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Published on Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Expert Hub - Visitor Experiences at Belize Hotels

Wolfgang Brandl, general manager at Ka'ana Resort in San Ignacio, provides local insight into first-time visitors' perceptions of Belize hotels.

Wolfgang Brandl individually meets every guest at check in to conduct a hotel orientation. This informal sit-down includes personalised recommendations about tours they can take based on their interests, tips on what to look out for, and questions they should ask their tour guide. It also gives Mr Brandl opportunity to discover the pre-trip perceptions of Ka'ana's guests.

Kaana Resort
Ka'ana Resort in San Ignacio

 

Pre-Trip Perceptions and Reality

Most guests arrive with pre-conceived ideas based on internet reviews and photos. They are expecting an attractive property in a beautiful location. Often they expect a resort style experience similar to other Caribbean destinations. First-time visitors to Belize are pleasantly surprised by the personalised touches. It's something that's easy to accomplish at a hotel like Ka'ana, which consists of just 17 guest rooms.

When Wolfgang arrived in Belize in 2015 it was his first time working in Central America. Having previously worked for large international hotel chains like the Hilton and Radisson, Wolfgang immediately realised the potential of providing a much more personalized experience for his guests.

At Ka'ana Resort, Wolfgang and his team of three resident tour guides create tailor made programs for each of their guests. These include activities like Mayan cooking classes, visits to the local farmers' market in San Ignacio, and yoga classes at San Ignacio's Mayan temples. Guests are expecting a range of activities as this is one of the hotel's selling points. They are not always expecting such a variety or personalisation of these activities.

Picnic by the river
A picnic at Ka'ana Resort

 

Boutique Properties Providing Personalised Touches

According to Sander Langeveld of the Belize Hotel Association, approximately 86% of Belize hotels are independently owned and classed as boutique. The average hotel size is just ten rooms per property. The personal touches enjoyed by Ka'ana guests are experienced all over the country.

For example, at hotels such as the Hidden Valley Inn and the Lodge at Big Falls, the general managers personally greet their guests and then have breakfast or lunch with them. At Pook's Hill Lodge, situated at the Maya Mountains foothills, the general manager has dinner with his guests and gives them his personal recommendations for tours and excursions.

Mayan cooking class
Mayan cooking class

Farm-to-Table Dining Options

It's not only in Belize's hotels where first-time visitors are surprised to have such personal experiences. American fast-food chains do not exist in Belize. Virtually all the country's restaurants are locally owned. Visitors cannot avoid personalized experiences when dining out, chatting with local business owners, and eating local Belize cuisine. Again, while many visitors expect some personalised dining, they don't expect it to be a feature of every meal.

Back at Ka'ana, Wolfgang notes that the high quality of food is also something that surprises his first-time guests, particularly given the common misconception that Central American food consists mostly of rice and beans.

Many Belize hotel restaurants follow the 'farm to table' concept, working with local cattle farms and fishermen to source meat and fish, and grow much on their own produce on site. Like many other Belize hotels, Ka'ana Resort has an organic garden, which produces vegetables, lettuces, herbs, avocados, papayas, and mangos.

A favourite guest activity is to visit the gardens with a bartender to pick herbs and spices for mixing in evening cocktails. There's also a free-range chicken farm which supplies the hotel with eggs each morning for breakfast.

Ka'ana organic garden
Picking herbs for cocktails from Ka'ana's organic garden

 

The Future of Hotels in Belize

Whilst the majority of Belize's hotels remain Belizean owned, a growing number of international chains are beginning to open their doors, sensing the potential for strong growth in tourism. For example, along with the recently opened Hilton Mahogany Bay property in San Pedro, brands such as Marriott and Four Seasons are opening properties over the next year.

What do these big brands mean for guest experiences and this premium on personalised service? The Belize Hotel Association believes they will be able to offer a high international standard of training, to complement the highly-personal service that local resorts already provide.

Wolfgang Bradl, general manager at Ka'ana Resort
Wolfgang Brandl, general manager at Ka'ana Resort

 



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