Ambergris resorts aim to reopen in November

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NEW YORK -- Ambergris Caye, Belize's largest resort destination, is busy cleaning up the damage caused when Hurricane Keith hit the offshore island on Oct. 2.

While many hotels are temporarily closed, Mark Espat, minister of tourism for Belize, estimated that the resort island should be fully operational by Thanksgiving weekend and that 60% of the repair work should be completed by Nov. 1.

According to Espat, crews have cleared streets in San Pedro and are removing debris north and south of the town, although property damage from Keith is much less than it was following Hurricane Mitch in November 1998, when town and hotel piers needed extensive rebuilding.

However, services such as electricity, water and telephone communication were hard hit, and as of this writing, most phone lines are still out between the island and the mainland.

For the moment, this is causing some problems for reservations requests on calls from the U.S. directly to island properties; however, travel agents having difficulty contacting hotels directly should either work through their U.S. or local ground operator or contact the Belize Tourist Board's toll-free number.

A spot check to a few of the Ambergris resort properties with U.S. reservations numbers showed that Ramon's Village plans to open at half occupancy on Nov. 13 and full occupancy on Dec. 22; Journey's End is hoping to reopen, although probably not to full occupancy, by Dec. 15; Victoria House will be back in business on Nov. 1, complete with a new pool and dining room.

Neighboring Caye Caulker -- 11 miles south of Ambergris Caye, 21 miles northeast of Belize City and accessible by boat from both -- suffered the greatest wind and water damage, and several local Belize tourism interests reported that the island's properties may not be ready for occupancy until next year.

Espat pointed out that other popular areas for visitors to Belize, such as the highlands of the Cayo district; Orange Walk; Corozal; the southern Stann Creek district's Caribbean resorts at Dangriga and Placencia, and the southern cayes were unaffected by Hurricane Keith, and hotels and attractions remain open for business.

Hurricane Keith caught Belize during a strong upsurge in visitor traffic.

"In the last two years, making tourism a government priority has paid off well," said Espat, "for tourist arrivals have grown by 30%, and this year's figures for January to September were up 19% over last year."

For information on travel to Belize, contact the tourist board at its Belize City-based information center at (800) 624-0686, or visit the Web at www.travelbelize.org.

In addition, the Belize Tourism Board has a Web site for information on Hurricane Keith at www.belizeemergency.net.

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