Tourism in Belize has significantly taken off, “with 2019 being a record year and vastly surpassing the 400,000-annual visitor threshold,” said Honorable Manuel Heredia, Belize’s Minister of Tourism. The industry accounts for a large portion of the country’s economy, with Ambergris Caye generating over two-thirds of the revenue. And the government is keen on using the Caye to continue to build a reputation for the country, inviting brand name developers to build luxury accommodations to increase job opportunities and bring more awareness to Belize as a travel destination.
In the past several years the demographic of tourists has been changing from young, gap-year backpackers looking for hostel style or B-N-B type accommodation, to older, more refined guests looking for comfort and style and coming with a much higher budget. They are skipping the flights to Bora Bora and the Maldives to take a shorter flight to English-speaking country Belize, where they can enjoy a very similar vacation environment – such as an impressive barrier reef teeming with marine life, world-class diving and water sports, sunny tropical weather, jungles full of ancient ruins and history, chartering private boat cruises, and island hopping.
A few luxury restaurants have been around for several years on Ambergris Caye but now the choices are growing. Grand Caribe opened their rooftop bar and restaurant Rain in September of 2014 where, according to their website, “Chef Hugo combines his Argentine, Spanish & Caribbean cooking experience to create, new & different dishes”. Some local chefs are offering luxury and personalized eating experiences, like the “Chef’s Table” dinner put on by Chef Maresha at Pirates Treasure Bar where she prepares a three-course dinner in front of a handful of guests for an intimate and luxury dining experience.
Wine de Vine opened in 2002 and is an upscale wine bar and deli where you can enjoy all kinds of imported reds, whites, and roses while snacking on a custom charcuterie and cheese board or pick up specialty items to build one at home. There is also an upscale chocolate boutique, The Belize Chocolate Company, where you can buy decadent truffles, bonbons, body creams, and even take a chocolate-making class!
Looking at accommodations, some of the more prominent luxury hotels and resorts that have been on the island for years and are gaining more visitors include: Matachica, Las Terrazas, Grand Caribe, Victoria House, and The Phoenix. In regard to Belize’s approach to luxury real estate, Michael Crawford, Four Seasons’ President of portfolio management and owner relations, says in an interview with Bloomberg that, “destinations take time to build”, and that the, “Belizean government built theirs slowly but intentionally, creating a desirable real estate market with a fairly low cost of entry and no estate or capital gains taxes…they understand that when you draw luxury ownership, the market grows and luxury tourism follows”.
Belize also offers an attractive retirement program for qualified individuals that has also brought a number of wealthy foreigners into the country to become full time residents, who are adding to the demand for higher-end offerings. More visitors means more need for accommodations.
With both the allure and increasing awareness of the country’s offerings and change in visitor and resident demographics, Belize and Ambergris Caye specifically are welcoming world-renowned developers and brand name hotel chains that are set to be completed and welcoming guests in the very near future. The Hilton Hotel Group was among the first of the major chains to come to Ambergris Caye. Mahogany Bay Resort, part of their Curio Collection, offers 205 “breezy hideaways” with high vaulted ceilings and beautiful hardwoods. According to their website, the resort was, “inspired by the rustic charm of Belize and the elegance of British colonial architecture”, and was built as a village around canals on the lagoon side. The resort has a vibrant “town center” that is host to “artisanal dining, specialty dining, and adventure travel service providers” as well as local farmer’s markets, pop-up vendors, and award-winning restaurants.
Marriott is eager to get a share of development opportunity on Ambergris Caye and are involved in not one but two new resorts. Prominent British-Belizean family, the Ashcrofts, started construction on the Alaia beachfront resort at the end of 2019. The property is part of the Autograph Collection by Marriott and will “feature a conversion of 35 units, 56 two-bedroom condominiums with lock off option and eight oceanfront villas, totaling 155 keys when completed in 2020.” The project will feature outstanding amenities, including an exclusive beach club – and probably the most luxurious feature – a suspended pool and lounge on the rooftop to get the best ocean views. Of course, the resort will also offer a full-service spa, fitness center, kids club, dive shop, and art gallery.
Belize Marriott® Residences Ambergris Caye Resort, the most recent project announcement from ECI Development, will be a beachfront British colonial style five-story resort and residence property with 199 beachfront suites comprised of studios and one-bedroom suites that have the option of lockout doors to customize living spaces for all sizes of families and tourist groups – creating multiple room accommodations. The blueprints include not one, but two infinity pools, one being a “quiet pool” for adults near the beach. The largest pool in the resort will sit in an alcove of the hotel on a grand patio with beach access and a swim up bar.
The Residences will also feature meeting spaces for conferences, a grand ballroom with outdoor reception spaces, a spa and local retail spaces, a beachfront restaurant, on-site concierge, and a new dock to house the famous bar, Crazy Canucks, rooftop lounge, and a dive center. The Marriott Resort will showcase local hardwood and their lobby will feature San Pedrana family heirlooms.
Other Properties in the Works
Wyndham Hotel Group has set it eyes on Ambergris Caye and has started construction of a massive 5-star resort in the North of the island called Venezia del Caribe Resort and Spa, with a vision of “Caribbean tranquillity meets Venetian romance and charm” and will house five residential tower groups offering elegant housing choices of one to three bedroom suites, a signature spa, fitness center, multiple restaurants, 7,000 sq. ft of meeting spaces and an onsite excursion center. The landscaping is set to be quite a sight, featuring, “cascading waterfalls that rise up from sparkling pools connected by bridges and canals, reminiscent of Venice, Italy. The various waterways will create the largest pool of its kind in the entire country, for guests and residents to enjoy.” The development is estimated to bring over 250 jobs to the island of Ambergris Caye. In an article by the San Pedro Sun, Paulo Pena, President and Managing Director of Latin America and the Caribbean locations for Wyndham Hotel Group, talks about why Belize is becoming such a hot destination and states that it is, “thanks to its pristine beaches, celebrated culture, and continuous recognition as a must-visit destination by respected sources like The New York Times, Lonely Planet, and U.S. News & World Report”.
Other luxury projects located outside of Ambergris Caye that will play a major contribution/role in putting Belize on the luxury travel map include Caye Chapel and Blackadore Caye. Four Seasons has purchased a private island called Caye Chapel to develop an exclusive destination resort. The resort is to be completed in 2021 and is being built like a luxury accommodation that you would see in the Maldives, complete with over-the-water private villas and an 18-hole golf course. In addition to vacation villas, Four Season will be offering private estate lots, that all come with, “private beach and golf course access, and owners can choose between a site on the east to enjoy sunrise or on the west for views of the sunset”. The island has over 6 miles of white sand beaches and clear turquoise waters. “It’s pretty rare to find places like this, where you can create an entire destination unto itself on a private island, much less one that’s proximate to the U.S.—and with good infrastructure,” says President of Four Seasons portfolio management, Michael Crawford. The island will also have a marina for boats and an airstrip for visitors and residents chartering private transportation. Blackadore Caye has become quite famous as the main proprietor of the project is celebrity actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, who has long been a fan of Ambergris Caye. With the purchase of private lagoon island Blackadore Caye, he plans to build a luxury eco-resort, with farm-to-table dining, and is described on the website to be a, “development completely powered by renewable energy and designed to increase the biological health of species on the island and in the waters around it”. The resort will be focused on health, wellness, and sustainability, and will feature “off-the-grid” living homes and even a research station for climate change and habitat impacts.
As one can see, the combination of both pre-existing high-end attractions becoming more known, the growing awareness of tourist activities and new luxury offerings, and consistent recognition by the media are contributing to Belize skyrocketing to the top of the high-end travelers go-to vacation list. With Belize’s proximity to North America, more travelers are opting for shorter flights to vacation closer to home and enjoy the vibrant marine life, warm culture, and rich history of Belize. From the booming tourism trends, market speculation, and initiatives of world-renowned brand name hoteliers, it is obvious that Belize is the new hot destination for any kind of travel. For both developers and those looking to purchase vacation homes or investment properties, the opportunity that is provided by the emerging luxury market here, especially in this early stage, is not one to pass up!