story / editorial
/ local news
by Thomas Tomczyk with text contribution by Michelle Sanders
Photos by Thomas Tomczyk
DREAM OF A
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.
Monteroso of Island Properties makes her pitch on the first
day of the tour. ABOVE: A complementary lunch in
one of the island homes.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
story / editorial
/ local news
Electric Company Compensates for Fuel Price Hikes by Raising Prices
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.
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.
SHOOT-OUT TRAUMATISES HUNDREDS
baseball spectators are shot dead as others take cover at
a local baseball field.
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
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
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
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."
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
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.
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.
story / editorial
/ local news
THE ISLAND by
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.
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.