Three Caye winners at BTB Tourism Awards

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 13, No. 46            December 11, 2003

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Award Winners Mito Paz, Lionel "Chocolate" Heredia, Janet Woollam and Brent Kirkman

Over three hundred key tourism personnel from all corners of Belize were in attendance last Friday at the Belize Tourism Board's (BTB) 4th annual National Tourism Awards. Held at the Belize Biltmore Plaza, this upscale affair marked the culmination of the 2003 Tourism Awareness Week observed from December 1st to 5th. The National Tourism Awards were established by the BTB to salute individuals, organizations and businesses in Belize for their extraordinary performance, for giving excellent service and making significant contributions, to the tourism industry.

    In her welcome address, BTB Director Tracy Taegar recognized past winners stating that their "sterling service" is what keeps the tourism industry vibrant in Belize.

    During the awards ceremony, two winners from Ambergris Caye and one individual winner from sister island Caye Caulker were recognized this year. Victoria House, one of the island's leading resorts, was named Hotel of the Year. Green Reef Environmental Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of sustainable use and conservation of Belize's marine and coastal resources, received the Environmental Organization of the Year Award. Longtime resident of Caye Caulker Village, Lionel "Chocolate" Heredia (San Pedro born) was presented the Minister's Award.

    Accepting the award on behalf of Victoria House were resident managers Janet Woollam and Brent Kirkman, who were accompanied on stage by key hotel staff members, Javier Williams, Oscar Gutierrez and Roman Kay. Victoria House was described as being an integral part of the Belizean tourist market since the early 1980s. Over time it has grown from a nine-room fishing lodge, miles away from the then-tiny village of San Pedro into a full service 35-room resort with an international reputation for a first-class, yet casual, getaway. Victoria House is small and exclusive and has retained the casual ambiance that is truly Belize. The heartfelt care and attention that guests receive is one of the most noted comments of vacationers to Victoria House. This top- notch resort is also home to the Palmilla Restaurant and Admiral Nelson's Bar.

    An ecstatic Mito Paz, president of San Pedro's Green Reef Environmental Institute accepted the Environmental Organization of the Year Award. Mr. Paz acknowledged all grant providers, volunteers, and the people of San Pedro for supporting this organization that strives to promote the sustainable use and conservation of Belize's marine and coastal resources. Green Reef Environmental Institute was founded in 1997 as Belize's first non-profit conservation and education organization exclusively dedicated to the protection of its Barrier Reef and surrounding marine environment. Green Reef also participates in the administration of marine conservation on a national level through its position on the Belize Barrier Reef Committee (BBRC), the Belize Alliance of Conservation Non-Governmental Organizations (BACONGO), and internationally as the current chair of the Belize- Mexico Alliance for the Management and Conservation of Common Resources (BEMAMCCOR). Since its inception, Green Reef has provided leadership for both local and international marine conservation initiatives, and otherwise fostered community participation and commitment to sustainable environmental protection and development.

    The third Caye winner was Lionel "Chocolate" Heredia of Caye Caulker who was presented the Minister's Award. Chocolate, known for his love and respect for the sea, decided to become a fisherman early in his life and therefore discovered much about our country's natural splendor at a young age. In the late 60s, he began to host sports fishermen from the USA, which was the beginning of his thirty-five year career as a tour guide. Chocolate was also instrumental in securing a safe habitat for manatees, with the establishment of the Swallow Caye Area being designated as a wildlife sanctuary in July of 2002. He was described as a man who has displayed much resilience and determination in executing many initiatives that have positively impacted our tourism industry. Chocolate's signature hospitality has made many tourists return to Belize, just for a chance to interact with him and hear his stories. Chocolate, "rightfully deserved this award for being a humble and passionate man, and is a true stalwart of the tourism industry." Entertaining guests were flutist Pablo Colada and "A Belizean Cabaret," whose brilliant cultural dance and musical performance represented the various ethnic groups of Belize.

    Acting as Master of Ceremonies for the occasion was well-known news anchorman Ernesto Vasquez who introduced the presenters of the various categories and kept the gathering entertained with his spontaneous humor.

    Thunderous applause filled the River Hall room of the Biltmore as the following other winners were announced: For his extensive accomplishments in the related area, Dr. Joseph Palacio was presented with the Cultural Development Award. The Educational Organization of the Year Award was presented to the Ecumenical High School of Dangriga for their vision in developing and integrating tourism programs that can be incorporated into the community. Continental Airlines was bestowed the title of Corporate Organization of the Year for their "dedication to the betterment of the industry." An emotional Deborah Estrada of the Department of Immigration was appropriately named Frontline Personnel 2003 for her "How can I help" attitude and "willingness to assist those with whom she comes in contact, especially travelers to Belize." The Receptive Service of the Year Award was received by the Philip Goldson International Airport Taxi Association for their contribution to tourism, while Miguel Choco took home the Tour Guide of the Year Award for displaying outstanding dedication to his work and Belize. Yute Expeditions was awarded Tour Operator of the Year for their dedication to providing quality service to the industry. Casablanca Guesthouse, a quaint establishment in the Cayo District, was awarded the Small Hotel of the Year for its superb hospitality and service. Special recognition was given to Chef Rob Pronk of the Radisson Fort George for his passion for, and promotion of, the culinary arts in Belize. Rudy Coye was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his "unwavering commitment to service and tourism over the past 40 years, and which he still very much practices in his current professional obligations."

    The list of those recognized has continued to expand since the inception of the awards in 2000. The nine categories increased to 11 in 2002 when Frontline Personnel and Special Recognition were added. This year's show honored a total of 13 organizations or individuals, with the addition of two new categories, Cultural Development and the Small Hotel Awards.

    The San Pedro Sun salutes all winners of this year's Fourth National Tourism Awards, for a job well done!
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