Here Are the Winners for the BTB’s National Tourism Awards 2023

by Khaila Gentle

It was a spectacular weekend for Belize’s hospitality industry, with the Belize Tourism Board hosting the 2023 National Tourism Awards on Sunday, October 22nd. Industry stakeholders from across the country gathered at the Caribbean Motors showroom in Belize City, where the crème de la crème of tourism in Belize were honored for their outstanding work through a total of 12 awards, including a Minister’s Award and Lifetime Achievement Award. Here are this year’s winners.

Hotel of the Year Award

Winner: Naia Resort & Spa 

The Placencia Peninsula’s Naia Resort & Spa took the title of 2023’s Hotel of the Year – an award given to properties that exceed excellence in service and hospitality.

Nominees for 2023 Hotel of the Year were Grand Caribe Belize at Caribeville, Seiri del Mar, Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge, Naia Resort & Spa, The Lodge at Chaa Creek, Sunbreeze Suites, and Copal Tree Lodge.

Small Accommodation of the Year Award

Winner: Alma del Rio

Winner of this year’s Small Accommodation of the Year Award, Alma del Rio, is a cozy AirBnB stay perched over the Mopan River in Cayo. This award recognizes accommodations with less than 10 rooms that “capture the essence of warmth and homeliness”.

Nominees for Small Accommodation of the Year were Alma del Rio, Pelican Beach Resort South Water Caye, The Windward Lodge, and Ghan Eden Belize.

Restaurant of the Year

Winner: Mambo Restaurant at Matachica Resort & Spa 

Offering casual beachfront dining that highlights homegrown ingredients, Matachica’s Mambo Restaurant satisfies more than just the tastebuds. The 2023 Restaurant of the Year winner is known for serving up familiar international favorites with a Belizean twist – like the Belizean Benedict at brunch, which swaps out English muffins for Johnny Cakes.

The nominees for Restaurant of the Year were 1981 Restaurant at Naia Resort & Spa, Palmilla Restaurant at Victoria House, Sunbreeze’s Blue Water Grill in San Pedro, Guava Limb Restaurant & Cafe in Cayo, The Grove House at Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge, Rain Restaurant & Rooftop Terrace at Grand Caribe, and Mambo Restaurant at Matachica.

Frontline Person of the Year

Winner: Larry Leslie (The Lodge at Jaguar Reef)

If you’ve ever visited  Jaguar Reef in Hopkins, then you may have come across Larry Leslie. And if you have, then we’re 100% certain he left a lasting impression. Jaguar Reef’s beach captain was the recipient of the Frontline Personnel of the Year Award, which recognizes the kindness and hospitality of those who work on the frontlines of the industry. Whether handing out coconuts and hibiscus flowers or captaining the Hobie Cat, Larry is sure to leave a smile on guests’ faces.

The two other nominees for Frontline Personnel of the Year were Candida Suarez and Charlie Castellenos of Sirenian Bay Resort.

Green Champion of the Year

Winner: Blancaneaux Lodge 

This Coppola Family Hideaway in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is rooted in preserving the natural environment. And, from the design of the lodge right down to the Privassion Creek powered hydro system, it shows. This year’s Green Champion of the Year, Blancaneaux Lodge offers a true escape in the heart of nature.

The Green Champion of the Year award recognizes businesses that work responsibly, ethically, and sustainably. The nominees were Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association (TASA), TIDE Tours, Blancaneaux Lodge, and Gaia Riverlodge.

Tour Guide of the Year

Winner: Nedia Chaplin

The Tour Guide of the Year Award recognizes all those who demonstrate a wealth of knowledge and have the ability to capture the attention of their audience. Honored for her service excellence, Nedia Chaplin won the award at this year’s ceremony. The other nominees were Shanna Williams, Maximilliano Novelo, Eliceo Ken, Basilio Ical, and Jacqueline Alas.

Tour Operator of the Year

Winner: Scuba School And Family Dive Center

San Pedro’s Scuba School and Family Dive Center walked away with the title of 2023’s Tour Operator of the Year. The local scuba school champions having fun while learning how to dive.

The nominees for Tour Operator of the Year were Lamanai Eco Tours Ltd, Scuba School and Family Dive Center, and Off the Wall Dive Center and Resort.

Cultural Experience of the Year

Winner: Habinahan Wanaragua/Dance Jonkunnu 

Belize is in no short supply of authentic cultural experiences, as displayed by the varied nominees for this year’s Cultural Experience of the Year Award. The winner, Habinahan Wanaragua (Dance Jonkunnu) is an annual festival and competition held at the end of the year.

The other nominees for Cultural Experience of the Year were Pallmento Grove Eco Cultural & Fishing Lodge, Tugucina Gloria, San Pedro Lobster Festival, Chocolate Festival of Belize, The Belize International Yoga Festival, and Wamalali.

Health & Wellness Provider of the Year

Winner: The Hilltop Spa at Chaa Creek 

Recognizing businesses that offer a well-rounded wellness program, catering to both physical and mental wellness, the Health & Wellness Provider of the Year went to the Hilltop Spa at Chaa Creek. The Spa offers a wide range of specialty massages and other wellness treatments, including wraps, facials, manicures, and more.

The nominees for Health & Wellness Provider of the Year were Om Shanti Belize – Yoga and Wellness Center and School, The Hilltop Spa at Chaa Creek, Belize Retreats by Muy’Ono Resorts, and Naia Resort and Spa.

Site of the Year

Winner: Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association 

Each year at the National Tourism Awards, the title of Site of the Year is presented to a site – whether a national park, reserve, archaeological site, etc – that is beloved by visitors.  The nominees were Gladden Spit & Silk Cayes Marine Reserve, Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association, and Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Minister’s Award – Rosela Zabaneh

This year’s National Tourism Awards also saw the inclusion of two special awards. They included the Minister’s Award, which was presented to Rosela Zabaneh by Minister of Tourism Hon. Anthony Mahler. The Manager of Blue Marlin Beach Resort, Zabanaeh was honored for her dedication to the tourism industry and her community.

Lifetime Achievement Award – Dahlia Castillo

Also recognized was Dahlia Castillo of Tony’s Inn in Corozal Town. Castillo was honored for the positive impact she has had on Belize as well as the livelihood of countless Belizeans throughout her many years of service in the industry.

Cheers to all the 2023 National Tourism Awards winners and nominees!

National Tourism Awards Photos courtesy of the Belize Tourism Board

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