Placencia Sweeps Tourism Awards, San Pedro Shut Out
San Pedro may be Belize’s premier tourism destination, but Placencia was the one that virtually swept the 12th annual tourism awards on Saturday night at Bannister Caye.
Daniel Ortiz and Cameraman Codie Norales attended to meet with those who pretty much carry this important industry on their backs. Here is their report.
Daniel Ortiz reporting
This year’s Tourism Awards were almost swept by tour operators and businesses out of Placencia, which was recognized as the Tourist Destination of the Year.
Because Belize’s economy depends so heavily on this industry, it is easy to recognize the fancy hotels, and beautiful exotic destinations. People often forget however, that there are real individuals who work very hard behind the scenes to drive it forward.
One of them is Natalie Ranguy, who makes a first impression on her guests, and you know what they say about first impressions. She makes sure that each individual she comes in contact with remembers her, and by extension, Belize.
Natalie Ranguy - Front Desk, Chabil Mar Villas - 'Frontline Person Of The Year'
"From the time your guest steps on your property you know that that person is a value to your property and to Belize. So you have to make sure that they're contented and they're happy because they travel all the way just to come and see our country and when they get here we have to make sure that they have a good time and want to come back and bring friends."
And after the front staff gains their respect and trust, it is up to the tour guides to impress the guests with their vast knowledge of Belize, and whatever activity they set out to participate in. For Jerome Williams, logistics are the most important feature of his Scuba Tours. He says that his guests can spot a lack of preparation very easily.
Jerome Williams - Tour Guide, Huracan Diving- 'Tour Guide of the Year'
"It is expected that I must ensure that everything is properly coordinated get to the boat that we have everything ready and that we're also ready to go too. And once we're out there from day to day it becomes a routine."
"What does it take to be the tour guide of the year?"
"It takes firstly being humble, being patient, hardwork and respect."
And after the guests have completed a full day of tours, they look to the restaurateurs for a memorable dining experience. John Lee of the Placencia Maya Bistro says consistency of service and maintaining a high standard is the key:
John Lee - Co-Owner, Placencia Maya Bistro - 'Restaurant of the Year'
"When someone orders a particular dish, if they come back and order the same thing - it has to look the same, it has to taste the same, it has to be on the same plate. If it's something different they will say this isn't what I had the last time so we have customers that get hooked on one thing."
The business owners in the tourism industry all believe that their employees and staff will either make or break their success. They are especially important because the owners have invested their lives and savings in a sector where fortunes can be fickle.
Ellen Lee - Co-Owner, Placencia Maya Bistro
"We have a lot of people who are working for us that have more experience than we do and if we get the right people then it's really just a matter of teaching our way of doing it, what our food is like, our service style is like and generally as long as our employees are happy they're going to be producing the food and service that we expect them to do."
Apolo Caliz - Representative, Placencia Tourism Center - 'Hospitality Award'
"We take hospitality in our office very seriously. For example when we have a customer in our office and a tour has gone wrong - we try every possible way to find a solution for our guest. At the end of the day, Ms. Pollard and myself - we find the solutions for them. Again when they leave our country they leave our country happy."
Paolita Bedran-Figueroa - Operations Manager, San Ignacio Resort Hotel - 'Hotel of the Year'
"The greatest thing that we have is our staff. From the smallest, and it has nothing to do with category but where they work and how they work and the people that clean and cook - that's our incredible asset that we're blessed to have. They are the people that got this award for us."
And if these owners, operators and employees of this industry can maintain their balance, they get the prestige of a long tenure like that of Jesse Young. She has been a part of the Community Baboon Sanctuary since it was opened in 1981.
Jesse Young - President, Community Baboon Sanctuary - 'Lifetime Achievement Award'
"I'm really excited right now to receive such an honor. As I said I wasn't expecting this because I’m usually a person that works behind the scenes and not usually work to get any recognition. My people and my community usually come first. I have no regrets, it has been challenging and the road has been rough sometimes, I get discouraged and I want to give up but then when I think about my people I always encourage them and tell them 'None but ourselves'. That's my motto, if we don't do it then nobody will do it for us and that encourages me to do that."
These tourism partners often get a wake-up call from their guests, who judge them by an international standard. They told us that there are often guests for whom they go beyond the call of duty. According to them, the policy is; even if the customer is wrong, the customer is still always right.
"We do as in any business we have customers that are not satisfied even though you've tried your best but we will always try to work with them because we value our customers as number one so we would always give them the benefit of the doubt and make sure that they're trip is a memorable one."
"Well first of all you have to listen to whatever complaint they are having and based on what they are looking for and we cannot accommodate them then we need to try other alternatives. But at the resort what we normally do if a guest has a complaint for example they don't like the room, or the service that they're getting, then we pull them aside and we talk to them and try to work it out then and there. If we cannot help them then we try to relocate them."
Marian Bedran- Roberson - Managing Director, San Ignacio Resort Hotel - 'Hotel of the Year'
"A lot of times you always think that maybe we're doing everything right and that's not the case. We need as Belizeans and Belizean businesses to understand what travelers expect and travelers want."
"We attend to all our guests with a smile. Even if we have mad customers, happy customers, crazy customers because we do have those but we attend to them with a smile and when we have them in our office we attend to them as though they were at home and let them feel that they are a part of our Belizean culture, part of Belize so that when they get back to their country they tell a friend, to tell a friend and tell a friend and Belize gets more people like that."
"It is challenging, it is difficult and all we can do is try to do our best and hope that our little piece of the pie comes to us."
The award for Tour Operators of the Year went to the Splash Dive Center, while the Placencia Lobster Fest won the award for Major Festivals and Event of the Year.
Placencia sweeps Tourism Awards
The biggest event in the tourism calendar is the National Tourism Awards. This year it did not disappoint; the event was moved to Bannister Caye where the guests, dressed in white, arrived by catamaran from the Old Belize pier. The highlight was the announcement of the nine winners in the industry… and move over San Pedro, the hottest area is the Placencia peninsula. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
The Twelfth Annual National Tourism Awards, held in recognition of the efforts of all stakeholders in the travel industry, took place on Bannister Caye on Saturday night. The event, organized by the Belize Tourism Board, was well attended. It highlighted the importance of developing and strengthening our tourism product.
Manuel Heredia Jr.
Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism
“Your commitment to service excellence helps to set us apart from our competitors in this region. As we present the awards this evening, several key words will resonate: development, high standards, innovation, sustainability, authenticity. These are just some of the things that help to make our tourism product offerings parallel to none. Tourism continues to be one of the main pillars of our national economy and for this reason, among others we must always seek to improve capacity of Belize as a world class premier vacation destination in order to meet the increasing demands of the ever-discerning traveler.”
Candidates for the sought-after Small Hotel of the Year Award included Singing Sands Inn, a private, out-of-the-way seafront resort on Maya Beach. It offers a breathtaking view of the Caribbean Sea, as well as the nearby Placencia Lagoon.
Winner, Small Hotel of the Year Award
“My wife and I, her sister and her husband, we wanted to find a place in the Caribbean to do a life change so we found the Singing Sands in May of 2008 and then [we] closed it, renovated it and re-opened in February of 2009. Our tag line is casual elegance, so what we’ve tried to do is create more of a Belizean feel here, you know, with your thatched roof cabanas, not your typical resort, boutique resort and our aim is to make it intimate. I believe it’s very sexy.”
Placencia, with its stretch of sandy beaches and immaculate surroundings, is one and the same with haute living. It is also celebrated for fine dining. The impressive distinction of Restaurant of the Year went to Maya Beach Bistro. It is the second time proprietors John and Ellen Lee would win the prestigious award.
John Lee, Winner, Restaurant of the Year
“This is a great honor and I’m sure all of our staff are watching this tonight and they’re really happy and it’s them who have made this what it is and we’re really proud of them all.”
Among the nominees for Frontline Person of the Year was Natalie Ranguy of Chabil Mar’s Villas. Her job epitomizes quality of service in the hotel industry.
Natalie Ranguy, Winner, Frontline Person of the Year
“Whenever I do anything I do it to the best of my ability and I thank you very much for this award and I’ll share it with the rest of frontline. Thank you.”
The night’s biggest win for Hotel of the Year, a victory for an industry stakeholder outside of Placencia, went to San Ignacio Resort Hotel.
Miriam Roberson, Proprietor, San Ignacio Resort Hotel
“It’s very humbling. It’s quite an honor. We did it Paulita! I can’t believe it! It’s really hard to wrap up thirty-seven years in just a few words but we’re living a legacy and it makes it even more special. We are, like I said, living a dream and reliving a dream, building a dream that started a long time ago. But the people that are behind it, our staff, who would fill this stage if they knew what was happening tonight, we owe them the biggest thank you and we take this back home to them.”
Of the nine categories for this year’s awards, seven went to individuals and businesses in Placencia. Chairman of the local chapter of the Belize Tourism Industry Association is Stewart Krohn.
Stewart Krohn, Chairman, Placencia BTIA
“It was almost a clean sweep Isani, just a great night for Placencia. I think it’s a credit for how the community pulls together at that destination, you know, we get into our little scrapes now and then but when it comes down to it everyone is working towards a common goal and we want the destination to be the best it can be. We want the country to be the best tourism destination in the world.”
Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.
Placencia steals the Show at 2013 Tourism Awards
The 12th Annual Tourism Awards was held at the newest hotspot for domestic tourism, Bannister Caye, on Saturday, May 18th. Over two hundred and thirty industry stakeholders honoured the all-white dress code and attended the event hosted by the Belize Tourism Board. There were two special awards presented to individuals, who have made significant contribution to the tourism industry and nine awards given in recognition of exceptional products and services.
By the end of the night, it was acceptable to refer to the event as the Placencia Awards Show. Seven out of the nine awards up for grabs went to individuals and establishments from the Placencia Peninsula. The Frontline Personality of the Year was Natalie Ranguy of Chabil Mar Villas, a resort in Placencia. The award is given to a frontline employee with great interpersonal skills that welcomes guests with outstanding Belizean hospitality. Ranguy said, “From the time your guest steps on your property you know that that person is a value to your property and to Belize. So, you have to make sure that they're contented and they're happy because they travel all the way just to come and see our country. When they get here, we have to make sure that they have a good time and want to come back and bring friends.” The Hospitality Award was presented to the Placencia Tourism Center for exceptional customer service. The Tour Operator of the Year is the Splash Dive Center from Placencia. Splash wins the award for its creativity and wide variety of tours. It meets international standards of safety and security, equipment quality, cleanliness and reliability.
Placencia was also recognized as the Destination of the Year. According to the Belize Tourism Board, Placencia “is proactive in its marketing initiatives and product enhancement. It also seeks to develop local tourism businesses for the development of the destination.” Stuart Krohn, Chairman of the Placencia branch of the Belize Tourism Industry Association, said, “It’s a credit to how the community pulls together as a destination. When it comes down to it, everyone is working towards a common goal and we want the destination to be the best it can be.” The Small Hotel of the Year is Singing Sands Inn of Maya Beach, Placencia. The BTB says that Singing Sands Inn is a “small hotel that captures the essence of warmth and authenticity through its accommodations.” The Restaurant of the Year is the Maya Beach Bistro from Placencia. John Lee, Co-Owner of the Maya Beach Bistro, said that opening a restaurant in Belize presents a unique opportunity. Lee said that they have adapted Belizean dishes such as the “hudut” and put their own twist on it. He said their success is due in large part to the Belizean staff. Placencia’s final award of the night was for the best Major Festival and Event, the Placencia Lobster Fest. According to the BTB, this award goes to “a hallmark festival/event that promotes income generating activities, stimulates local and international travel, attracts national & international media coverage, and positively promotes the destination.” Organizers of the event promised that this year’s Lobster Fest will be better than ever.
The two awards that did not go to Placencia establishments are the Tour Guide of the Year Award and the Hotel of the Year. Jerome Williams of Huracan Diving from Long Caye won the Tour Guide of the Year Award. Williams said to be a good tour guide “It takes firstly being humble, being patient, hardwork and respect." The Tour Guide of the Year must be knowledgeable about Belize’s history, natural attractions and local tours. The Hotel of the Year goes to a “hotel where service exceeds excellence, where positive attitude and attentiveness of staff are the norm. The hotel of the year offers exceptional value for money and is equipped with modern facilities and amenities.” The 2013 Hotel of the Year is the San Ignacio Resort Hotel. Miriam Roberson, Owner of San Ignacio Resort Hotel, said, “We owe the biggest thank you to the people who are behind it, our staff.” She said the award is the result of thirty-seven years of hard work with the goal of continuing to improve the resort and adapt to the demands of patrons.
Minister of Tourism and Culture, Hon. Manuel Heredia, Jr., presented the Minister’s Award to David Heredia. David Heredia is the owner of Anchorage Hotel in Caye Caulker. He received the award for his lifelong work and interest in the tourism industry and development of Caye Caulker. He said it is impressive how the island has developed and attracted so many tourists. However, he would like to see a greater amount of Belizean visitors and, he took the opportunity to invite all Belizeans who have never been to Caye Caulker to take a trip and enjoy the beautiful beach. The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Jessie Young, President of the Community Baboon Sanctuary Women’s Group in Bermudian Landing. Young has dedicated over thirty years to the Community Baboon Sanctuary and the development of the tourism industry. She said, “It has been challenging and the road has been rough. Sometimes, I get discouraged and I want to give up but then when I think about my people, I always encourage them and tell them 'None but ourselves'. That's my motto. If we don't do it, then nobody will do it for us.” Young was not comfortable receiving the award because she is a behind-the-scenes-type of woman, who would prefer the attention be on the sanctuary and her community. However, the people of Bermudian Landing wouldn’t have it any other way. Jessie Young’s Lifetime Achievement Award was well deserved.