“Come Fly with Me” in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.


Over recent weeks I’ve devoted some of my early morning ‘me time’ out on the veranda following up on the legal dispute involving Tropic Air and a guy by the name of Brett Feinstein who is one of the two directors of Benny’s Enterprises Limited.

For those not aware, Tropic Air is the larger of the two Belizean airlines, the other being Maya Island Air, and with its fleet of 15 aircraft operates around 1,000 flights a week to 16 domestic airports and 6 international destinations. And this service offer keeps growing to the benefit of those of us living in Belize and those that come to visit.

Integral to Tropic Air’s operation is the ability to service and maintain its aircraft and to do so in the most timely and cost efficient way. Because of this need the company took the not insignificant decision of committing to a major investment (reputed to be as much as BZ$ 6 million) to build a new, and much larger, high tech maintenance facility in San Pedro. It’s spiritual and operational home.

The dispute concerns a small strip of land 100 by 100 feet which is adjacent to the San Pedro airstrip and forms part of the area on which Tropic Air, believing it had a thirty year lease, commenced the build in December last year.

All was proceeding to plan until last month when Construction Depot Limited, a company owned by Brett and Sean Feinstein, filed a court action against Tropic Air. They contend that Title to the land in question was granted to their company by the Lands Department in April this year (yes, this year) and as such the lease held by Tropic Air is null and void.

The action was held in court and Construction Depot Limited was granted a ‘cease and desist order’. Following this all work on the facility on the land under dispute was immediately halted. And that’s how it remains whilst these two leading Belizean companies try to reach a compromise.

If one were of a skeptical nature (oh, I am) one might wonder why a company believing that it owns land on which another company has started a major investment on their land would wait so long to make legal challenge. I mean why would you allow them to ‘sink’ somewhere close to 20% of the total investment cost in to the project before crying ‘foul’? Because they’d be keener to settle? And settle quickly at any price?

I have no personal involvement with either of these two prominent Belizean companies other than as a customer (construction materials for our house were purchased from Benny’s and Rose and I are regular flyers with Tropic Air) but I am concerned by the likelihood of a compromise not being reached.

Tourism (directly and indirectly) accounts for around 33% of Belize’s GDP and the number of people employed within the country to support this runs at a similar level. And both sets of figures (and the importance of tourism) have increased over the years as Belize’s appeal to tourists and overseas’ investors has grown. Tropic Air has played no small part in making this possible.

Now imagine the effects on tourism if Tropic Air were to be unable to service its fleet and keep it in the air. Tourists having booked their flights to Philip Goldstein International Airport would find themselves unable to quickly get to their chosen destination in Belize. They could get there of course by boat or bus ((but there would need to be an immediate major investment (for additional boats and busses)) but both would add time to their journeys. Not the thing you want if you are coming for a short stay (as many Americans do).

Of course this dispute could be settled very quickly. Tropic Air could pay a hugely inflated price and buy the land. A likely consequence though could be that ticket prices increase so that Tropic Air could recoup the cost that it didn’t envisage or budget for. So who pays ultimately? The traveller. Or do they all? A sharp increase in prices might have a knock on effect and passenger numbers decrease. Hotel bookings drop. Restaurant and tour operators are not as busy. And then all prices increase in an attempt to recover the deficit. A vicious circle.

I find it ironic that the opening of Benny’s Mission Statement reads:

” Benny’s is committed to continuously improving and developing the economy and lifestyle of Belize.”

As an outsider looking in I hope that they remind themselves of this when they sit down to try to reach agreement with Tropic Air. A healthy, vibrant and profitable tourism industry and ultimately the economy is essential for the well being of Belize and everyone (and I mean everyone) who either lives or visits here.

I like it that Tropic Air says “Come fly with me” and I want it to continue to be that way. And at prices that I find affordable.

Below are some shots of the land and development in question.

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The headline for today’s edition is based on the title track of the album released by Frank Sinatra in 1958 which reached number 1 in the US Billboard Hot 200 chart.

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11 thoughts on ““Come Fly with Me” in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

  1. Pingback: “This Is It” (IT) in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize. | Belize- building a new life . A Belize blog.

  2. Pingback: “When the Boat Comes In” in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize. | Belize- building a new life . A Belize blog.

  3. Of course the Land Office on Ambergris Caye is partly responsible. They are notorious for malfeasance without consequence, especially on Ambergis caye. I agree with Robert VErnons opinion of the Bz govt. I feel certain that Bennys will not suffer. Tropic Air made a poor decision to build on the caye rather than on the mainland on property they owned with clear title. I am curious about who the previous owner of the contested strip was & what the terms of the lease were. also, does this strip of land abut any land already owned by Bennys? The cost of flights will surely go up. I will be interested to watch this case more closely. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. BTW, do your figures of 33% of the GNP due to tourism include income brought in from ex-pats?

  4. Tropic was friendly and easy to deal with when we were there (and I thought extremely affordable). My wife and I also set up a fairly impromptu flight over the Great Blue Hole with tropic air (in addition to our flights back and forth from Phillip Gordon. The pilot was friendly and knowledgeable, check in and out super easy. They sort of helped set the tone for our visit to Ambergris Caye.

  5. John, having read as much as possible on this crazy situation, it would seem that the blame and any incurred costs should be born by the Belize Land ministry or whatever its correct title is, its their incompetence that has caused this dispute. They are much like all Belizean ministries , totally incompetent and always blameless !!!!

  6. John also one of the reasons we are building in Placencia is because it is easy for us to get to from Western Canada. ( including Tropic or Maya Air flights. ) I believe most of our building materials came from Benny’s as well. So it may also impact on their own sales if less people are building in Belize because of the difficulty and expense of traveling there .

    • Hi Shirley. Obviously one can drive or take a bus down to Placencia (I’ve driven it once) but flying is so much easier.

      I was going to include the potential impact on investment on new builds (homes and condos) and the consequences for Benny’s but decided to keep the edition shortish.

      Any adverse affect on Tropic’s ability to operate could also damage Benny’s major shareholding in Grand Caribe.

      Good luck with your build.
      John

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