Where do we go From Here?

January 1st, 2007
by Alfonso Ebanks

[private] v5-1-Our IslandsFor the last few weeks everybody in town has been talking about the new law granting free zone status to the Bay Islands. After conducting small surveys on the streets, I am convinced that none of us seems to know exactly what this law will mean to these islands and nobody knows for certain how it will help Guanaja get out of it’s downward economical spiral.

About half the people questioned believe that it means that we will no longer pay taxes and the majority of the rest think that we will be able to import anything we want without paying a tariff. The man on the street is happy because he believes that he will no longer have to pay the 12% sales tax that we have been paying. What he is not thinking about is that that if we purchase our merchandise in La Ceiba or Puerto Cortes, it will be taxed therefore we will have to pay it no matter if it is called tax or if it’s called something else.

Other countries with free zones import merchandise directly from the country where it is manufactured and that is the only way the merchandise can have prices that are attractive to most of the tourists (Americans) that visit the Bay Islands.

I cannot see an American waiting until he travels to Roatan to purchase an American product. I am not sure how this law will help Bonacco, because as I see it, even the name of this law implies that it is tied to the tourist industry. Tourists are kind of scarce on this island.

Very few of us remember that Bonnaco started in the tourist business back in the late 50’s. The tourists flew in from the capital and also from El Salvador. That was the only time in our history that tourism affected our economy in any way.

For us, tourism is something that is going on in Cancun, Utila and the western half of Roatan. Our attitude towards tourism seems to be “wait and see.” While we wait we can see Roatan becoming a giant in the industry. You can ask anybody on our streets and they will tell you that we have more natural resources to offer the tourist than any of the other islands. We have real mountains, waterfalls, great beach areas and twice as much diving area as the other islands, but we still don’t get any tourists.

What we don’t have is the infrastructure needed to accommodate a good amount of visitors. When the people of this island found out that there was money in the fishing business they went hog wild and sold their properties to purchase fishing boats. The fishing is at an all-time low and I personally don’t see how things can get any better. Yet there are people that are still selling, or pawning their land to purchase boats, and convinced that the fishing industry is not dead.

Everybody agrees that tourism is our only hope, but none of us seem to know how to break in to that business. We were better prepared back in the 50’s to accommodate tourism than we are today. Some people believe it is the high cost of getting to this island that is keeping the tourist out. At present the airlines are the only real way to get here from La Ceiba and the price is around $60 or about one US dollar per mile, and from Guanaja to Roatan (about forty miles) the cost could be almost twice that. Maybe when Roatan’s tourist bucket runneth over some of those tourists will spill over on us, until then we will remain a Tourist Free Zone- a zone, completely free of tourists. [/private]

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