ECI Development recently announced their next project in Belize – Belize Marriott® Residences Ambergris Caye Resort. While the reaction was largely positive across the country, some folks have asked important questions about long-term sustainability, the impact on the environment, and social responsibility. This article grew out of some responses to journalists and others who wanted to know how ECI perceives its impact on the island, community, and environment.
Disclaimer: The Belize Marriott® Residences Ambergris Caye Resort is not owned, developed, or sold by Marriott Worldwide Corporation or its affiliates (“Marriott”). Grand Baymen Villas, LLC and Exotic Caye Beach Resort Limited use the Marriott marks under a license from Marriott, which has not confirmed the accuracy of any of the statements of representations made herein.
It is important to put the recent announcement into perspective. My first trip to Belize was in 1993 with my old college friend, Joel Nagel. We had met in college in 1983, became friends, and have become business partners since then as well. After college, he went off to law school and became a lawyer. I got into the computer business and lived in the Washington, D.C. area. Once in a while, we’d connect for a weekend somewhere and catch up.
So, it wasn’t surprising when he called one Tuesday morning and asked me, “What are you doing this weekend? Want to come to Belize?” I immediately said yes…then started to think, “Where’s Belize?”
I’ll blame it on my schooling, because when I was in high school, Belize was “British Honduras.” Truth be told, I might not have been able to place that on the map either.
Anyway, he invited me to come to see a country that he said was the next hot tourist spot in the Caribbean. Joel’s ability to predict, envision, and then create the future is incredible. He could see the raw potential in a country like Belize, born from British Honduras in 1981, and only 12 years old when I made my first trip.
Joel’s ability to predict, envision, and then create the future is incredible.
Since my very first visit in 1993, this country has seen tremendous growth. Many early travelers and visitors to San Pedro remember the sand streets and mostly empty restaurants. They were a quaint symbol for the adventure tourist who discovered Belize. Divers and fishermen who came for the rugged experience loved it. As did many adventurous expats who arrived in the 1980s and early 1990s and settled on the island, particularly in the winter months.
However, as quaint as the sand streets were, the knee-deep puddles in the rainy season were a health hazard. They became a sad, daily challenge for the residents of this island walking to and from work, school, and church on a regular basis. Imagine a mud puddle from one side of the street to the other and your child forced to walk through it in their clean clothes on the way to school. You, too, would want the progress of paving, because those streets were charming when dry, but dreadful when wet.
Waves of Change Are Waves of Opportunity
In 1993, the time of my first visit, the population of Belize was about 200,000. Today, it’s 380,933 (2018). That’s 180,000 new souls living in this country. Interestingly, the number of people 19 years old and under is 160,000. These are kids who, in the next few years, will need jobs and careers to start families and build economic security for themselves.
Rotaract Members – The Youth in Belize Who Will Need Meaningful Employment.
How will these children and young adults find work without new investment into the economy? One question I was asked at the announcement ceremony was, “Why bring all these people to San Pedro? Wouldn’t it be better if they could stay in their hometowns?” I guess maybe, but I’m not sure how that happens.
Tourism is a consumer demand business, and the island of Ambergris Caye is hugely popular. What we have found, with over 20 years of working in towns and villages as a responsible developer, is that concentrating tourist dollars in a location and managing those dollars well will produce not only many well-paying jobs but also improve the local infrastructure – in the fastest and most responsible way to improve the quality of life for the local people.
Tourism is a consumer demand business, and the island of Ambergris Caye is hugely popular.
Belize, like any country, simply does not have the ability to “create” hundreds of jobs without a source of funding for those jobs. Jobs cannot be created before the investment is there to pay salaries. Construction of the Marriott hotel and resort represents about 5% of the GDP of Belize.
This project will provide hundreds of direct construction jobs, not to mention the spin-off employment that can be as many as 3 or 4 times when you evaluate the entire supply and support food chain. Even better are the more than 200 full-time positions when the resort opens and the multiplier effect of this on the local economy for decades to come.
Why a Marriott Resort Hotel Right Now?
Rendering of the Future Belize Marriott® Residences Ambergris Caye Resort.
Another question asked was regarding the type of tourist who comes to Belize. Over the past 25 years, the country has seen the maturation of the market and a big change in the type of tourist who arrives every day now to Belize. The boutique, niche market that was Belize 20 years ago is transforming into a mainstream tourism destination. Cruise ships have been bringing day visitors for 15 years. That was the first significant agent of change.
The second wave was increasing airlift – now from Canada and Panama, too. With the arrival of 3 new airlines, especially the discount carriers like WestJet and Southwest, accessibility and affordability are skyrocketing. This change itself is accelerating. Tourism is growing at 10% or more a year.
The arrival of a Marriott is not the cause of the change. It is the response to a new reality brought about by decisions made more than two decades ago.
Serving these new tourists in a sustainable and socially responsible manner is key, and that means stepping up the game to provide a level of service expected by a mainstream tourist.
Ignoring Growth Won’t Stop It.
Sustainability is Addressing Growth Head-On
Another question I received from a journalist was about the need for new and better infrastructure on the island. Water, electricity, internet, and roads are all being pushed towards their existing limits. But increasing capacity requires money, and that money can only come from increased fees to users and/or tax revenues.
Increasing tax revenues come from new investment, profits, gross receipts, and hotel taxes. Only when revenues increase can there be increases in government and public work sectors to up their investment and produce more supply. That improved infrastructure then supports both the local people and the new developments.
The reality is that this process is a little bit of a chicken and an egg. Just know that growth will continue. The need for jobs in service to the tourists is real and growing. The challenge is to encourage and foster growth that can facilitate upgrades to public services with additional revenues, but importantly, support the existing services until more capacity can be brought online.
For example, the Belize Marriott Residences® Ambergris Caye Resort will include huge cisterns for the collection of rainwater for irrigation. We will also maintain the storage of city water in other cisterns, collected in the off hours of low demand and then used in the peak times to flatten the demand curve.
The Belize Marriott® Residences Ambergris Caye Resort will include huge cisterns for the collection of rainwater for irrigation.
Demand is the difficult, but rarely heard of, sister of consumption when it comes to public infrastructure investment. Flattening the demand allows municipalities and public works to get more out of the investments they’ve already made since much of the day’s use is far below peak demand. In many cases, merely shaving off the peak allows utilities to keep the facilities they have and serve more clients with no additional production capacity. Large hotels can make the investment necessary to flatten the demand curve in public utilities. That is a massive benefit to the community.
Utilities Must Scale Production to Meet Highest Demand, Even for Only 1 Hour of the Day.
Solar water heaters will heat and store water for guest needs, largely eliminating the need to consume precious electric for that function.
Another question I was asked that relates to the previous one is about the environmental impact and the reduction of our footprint. Actions speak louder than words. I was involved in planting 100 acres of teak 19 years ago. Additionally, ECI has planted over 70 acres of hardwood teak in a former cattle pasture, and we continue to plant 12-15 acres of new teak each year as a real means to offset our carbon footprint.
The other benefit of the concentration of tourism on the island is the ability of the country to preserve broader areas of biodiversity. Again, by providing jobs and providing options in the economy, we can prevent the deforestation of huge areas of the jungle by people just looking to farm a little, raise some animals, and feed their families. Poverty is the single largest danger to the environment today, and the creation of sustainable employment is the means to its elimination.
Deforestation in Belize.
ECI Founder’s Reforestation of First 100 Acres.
Additionally, ECI is exploring the idea of working with Oceana to build an artificial reef in and around the dock as an additional hatchery and nursery. A reef awareness education center will enhance the guest experience and offer the opportunity to participate in conservation programs. These conservation, preservation, and education initiatives will contribute meaningfully to the environment of the island and its beloved reef system.
ECI’s development model is inherently socially responsible and sustainable. Our investments in the community create jobs and opportunity far beyond the immediate dollars. Growth in the industry doesn’t replace small business. Quite the opposite. Growth and maturation of the industry create more jobs, more restaurants, more taxes, more revenues into the economy – enhancing the lives of the overwhelming majority of citizens and residents of this island.
Part of this growth is really just simply success – what we do to grow our business. Serve clients, earn money, purchase supplies, generate taxes, and pay salaries.
Significance is something else, something further down the line toward serving the greater good. Significance is what we do for others. When we can combine success and significance, we enter the world of long-term sustainability. This is where the transition or tourism in the country and on this island gets very exciting. We are at this point right now.
Significance is what we do for others. When we can combine success and significance, we enter the world of long-term sustainability.
The Marriott brand’s training programs are legendary and world class. Training, and especially ongoing training is the greatest gift any organization can provide its employees. Marriott and other major brands have decades of training protocols and the economy of scale to offer this training across the board.
This is the key point about training. All learning belongs to the employee forever. This is legacy. This is significant because significance is what we do for others – and when we can make a difference that lasts generations like education and training, we are talking about legacy.
As we ramp up our construction efforts in Belize later this year, we’ll be visiting more often and hosting even more trips there. One of the upcoming events slated for early next year will be a wheelchair distribution. Glen Mather, the owner of NuView IRA, is a colleague and friend. He is also a major contributor to the Wheelchair foundation established and run by the Behring Family.
The Cobb Family and the Behring Family Discussing a Belize Wheelchair Distribution for Spring of 2019.
Glen’s company helps folks set up Self-Directed IRAs to own assets like property in Belize, so we see each other quite often in the course of business. But we also connect to deliver wheelchairs to people in developing countries. Glen says it best:
“A wheelchair is one of the best investments in changing lives that I know of. For $150, we change the lives of the recipient, their family, and their caregivers. One chair costing $150 changes many, many lives for several generations. This is real impact and why I am so happy to be working with the Wheelchair Foundation and ECI to provide a container of wheelchairs to Belize next year.”
I’d like to offer you the opportunity to own legacy change in Belize, too …. for only $150.
A container load is 280 chairs. Each chair is $150. For $42,000 USD, we can change the lives of thousands of people. Consider a donation of a chair – or several. Then come down to Belize next spring and hand deliver it into the waiting arms of a child or adult whose life you will change forever.
Last week at Joel Nagel’s President’s Week Conference, we raised BZD $37,500 for charities in Belize with a silent auction including the Wheelchair Foundation. It was a lot of fun, and perhaps you’ll join us at another event to do more of the same.
Silent Auction in Belize Raised BZD $37,500 for Local Charities.
In closing, let me mention that the response to the announcement has been overwhelming. Less than one-third of the Marriott Branded Residences remain for ownership. Owning a residence is another way to create legacy change in Belize.