Judging the 2015 Belize Tourism Board Awards and the Big Party
Belize Tourism Awards Judging
I was honoured to be selected by the Quality Assurance team to be a judge for the 13th annual Belize Tourism Board Awards. It was an enjoyable and challenging job, but a great learning experience.
There were 5 of us who traveled the country going to resorts, restaurants and tour companies scoring them on a set of questions they had answered and for the most part had already turned in.
I was asked to judge one resort and two dive shops on Ambergris Caye and then fly over to Caye Caulker to score two tour companies there. A member of the Quality Assurance team was sent with each judge to monitor the interviews. The team member with me was Vanessa Jacobs. I met her at Tropic Air and off we went. As we interviewed the different businesses, I learned something new and interesting about each one and how they operate.
Ambergris Caye Tourism Award Nominees
Xanadu Resort – In addition to being Green Globe certified (which I knew), they recycle bottles and use 0 energy units for AC and heating water. Being green is an ongoing process for this resort and the topic is up for discussion daily. Xanadu has 21 staff and do not layoff staff in slow season.
Belize Diving Adventures – I knew this shop was very safety conscious having already talked to Ines while doing business first aid kit checks with San Pedro Belize Red Cross. This time I learned that they do coral briefing and trash clean up on their tours. They also conduct environmentally friendly oil changes and recycle their oil. As a great way of disposal, old oil gets used on their dock so the wood does not rot.
Belize Pro Dive Center – Not only do they do an annual toy drive and were big supporters to the San Pedro Belize Red Cross at the Reef TV Cayo appeal telethon, while judging this company I found out more about their community mindedness. They support Ambergris Caye Elementary School, offer scholarships to San Pedro Junior College and provide an internship program from open water to instructor divers. On an environmental front, this business is active in beach clean up and for safety they check their first aid kits every two weeks.
Under water pictures courtesy both San Pedro Dive Shops.
Caye Caulker Tourism Award Nominees
Anda Da Wata tours – This company has a unique practice. When applicable they use their fold down canopy as a sail for more environmentally friendly travel. I was pleased to find out that their staff has water rescue training and that they regularly get briefed on environmental procedures.
Raggamuffin Tours – Owners Jimmy and Charlie have done something I have yet to see anyone else do, which takes peer pressure out of the equation for their staff. By having a breathalyzer onsite and asking staff to test, they avoid some of the common work issues related to island life and “having too much fun.” This keeps their staff sharp for customers and provides a polite, easy out when vacationers want their guides to have a drink with them on the job (it happens sometimes). They also score points for being environmentally friendly and working with Marine Reserve fisheries.
Meeting of the Minds for Belize Tourism Awards Scoring and Live Interviews
Once all the judges were finished, we met in Belize City at the Belize Tourism Board office to do interviews for front line person of the year and score everyone. The live interviews went great and it was nice to hear what the 7 people nominated for front line person of the year had to say. They all did a great job presenting to the judges. I would like to congratulate all the nominees: Larry Leslie at Sandy Point Resorts, Lizette Ancona at Tropic Air, Carolyn Westby at A Belizean Nirvana, Roberto Guerra at La Beliza Resort, Leticia Martinez at Chan Chich Lodge, Marlon Calam at Maya Beach Hotel & Bistro and Dilma Cano at Parrot Cove Lodge. Keep up the great work, you are the building blocks that helps grow Belize tourism strong and make it unique.
Back to School
Due to having over 50 entries to score, we ended up with homework. Armeid from BTB was available to help us via Skype and I set up a Google doc for the spreadsheet she had emailed us to make it easy for all the judges to go online and enter their scores. Both Leisa Carr-Caceres (of the Banana Bank Lodge and Jungle Adventures family and the president of BHA) and I found this helpful because if one of our scores was too low in comparison to the other judges we could double check and make sure we had scored all the questions correctly.
Since we were judging on behalf of quality control, I managed to put aside my dyslexic ADD self and during the very long judging process (just over 3 days straight counting my day of onsite visits). I caught 3 inconsistencies where there was missing information or a full question accidentally not answered. This was the case for Chef Rob’s Restaurant in Hopkins, Guava Limb at Cha Creek and our very own San Pedro Lobster Festival. After calling or texting a couple of the places to notify them they needed to answer a question or asking the judge for that location to clarify, thankfully I was able to get the correct answers fast and share my findings with the panel which helped everyone get scored properly. I was also able to spot one of the questions that had a misleading score total option to help everyone get on the same page as to how it was to be totaled – a few of the questions were 2 part scores.
Drum-Roll Please; The National Tourism Awards Winners are….
A big congratulations to all the businesses and individuals who were nominated. Although I am sure everyone was hoping for a win, the crowd practiced great showmanship and cheered on the winning people and businesses. We heard “Go Cayo” cheered a few times during the night and the applause was big for all the winners. This year BTB decided to include the runner up as well as the winners for awards ceremony and Belikin Magnums. They also filmed great videos of the winners which I have added below so you can see what makes each business stand out. The videos also give you an opportunity to learn about the company and in some cases individual history and values in their own words. Not only was this the 13th National Tourism Awards, it was also a celebration of 50 years of tourism in San Pedro and we heard some great speeches honoring Mrs Celi Nunez McCorkle, Gerald “Jerry” McDermott and Mrs Miriam Roberson, all influential in making our tourism industry the success that it is today.
Tour Operator of the Year:
Winner – Ian Anderson’s Cave Branch Jungle Lodge and Adventure Company and Jungle lodge 12 miles south of Belmopan and runner up – Calico Jacks Village in Cayo district.
Cruise Operator of the Year:
Winner – Calypso Train Tours in Belize City.
Mrs. Miriam Roberson.
2015 Special Recognition Award:
Celi Nunez McCorkle.
Celi McCorkle Award: Gerald “Jerry” McDermott.
You may have noticed that Cruise ship tours category listed above has no runner up. This is because there was not one, please note that did not mean an automatic win. Businesses still had to qualify and two got scratched in a different category for not meeting the proper criteria and standards.
If you would like more than the judges votes above, click through on most of the winners and runners up above and read how travelers weighed in after staying at the resort or using the tour company.
It is very fitting that the famous Holiday Hotel was the chosen venue for the event. It has been a backbone to Ambergris Caye tourism from the start.
As Kendall and I entered the lobby not long after the 6:30 start, we were greeted to the sound of Panatics Steel Pan and the party was already packed. He had heard there were supposed to be over 350 people attending. Due to invitations being extended countrywide, there were more unfamiliar faces in the crowd at first glance than people we knew. It was not long before we started seeing many familiar faces. Julie Babcock of Caye Casa, Janet Woollam of Victoria House, Leisa Carr-Caceres Belize Hotel Association President and Banana Bank Lodge, well known photographer Karen Brodie, Noele Sutherland and Julie Alcoser representing Grand Caribe were a few of the ones we stopped to chat with.
Soon it was time take our seats for the awards and speeches hosted by Master of Ceremonies, Eiden Salazar and Indira Craig. This was followed Deborah Gillharry by Belize National Anthem After Mrs Karen Bevans and Dr. Karla Barnett handed out the first 7 awards we were treated to a musical interlude by Super Furia Band who “wins the award” for most keyboards; they had 4 🙂 Next came presentations by Manuel Heredia Jr., Dr. Karla Barnett, Mrs. Celi McCorkle and Special recognition of the Holiday Hotel and 50 years of tourism in San Pedro.
While all this was happening guests were enjoying specialty food and drinks. The signature cocktail menu included, citrus ginger fizz, la isla bonita, tropical colada, red & white wine, Belikin beer, Lighthouse beer, Travelers Belizean rum, Black Label and champagne.
For food we had mini salbititos, sere shooters, mini tamalito do chaya with pig tail, mashtini topped with Caribbean snapper, mini dukunu rounds with chicken, tostones with pibil and red curry shrimp cake. The party was so packed that our servers were working triple time and unfortunately a few of us did not get to taste everything off the food menu. I would rate pig tale as an acquired taste, I did really enjoy my sere shooter though. The best kind of shooters for me involve food and not alcohol 🙂
I will leave you with a some party pics.