All vacation destinations rely on marketing to entice tourists to their location. In our country, this responsibility is placed on the Belize Tourism Board but individual destinations also advertise their own unique attractions. This promotion includes multi-media advertising: newspaper, travel magazines/guides/books, brochures, television commercials and travel programs as well as Internet web sites. Ambergris Caye is fortunate to have one of the most popular web sites in Belize and a most dedicated “Web Master” to manage it. This week, The San Pedro Sun is pleased to introduce you to the man behind the scenes on AmbergrisCaye.com – Marty Casado.
Born on May 4th, 1956 to a Cuban father Manuel Casado and an American mother Verna, Marty Casado was raised in Wichita, Kansas. A self-proclaimed “computer geek,” Marty also admits to being a “math junkie” who took computer classes as early as 1974.
Following graduation, Marty married his high school sweetheart, Becky, and together with five other friends, they moved “en masse” to Eugene, Oregon. Having worked in restaurants all of his life, Marty easily found work in the big city. After some time, he became the chef at one of the finest dining establishments in Eugene, the North Bank Restaurant located on the Williamette River.
In 1994, when he was not performing his duties as Executive Chef, Marty began creating a web site for a local Eugene school and served as the school’s computer consultant as well. In his spare time, he also wrote articles for computing magazines.
The following year, while working for a computer company called Casado Internet Group, Marty heard about a wonderful place called Ambergris Caye. His boss, Alan McNeil, had visited the island and decided to create a web site for the up and coming tourist destination. In April of 1996, Marty joined Alan for his first visit to “paradise”. Through Wil and Susan Lala of Caribbean Villas, the two met Bruce and Victoria Collins, then editors of The San Pedro Sun (the island newspaper), who, in turn, introduced them to the community. After establishing all the necessary contacts for their project, the Oregon businessmen submitted a bid to establish the destination’s web site, and following an official endorsement from the San Pedro Town Council, AmbergrisCaye.com was born.
Eventually, Marty became sole owner of the company, renaming it Casado Internet Group. Now a family enterprise, his wife Becky, daughter Myah and son Ryan combine their individual talents to make AmbergrisCaye.com one of the finest web sites in Belize. “I owe everything to my family for all their hard work and the support they give me,” said Marty.
What started out a very small enterprise soon became a full-time job. The results of Marty’s efforts are evident as AmbergrisCaye.com receives 12,000-25,000 visitors per day and growing. “Someday, I’ll calculate how many hits that is per minute,” Marty joked. “I probably work 50-60 hours-a-week on the site between the message board, answering E-mails and distributing print materials (copies of The San Pedro Sun, glossy brochures, books, etc.) to anyone interested in receiving more information on Ambergris Caye.”
According to Alexa, the "Nielsen" type rater of website traffic, AmbergrisCaye.com is the top rated website about Belize, far above any other. The site is also the 18th most trafficked website used inside Belize, including all the websites on the planet, like Google, MSN, Yahoo, Amazon.com, etc.
The AmbergrisCaye.com website has thousands and thousands of highly informational pages, extensive history sections, diving, articles from publications, birding, maya tours, a great wealth of photographs, a messaging center, an online knowledgebase for questions on Belize and San Pedro, hurricane information centers, fishing information, the largest search engine on Belizean related topics on the web encompassing over 100,000 webpages on Belize (BelizeSearch.com), up to the date news and weather (BelizeNews.com), quite a few books online for reading that encompass many areas of Belizean and San Pedrano history and island life, and much more. AmbergrisCaye.com has about 46,900 pages indexed by Google.
Because of his reputation as the “off-island tourist information center,” potential visitors to Ambergris Caye drop by his house in Eugene at least twice a month. “At the house, I have maps of the country and the cayes on my office walls; I keep my clocks set to Belize time in there, as well,” Marty commented. He also lends out Belize reference books on a regular basis.
Marty credits numerous people with his love of Ambergris Caye but recalled his first underwater experience as a life-changing event: “I must mention my ‘midwife’ Norman Eiley who literally helped give birth to my love for this island and the sea by putting me in the water and waiting patiently until I decided to come out, some five hours later!” He also works extensively with Julian Rivero, his “local island computer expert”.
Other than updating current business information, Marty continues to collect old pictures and local island memorabilia to add to the web site’s historical section. He credits local marine biologist Richie Woods for a “mountain” of research material used in the beginning of AmbergrisCaye.com and the data Richie is currently sharing with him. “Richie likes looking for treasure and he’s already got it - his extensive research material about the area,” Marty exclaimed.
To get a little exercise, Marty plays soccer – a sport he has enjoyed for the past twenty years. He actively participates on the Eugene “over-40” Soccer League as a “right wing”. Aside from being a soccer fiend, Marty’s other hobbies include snow skiing, snow boarding, gardening and being a “house husband”.
As if all this were not enough, in times of need, Marty Casado comes shining through as well. During both Hurricane Mitch and Keith and both hurricane threats this year, Marty was instrumental in distributing information over the Internet as to the status of the island and the location of its residents. He and his “friends” have also donated to several local charities for one reason or another. Marty’s generosity does not stop there, for he provides free web services to the Saga Humane Society, The San Pedro Lions Club, the San Pedro Roman Catholic School, the San Pedro High School, the San Pedro Town Council, to name but a few.
Someday, when his kids are settled, Marty hopes to “retire” in Ambergris Caye, and build a little house on the lagoon side of the island. He spends 2-3 weeks here every three months. “I love it here, especially the people. There aren’t so many rules - I love the ‘No Shoes, No Shirt’ and less problems.”
The fact that so many people continue to arrive on the shores of Ambergris Caye is not surprising, especially when there are people like Marty Casado marketing and generally “overseeing” the situation here on the island. We can only hope that someday, someone as wonderful will want to fill those big shoes whenever Marty decides to become a more permanent and visible part of “Our Belize Community.”