge, who constructed the highly specialized concrete pier, Rainforest
Arial Trams, and two Guatemalan specialists. Reimers is the only
foreigner positioned on Roatan as general manager in charge of security
cruise ship facility dock is scheduled to receive of 225 ships in
2010, an estimated 500,000 people arriving on four to eight cruise
ships a week.