Chaa Creek Celebrates Belize’s Independence With Some Surprise…

Chaa Creek's luxury villas surrounded by jungle and manicured gardens

Belize’s The Lodge at Chaa Creek combines luxury with sustainable tourism

Belize, a developing country, is prepared to put its people and environment first.

Belize celebrated its 21 September Independence Day with another exuberant month long party, and The Lodge at Chaa Creek celebrated its own birthday by giving travellers some timely presents.

With both Belize and Chaa Creek commemorating their 38th birthdays together, the popular Belizean eco-resort’s founding owners said they were offering travellers Belize Birthday Presents that offset the price of Belize vacations.

Lucy Fleming, who with husband Mick started Chaa Creek as a small subsistence farm after moving to Belize from London in the late 1970s, said she has seen a lot of changes in the last 38 years.

“Back then, pre-independence Belize was still relatively unknown, with no tourism to speak of, and most people eking out a living by farming and fishing.

“As young newlyweds, we immediately fell in love with the land and people, and when a chance came to lease an overgrown citrus orchard on the banks of the Macal River in what was still Belize’s wild west, we leapt at the opportunity.”

Ms Fleming said that, nearly 40 years later, she and Mick never looked back.

“It was definitely hard work, but we didn’t mind. We raised melons, produce and chickens and made yoghurt that we canoed down to sell in San Ignacio Town on market day.

“Word got out on the ‘coconut telegraph’ about a young couple living in the jungle up the Macal River who would lend a hammock and let you stay. With very few accommodations in town, and nothing in the bush, more and more backpackers began showing up, usually looking to trade help for a meal and place to stay,” Lucy recalled.

With an increasing number of people showing up, the Flemings built a simple thatched roof hut out of materials sourced from the surrounding jungles, and began charging BZE8.00 (US$4.00) a night for lodging and a meal – usually rice and beans with chicken, Spam, or whatever was available.

Chaa Creek Cottages was born.

Thirty-eight years later, The Lodge at Chaa Creek boasts Belize’s widest selection of accommodations, ranging from small casitas available at the Belize Rainforest Retreat learning resource (when it’s not booked for research, study or other groups), on to the luxurious, personal butler serviced Ix Chel and Tree Top Villas.

In between sit the signature “Cottage Collection” of individually styled thatched-roof accommodations, and a variety of suites and villas.

Employing some 160 staff serving an international clientele, Chaa Creek has also garnered a swag of awards from National Geographic, Green Globe and other organisations for its commitment to sustainable tourism and supporting local communities.

“Mick once joked we were an eco-resort before we even heard the term,” Ms Fleming recalled, “But it was really just a matter of doing what came naturally, like building around big trees rather than cutting them down. Because we evolved over time, Chaa Creek just grew into its surroundings, and that’s suited us and our guests over the years.”

While Chaa Creek evolved, so did Belize, and in much the same way.

With no name recognition, experience or even a realistic marketing budget to compete with established Caribbean destinations, the Belize tourism industry started with grassroots, mom and pop style operations who all pulled together, with a high degree of cooperation between accommodation, tours, transport, food and beverage and other service providers.

Fortunately, Belize independence and the birth of the tourism industry coincided with the advent of social media, and Belize attracted very good word of mouth.

With the world’s second largest barrier reef sheltering scores of tiny islands and offering some of the world’s best diving, a long Caribbean coastline with sandy beaches and picturesque villages, a plethora of ancient Maya temples and city ruins, vast tracts of pristine rainforests filled with exotic wildlife and hundreds of species of birds, Belize seemingly had something for everyone.

And as word got out, they began coming.

Within a few decades, Belize went from a neo-colonial backwater to one of the world’s hottest travel destination.

And it too developed organically and sustainably, quickly gaining accolades for a national Green ethos.

When oil was discovered, international corporations came knocking to exploit the projected wealth under the land and seabed. As a cash strapped, developing country, proposals were entertained, and then rejected after a public referendum had over 96% of the respondents voting in favour of a ban on offshore drilling.

Similarly, efforts on behalf of local environmentalists, international NGOs such as Oceana, and the general public, resulted in a moratorium on destructive commercial fishing trawling anywhere near the Belize Great Barrier Reef.

And more recently, in April 2019, Belize began phasing out single use plastic bags, utensils, and Styrofoam packaging – a bold move for a nation dependent on the hospitality industry.

And the world took notice.

Peter Shadie, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Senior Advisor on World Heritage wrote, “The farsightedness of Belize’s decisive action to protect one of the planet’s finest coral reefs is an inspiration for the World Heritage Convention and a great boost for global conservation.”

And the World Wildlife Foundation’s Chris Gee said, “It indicates that Belize, a developing country, is prepared to put its people and environment first.”

The Flemings, now with daughter Bryony as managing director and son Piers handling procurement and liaison in the US, said they wanted to entice more travellers to “see what Belize is all about” with discounted vacations.

From November 1st to the 20th, 2019, the Flemings are offering a 20% discount off accommodations and selected amenities, as well as offering six of the most popular onsite activities at no cost.

The same offer also applies between 1 – 19 December 2019.

And, to kick off the new year in Belize, stays between January 1 to the 19th 2010 attract a 10% discount, as well as the complimentary six activities.

“It’s our way of saying thank you to all those travellers who support sustainable tourism, and to attract new visitors. Belize has proven that high quality, service oriented tourism can go hand in hand with sustainability, and we’re encouraging people to come down and see for themselves how it works,” Ms Fleming said.

Ms Fleming encouraged people to speak with their travel agents or Chaa Creek directly to learn more about Chaa Creek’s Belize Birthday Presents offer.

“Even if you couldn’t be here for the celebrations, you can continue to enjoy the birthday presents, even into next year,” Ms Fleming said.

The Lodge at Chaa Creek is a multi-award winning eco resort set within a 400-acre private nature reserve along the banks of the Macal River in Belize. It was recognised by National Geographic with first place honours at the 2017 World Legacy Awards held in Berlin.

ENDS

Published at Fri, 27 Sep 2019 00:00:00 +0000