Norwegian Cruise Line has bought a 75-acre plot in southern Belize on which it plans to develop an eco-friendly cruise destination.

The land, called Harvest Cave, is made up of two islands in the Stann Creek and Toledo areas. The area had previously been approved for a resort development with an air strip.

Norwegian said the $50 million investment would allow them to bring four times as many guests to Belize.

Kevin Sheehan, president and chief executive, said: “As our fleet continues to grow to 15 ships by 2017, we expect that we will double the number of guests sailing on our Western Caribbean itineraries and, once this new destination is complete, bring four times as many guests to Belize than we do today.

“In our quest to continuously look for new and exciting destinations for our guests, we plan to develop a cruise destination focused on sustainable design and eco-friendly principles that will retain the natural beauty and local culture of this tropical paradise.”

Norwegian has tasked IDEA, designers of branded ports of call and destinations for the hospitality, entertainment and tourism industries, with bringing the project to fruition.

Colin Murphy, vice president of destination and strategic development for the cruise line, added: “At Norwegian, we have a strong commitment to the environment through our Eco-Smart Cruising philosophy.

“We will continue that commitment as we develop the Belize project and ensure that we are socially responsible in everything we do.”

The plans are still in the early stages, by Norwegian said their vision was to create a “world-class cruise destination”, consisting of an island with docking and tendering facilities and a mainland connection point for inland tours. It is also hoped the plans will include a floating pier, a lagoon for water sports, a beach area and an island village with open-air buildings.

The Government of Belize and Norwegian have signed a memorandum of understanding on the development that calls for adherence to Belize’s environmental standards, creation of jobs for Belizeans, as well as significant economic impact, among other items.

Belize’s Prime Minister Dean Barrow has said that Belize needs to decentralise cruise tourism in an effort to reduce overcrowding and improve the visitor experience. Prime Minister Barrow also expressed confidence in Norwegian Cruise Line’s commitment to responsible development that will have a positive economic impact while maintaining the integrity of natural resources.

The new destination is expected to benefit Belize directly with significantly increased head tax revenues, and at a local level with up to 1,000 new jobs. The creation of the new destination will also help relieve cruise tourism pressures in Belize City which has been called for in Belize’s National Sustainable Tourism Master Plan.

Norwegian said they plan to employ a majority of Belizeans in the construction and operation of the destination in Belize. The company has also created a hiring programme specifically for Belizeans who want to work in the immediate future on its vessels while the project is under development.