Belize’s plentiful wildlife, diverse regions, historical Mayan ruins and more make it an attractive home for the Canadian adventurer. While the country takes responsible consideration to reopen the border for international tourism, here are some examples of Canadian expats living in Belize who are doing their part to ensure they are ready to safely welcome venturesome travellers from their former home. Here’s what some Canadian expat business owners are doing in anticipation of the reopening, and how Belize is staying ahead of COVID-19.
VICTORIA HOUSE – Ambergris Caye
In 1981, from a former fishing camp emerged the boutique hotel, Victoria House. Managed by Canadian couple, Janet and Brett, for the last 25 years. Janet and Brett enjoyed tropical vacations together; when they discovered Belize, they knew it was the destination where they would eventually settle. Although Janet and Brett only initially signed on to manage the property for a few months, the overwhelming warmth and welcome from Belizeans made it easy to call home. Typically, the dreamy island property that Janet and Brett manage sees 99-100% occupancy, so the downtime amid the pandemic has given them the chance to reimagine their policies and tender to their staff.
- During the COVID lockdown, 15 of the 90-total staff, have been staying at the hotel and while the staff are working reduced hours, they all continue to help with property maintenance as a labour of love.
- Victoria House has begun to introduce new sanitation and social interaction procedures, including the reworking of tables in public spaces, enforcing mandatory dinner reservations, and creating more outdoor dining space.
- Since the property spans 10 acres for 42 rooms, the rooms are naturally spaced enough to encourage social distancing, and the hotel bar is idea for social distancing as an open-air bar.
- Villas will be deep cleaned 24 hours prior to next guest visit and anything non-essential will be removed from rooms.
- To avoid cross-contamination, QR codes will be utilized for restaurant menus and guest directories.
- Looking forward, Janet and Brett see an opportunity to create packages that include personal butlers to eliminate guests’ need t flow through public spaces.
The property strives to provide consistent excellence, which is demonstrated by accolades such as TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence for ten straight years, Condé Nast Johansens Awards for Excellence 2020, Belize’s “Leading Hotel” for six years consecutively by the World Travel Awards and more.
After thorough retirement research, Ralph made the informed decision to move to Belize in 2005 under the country’s Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) Program. While the objective was to retire, Ralph’s love of diving, Belize’s impeccable diving scene, and Ralph’s dream to teach his grandchildren to dive led him to Splash Dive Center, Southern Belize’s largest dive operator.
When the Saskatchewan native started his retirement recon, diving was a key criterion. That made Belize an unrivaled contender as the destination with the longest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere. Plus, also making Splash Dive an unrivaled diving company. During the COVID downtime, Ralph has been implementing the following:
- In the process of completing the Tourism Gold Standard Certification program.
- Working seven days a week at the dive center to disinfect all dive gear and sanitize all surfaces; sanitizing gear after each dive and snorkel trip.
- Mandatory mask policy is in place, enforcing a mask unless eating or in the water.
- The large dive center and outdoor space makes social distancing easy, with ‘guest stations’ established and treating those living under the same roof considered as one guest.
- No more than six guests are permitted per each 16-seater van, which is also sanitized after every trip.
Today, Splash Dive Center is the largest dive operator in Southern Belize and beyond providing expertly led and educational dive packages, the company is committed to preserving the pristine aquatic environment. Splash also recognizes the natural gifts that Belize boasts and actively contributes to whale shark and the Belize Barrier Reef conservation to ensure that future generations of divers can enjoy the same beauty that today’s divers enjoy.
Daniel Lighter is a Montreal-native, former lawyer and now hotel entrepreneur in Belize. After falling for the crystal-clear water, amazing snorkelling and diving, and the Belizean people back in 2005, Daniel settled. He then invested in and owns Matachica Resort, making Belize a permanent fixture in his life. Initially a micro-hotel with 11 casitas, one restaurant and a bar, Matachica is now a 30-room boutique hotel with a full service restaurant, two bars and a spa. Nearly 7 years later, Daniel purchased GAÏA Riverlodge after falling in love with the small, 15-room property. As he had done with Matachica Resort, Daniel brought new life to GAÏA Riverlodge, with a strong focus on sustainability and conservation.
The Canadian expat property in Belize now proudly grows almost all of their own produce and runs off of an off-grid power source, leading to recognition as a Green Globe Certified hotel. In light of COVID-19, both GAÏA and Matachica properties have undertaken the following protocols:
- Both properties are situated in a secluded location with private and naturally spaced out casitas and cabanas. Plus, open-air common spaces inherently allow for social distancing and will implement enhanced cleaning procedures.
- The properties will only reopen upon completing the Tourism Gold Standard Certification. Beyond that, the properties will continue to reevaluate and update their standards as suggested by the Government of Belize.
- If COVID-19 is suspected or confirmed, The Minister of Health will be contacted and contact tracing will be deployed; the individual and those in contact with the individual will be required to self-isolate in a designated room. Unless symptoms that require medical attention are developed, the COVID-positive individual will be kept onsite with staff attending to needs. Additionally, the individual will have to stay isolated for two weeks; individual needs to receive two negative COVID-19 tests before the quarantine measures may be lifted. Costs incurred during that period will be at the guest’s own expense.
- The cancellation policy has been modified to reflect the state of uncertainty posed by COVID-19. Cancellations made more than 45 days prior to arrival will receive full refunds; except for an administrative fee of US $100 + 9% government hotel tax per room. Cancellations within the 44 days prior to arrival will receive a full credit; redeemable within two years of the arrival date of the scheduled trip.
CARIBBEAN SHRIMP COMPANY LTD – Ladyville
Proudly Belizean-Canadian owned and operated since 1986, Caribbean Shrimp Company Ltd is the oldest continuously operating shrimp farm in Belize. The Canadian expat and Alberta native, Heather McIntosh, ultimately turned her father’s Belize shrimp farm into an eco-agri-tourism destination. Offering organic shrimp farm tours and tastings; mangrove maiden boat tour (the only solar powered boat in Belize); crocodile sanctuary tour; Captain Hook’s Shrimp restaurant and bar, Lighthouse Bay Saltwater pool; nature trails and Mayan artifact walks and adventure zone paintball. Visitors can also climb Hook’s Tower for a five-storey view of the 260-acre farm. Not to mention, the farm is considered on the top-ranking bird watching sites for unique shorebirds. To continue to safely welcome visitors, the company has implemented various protocols, including working towards achieving ‘Tourism Gold Standard’ recognition.