bi-weekly news magazine for Roatan, Utila & Guanaja

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Written by Thomas Tomczyk with text contribution by Michelle Sanders
Photos by Thomas Tomczyk


Every spring two groups of investors come to Roatan to look for real estate opportunities away from home. Their presence often goes unnoticed by many people already living on the Bay Islands, but these investors leave behind a substantial amount of cash that filters down all the way through the Bay Islands' economy.
For island realtors it is one of the most anticipated selling opportunities of the year. As many as 90% of each group buy property. While this doesn't always happen during the week of a tour, follow up sales contribute to the total in the months after the tour. An impressive success rate by most standards, with as much as $1,500,000 changing hands.
In the last week of February 2004, Agora Travel brought twenty-five potential property investors to the Bay Islands. The tour, formerly sponsored by International Living, serves as a guide to the world's hot spots for property opportunities and brings interested investors to locations around the world.

The audience is captive; the performers are well rehearsed and ready: the show is about to begin. The setting for the opening scene is a conference room at Parrot Tree Plantation, with bright and cheery tropical décor. As the audience (the potential investors), is ushered in and offered refreshments from a bamboo and palm frond coffee stand, the performers (the real estate agents) begin the performance.
This year the real estate agents outnumber the potential investors nearly two to one. Some of the real estate agents are uncomfortable with the blatantly competitive setting and others clearly thrive on it. But all that do come are quick to introduce themselves, offering a smile and a handshake, hoping to show the islands in a positive light and to end the week with sales.

FAR ABOVE: Mary Monteroso of Island Properties makes her pitch on the first day of the tour. ABOVE: A complementary lunch in one of the island homes.

Some realtors seem in their element, pitching their companies, socializing with potential clients and setting up trips for property site visits. The experience can be overwhelming for potential buyers not used to high pressure sales.
Not only realtors are involved: presentations on the first morning offer lots of information on topics such as residency, banking, medical care, property title insurance, corporation regulations and labor laws, all subjects of particular interest to potential investors. After each speaker there is time for questions, and it doesn't take long before the questions turn from fairly general to extremely pointed and clearly specific to a plan or a business idea. These are not tourists; this is a group that has done its homework and has chosen the Bay Islands as a place for realizing their individual dreams.
International Living offers a subscription newsletter that highlights parts of the world that are currently hot property markets. The Bay Islands have been featured in the newsletter many times, and have grown in popularity to the point where tours are organized to come here twice a year, in February and June. This year marks the tenth year for the tour in the Bay Islands.
"The tour of the Bay Islands has changed a lot over the ten years," says Barbara Perriello, the organizer of the tour for Agora Travel. Ten years ago the tour ended with a single property purchase. The participants stayed at Fantasy Island and during their weeklong visit spent nights on both Utila and Guanaja. Now, the investors stay at the Mayan Princess and the trips to Utila and Guanaja are optional day trips.
Another change for this year is that there is now a real estate Multiple Listing Service (MLS) for the Bay Islands. Five out of roughly 16 Bay Island real estate agencies belong to the Roatan Realtors Association and MLS group that in recent months has changed the dynamics among the real estate companies. "I've found that people were more likely to book a whole day with one agent rather than two hours each with many agents," said Margot Halliday of Margot and Matt Real Estate.
The MLS group meets monthly and shares information. On the Friday before the Agora Travel tour arrived, the five participating agencies took 25 of their agents on a property tour from one end of the island to the other. "We got into each other's cars so we could discuss properties as we went," said Halliday.
Availability of title insurance is another change for the Bay Islands tour. It became available in 2000 and can provide a peace of mind when dealing with purchases in a foreign setting. Any challenges to your title are handled by the insuring company, and any costs associated with the challenge are covered. "This provides foreign investors with a level of comfort they did not have a few years ago," said Tuey Murdock from First American Title, who offers title insurance for Honduran properties. But, according to Murdock, "There is still a lack of an appraisal or comp system." She says that foreign investors often worry about whether they are paying too much, and worry that there is no source listing of recent sales of comparable properties.

"I know that some realtors list properties that are under dispute or don't have proper document," said local real estate agent Delzie Rosales, owner of Roatan Rentals. Rosales has been selling property to the International Living groups since 1993. "It is making the island look bad," said Rosales.
This year some realty companies brought in five or six sales agents and support staff to the opening-day event at Parrot Tree. Several tour participants commented that it seems that all of the expatriates in the Bay Islands are real estate agents. On the other hand, only one of the three Roatan real estate companies which are currently locally owned and operated was invited to the opening event.
One of these realtors was Gis Luzey, 50, born in Crawfish Rock and owner of Caracol Choice Properties. Luzey worked for many years as a building contractor in Florida and returned to the island in 1997. He saw an opportunity to claim a part of the Roatan's real estate boom.
Luzey expressed frustration at the way the local companies were treated by Agora and International Living: "I feel insulted. I've been a licensed realtor since March 2001. If anyone should be at the top of the invited list it should be the island realtors," said Luzey, adding, "I'm getting busy and if it continues I will have to take on new agents. I assure you they will be islanders,"
"I did have a couple of new agencies that asked me the day before I came if they could participate, but since I don't know them and didn't have a chance to run any due diligence I couldn't have them participate," said Perriello in a letter, responding to the issue.
Since 2003, licensed real estate agencies have to pay a yearly Lps. 50,000 fee. The companies also pay $50/year for every real estate sign they display. These fees are collected by and benefit Roatan.

This year for the first time on the Bay Islands tour Agora introduced a finder's fee for every sale made to their investors and concluded within three months after their visit. Some realtors expressed apprehension over disclosing their financial documents and giving up a part of their standard 10% sales commission to Agora. Some didn't have a problem. "She is doing a very good job and has been pointing the investors in the right direction for many years," said Rosales about Perriello. Financial details of finders' fees were worked out on an individual basis with each company Agora deals with.
The 2004 investors group was a typical one, according to Perriello. 20-30 investors/tourists are as young as 19, as old as 90 and mostly from North America. Similar tours are offered all over the world, so the people who come on a particular tour are already specifically interested in that location and they have a stated interest in buying property.
One couple on the tour was Aubrey and Marguerite Todd, retired teachers from Sheridan, California. On the first day of the tour, they were a bit overwhelmed by the kick-off at Parrot Tree and the initial property materials they were given. "This is way out of our league", said Marguerite. "I mean, it's beautiful; I love it, but I'm not sure we could afford it." They felt the first day of the tour was "too loud, too many people, and too much pressure", said Marguerite, "but the scenery is stunning!"
They had researched Panama and Nicaragua as well, before deciding to come on the Bay Islands' tour. Still, they weren't ready to throw in the towel. Even though they don't intend to buy property this week, Marguerite said "We're very interested in coming down and staying for three months because we don't want to get down here and say this isn't where I want to be." At the end of their week-long tour they were planning to stay on Roatan an extra week to vacation and scuba dive.
By Thursday the Todds didn't feel quite so out of their league. Complete with a sun burn and laughing about the ticks they have found on themselves, Marguerite said, "We've seen a lot of properties in our price range." She added, "We've looked at a lot of pieces of land; we're a lot happier about being here now."
Another tour participant, Robert Palmer from Weatogue, Connecticut, came because he subscribes to the newsletter and in it, he says, "They keep saying Roatan is one of the greatest places in the Caribbean, so I'm here." He says this will be "a survey week" for him. "I am moderately serious [about buying], but that doesn't mean I'll buy this week. I want to come down for one other week another time." He says, "My first job is to see if I like Roatan, to get the feel of the island." If he decides to return, he would bring his spouse with him. On Thursday, Mr. Palmer said, "It's been a great week, but busy. Utila was beautiful. The water there was spectacular".
A couple originally from India and living in Texas, Dr. Ashok and Taru Vachhani, came "looking for a different lifestyle from the stressful U.S., plus we're looking for a place that is affordable."
By Thursday, according to Perriello, at least two purchase contracts had been signed. By Saturday, ten contracts were signed, and there were still appointments with real estate agents planned for later in the day. The next few months will tell how many contracts are written, and how many close. The next Roatan investors' tour is planned for June 13 thru 20.
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letters to/from the editor

Dear Tom,
After reading your editorial addressed to Leslie Brown regarding the 2004 Triathlon, I must say your editorial was surprisingly filled with unkind words regarding her efforts. But, I'd like to let you know you forgot one more complaint: the large Port Royal inflatable bottle at the swimmers' finish line was deflated by the winds that day so, that too, must be her fault.
I was reading your article like a 'deer in headlights' because most professional people would use a separate letter addressed to the person to issue such strong complaints. Constructive criticism is good, but you forgot an all important ingredient: if you have a complaint or complaints, then you should also offer solutions to those complaints. Your article sounded like a child whining because he/she didn't get his way.
Tom, no one is perfect; no event ever runs completely smoothly; and finding qualified 'volunteers' and delegating tasks utililizing volunteers in a foreign country has got to be an event's largest undertaking.
One thing I came away with after reading your article is that you are superb at blame-storming. Your article was a blatant 'roast' of Leslie's endeavors. You made no specific mention of the things that went well.
I do want to thank you for your paragraphs on me, and you were correct on my past swimming history. However, I want to make something very clear: I did not grab my chest and struggle out of the water upon finishing the swim, nor do I smoke as many packs of cigarettes that I can get my hands on daily. You crossed the line on these two issues. You may think I faltered out of the water, but you are the only one at the triathlon that thought so.
In order to correct the lies you wrote about me, I want to offer you a challenge. We will meet at Half Moon Bay on Saturday, June 5th at 9:00 a.m. by the Sundowner Beach Bar. We will swim six loops around the inside of Half Moon Bay (3 miles). Each loop is one-half mile. Only goggles can be used; no fins.
I am probably 25 to 30 years older than you, I am a female, I probably weigh 30 pounds more than you and, according to you, I smoke as many cigarettes as I can get my hands on. So, Tom, you should have no problem winning this race.
Let's see who struggles out of the water on June 5th.
Donna Dunn

Dear Donna,
Since you mention it - the Cerveceria people do need to take better care in securing their advertising paraphernalia. The last thing anybody needs is for someone to get injured by a 30 foot Port Royal bottle on the loose.
The editorial you refer to is not an article and it was sent to Leslie Brown before its publication on my editorial page. My editorial reflects the frustration I felt as a sponsor and a media person and echoes similar complaints I heard from other sponsors of the event who, unlike me, have no outlet for their concerns.
I am sorry you feel we printed "lies about you." I'm sorry again, but I have to reaffirm what I saw: you did "hold your hand to your chest as you struggled out of the water." Further, I was not the only one who saw your water-to-land transition; two other people who were with me at the time confirmed my observations.
Maybe you could find the energy to focus less on perceived slights to yourself and instead suggest "specific things that you think went well in the 2004 Bay Islands Triathlon." Please take the time to re-read the first two paragraphs of the editorial and the feature story to find my suggestions for improvements and positive things about the triathlon.
Your winning or losing a "swim challenge" with someone 24 years younger than you would prove as little about anything as me winning an arm wrestling challenge with you. You breaking your smoking habit might prove something however.
I might not owe you a race, but certainly a beer.

Thomas Tomczyk,
Managing Editor

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Roatan's Electric Company Compensates for Fuel Price Hikes by Raising Prices Themselves
Starting in March Roatan Electric Company (RECO) raised their rates by 7.5% to make up for escalating fuel prices. In recent weeks, world fuel prices increased to $38 per barrel (42 gallons). Roatan diesel spot prices are currently $1.11 per gallon and are 15-20 cents higher than on the Honduras mainland. Honduras has the highest fuel prices in all of Central America.
According to Leonardo Casco, RECO's general manager, since December 2003 the company operated outside its 5% profit safety margins. "We expected the fuel prices to go down and we absorbed loses," said Casco. In March the board of directors met to discuss the situation and came to a consensus regarding its first fuel surcharge increase since January 2001. "The board is always hesitant to increase rates because of the negative perception of the rates being excessive," said Casco.
On March 9, following the announcement of the increases over the radio, a metal wire support for one of the electrical posts was cut by vandals. This produced a ground fault that tripped the whole system. From 1:30pm until 4:00pm the entire east end of the island was left without power as RECO technicians located the source of the outage.

The company runs four of its total seven generators providing power to its 7,000 customers. Burning around 50,000 gallons of diesel a week RECO generates 675,000-700,000 KWH. Efficiency of production comes to 13.75 KWH per gallon of diesel.
RECO's 200,000 gallon fuel storage tanks are supplied by two 60,000 and 80,000 gallon barges from Puerto Cortez.
Casco added it is possible for the prices to come down if the fuel prices come down, but that has never happened in company's 12 year history. According to RECO, the average cost for residential consumer rose from 3.03 to 3.24 Lps/KWH and the average residential bill will increase by Lps 29.43.
Bay Islanders on Guanaja and Utila are left in the same boat. Since October 2003 Utilans have seen their rates increase three times, from 3.59 up to the current 3.92 Lps/KWH. Guanaja's energy prices remain the highest in the Bay Islands at 4.20 Lps/KWH.


Two baseball spectators are shot dead as others take cover at a local baseball field.

According to several eyewitnesses, 30-40 bullets were fired as both spectators and players ran for cover. "I saw bullets hit the ground right next to me," said Yankees trainer, Bill Etches, who was coaching third base when the shooting started. "I ran behind a hill mound to take cover."
As William Mann went to his car to get help he ran into Wilfredo Allen, 27, allegedly one of the shooters. "'Please don't shoot me. I'm not chasing you,' I asked him," said William Mann. "Some other men in his car pulled him back."
According to Etches a doctor from Anthony's Key Resort was called to tend to the wounded. According to different sources the police arrived on the scene somewhere between 20 minutes and one hour after the shooting begun at 4:20pm.
The experience has traumatized both baseball teams and the 200-300 fans gathered for the Sunday game. "I don't think there will be any more baseball this season," said Etches. "There were people that fired guns into the air [at baseball games], but never anything like this. There were even tourists out there."
D.G.I.C. is investigating the shooting and has Wilfredo Allen with knife and gunshot wounds in custody at the Woods Medical Clinic. According to the Roatan Preventiva there were six murders commited on the island this year. The bodies of the two brothers were taken to the Roatan Hospital for examination and returned to the families around 11pm the same night.
On Monday, March 29, a wake took place at the Mann home in West End. All afternoon until past midnight a crowd of family, friends and traumatized community members paid their respects. Streets on West End filled with people wearing black.

by Thomas Tomczyk

As the West End Yankees went into the sixth inning against the Sandy Bay Pirates shots were fired at the Sandy Bay baseball field. On Sunday, March 28, Wayne Mann, 49, and Richard Mann, 44, carpenters from West End, were shot and killed when a fight erupted in the stands behind home plate.
Two other members of the Mann family were also shot. Chorky Bodden, 45, was wounded in the arm; Jimmy-James Mann, 16, was shot in the torso and later transported to San Pedro hospital for specialized care. Debby Junior Miralda, 29, was also shot in the arm.
"I saw everybody run, and as I turned around I saw my brother standing there with a knife in his hand and two men had their guns pointed at him," said William Kenny Mann, brother of the deceased. "'Drop the knife and back-up,' I shouted to my brother Wayne." "All they could do is kill me," answered his brother Wayne right before the shots were fired, says William Mann.
"I was on the spot and I even don't know what started the problem," said William Mann. William Mann said that he saw his brother Richard pull out his gun. "I couldn't say who fired first."


You can't fail giving away free beer. Scantily clad girls, giant inflatable beer bottles and loud music also help. Cerveceria Hondurena spared little in its launch of Bahia beer in the Bay Islands. This new Cerveceria Hondurena product geared towards the active youth market was launched in Las Palmas on March 25.
Launching of the product on Roatan followed similar events that took place within five days in La Ceiba, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro. "We see Roatan as one of our more important markets," said Carlos Fernandez, Cerveceria Hondurena's sales and distribution director.
Roatanians 21 and over are estimated to consume 30 liters of beer per year. This is almost double the national average of 16 liters per person per year. Still, these numbers remain small when you consider that Panamanians drink 40 liters and Venezuelans 80. Fernandez accredited the lower beer consumption rates in Honduras to higher government taxes on beer than in other Central American countries. According to Fernandez the sales price of beer is 65% tax.

Cerveceria Hondurena produces 12,000,000 hectoliters a year. Salva Vida is the company's biggest seller with 45% of the market; Imperial has 37% and Port Royal 18%. Bahia brand, with its focus on the youth consumer is expected to gain high sales numbers soon.
Roatan is due for another beer launch in May-June, when production of chemical-free Bay Islands Pilsner at a local microbrewery will begin. The Czech engineered beer will be refrigerated and distributed in kegs to resorts and restaurants throughout the Bay Islands. "We are not afraid of the competition," said Rober Priday, Cerveceria Hondurena's president, who took part in the Bahia launching.

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A strong showing from the Bay Islands' business community and local government took part in the 2004 Miami Seatrade. Mayors and chamber of commerce representatives from all across Honduras' North Coast were invited to the annual event that took place on March 16, 17 and 18. Mayors of La Ceiba, Roatan, Utila and a representative from Guanaja Municipality showed up at the convention. Oak Ridge Municipality was not represented.

The Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention, largest annual gathering of cruise line owners, operators and suppliers in the world, celebrated its 20 year anniversary this March. From 150 participants in 1985, the March tradeshow grew to include 9,000 people from over 100 countries. At the same time the number of cruise ship passengers grew from 1.86 million to over 8 million.
"From a handful of tabletop displays the trade show has grown into nearly a thousand exhibiting companies and now takes up three halls of the Miami Beach Convention Center," said Michael Kazakoff, vice president of show organizers CMP Princeton Inc. At the 2003 convention, 76 cruise line owners and operators were represented.
Preparations for this year's Seatrade tradeshow began in November 2003. This year's effort was coordinated for the first time between the Municipality of Roatan, Chamber of Tourism and Honduras Institute of Tourism (H.I.T.). The $15,000 expense for renting booth space was covered by H.I.T. 29 Roatan businesses raised $17,798 to pay for the cost of exposition and marketing materials. Sol Air offered free flights to the Honduran trade show participants and TACA offered a 50% discount for anyone going to the Miami tradeshow.
"Last year it was a disaster. It [the Roatan booth] looked like a restaurant," said Lynnette de Flores, operations manager at shipping and customs agency, Del Caribe. De Flores has been representing her Coxen Hole shipping agency, at Seatrade since 1999. The decorating of the 20' by 20' space came at a $5,000 price tag. Seatrade only allows renting from its own equipment.
Several tour operators from Tela were also represented and promoted the Honduran North coast as a destination. De Flores suggested that for the 2005 tradeshow a bigger booth should be rented and subdivided into Honduras, Bay Islands and Atlantic coast sections.
Roatan has build-up name recognition among industry professionals. "This was the first year that the cruise lines representatives came to us. We didn't have to look for then," said De Flores. The seven big cruise ship companies visiting Roatan sent their representatives: Norwegian Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Holland-America, Cunard, Silver Seas and Silver Cross.
"It's a money-making machine for the cruise ships. We are considered friends of the industry at this point," said Romeo Silvestri, Roatan business owner present at the tradeshow. "They insist we put more money in developing attractions for the cruise ships."
Also, suppliers and contractors working for the cruise ships inquired about opportunities for doing business on the island. Silver Seas was interested in getting fresh fish during its scheduled three visits this season.
Two new ships were announced as including Roatan as a port of call: NCL's Super Star Leo, with a 200 passenger capacity, will visit the island every two weeks for six months starting in November 2004. After a three year absence, Wind Star Cruises' Wind Surf will relocate from Tahiti to begin a Caribbean tour. The ship's 350 passengers will have the chance to visit Roatan. Also Costa Cruise Lines expressed interest in Roatan as a destination.
While Carnival, Royal Caribbean and NCL expressed interest in the lease of the Roatan cruise ship dock, the work on improving the Roatan facility has not begun. Construction of a rain shelter, bathroom facilities, expanded parking and a double security gate with metal detector are required for the Coxen Hole dock.

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