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The Holbrook Insider


Field Report: Site Inspection - Uncovering Belize’s Jewels

Aug 1, 2018 |

From the Field

| by Christopher Bensley

Photos can be deceiving. Who hasn’t been fooled by the nice wide-angle pictures of a clean lodge room interior, only to be surprised when you swing open your door on a vacation or business trip? Regular site inspections are vital to ensuring the quality of your program - not to mention happy travelers. Holbrook Travel regularly drops in on our suppliers in destination inspection trips.

Program Developer Jennifer Bruck just returned from Belize last week to report on her findings. A vacation? “Absolutely not,” laughed Bruck. “Not if you call 15-hour days, dawn-to-nightfall travel, and going over lots of bumpy roads a vacation. Not the glamour you are thinking of.”

Jen-at-Xunantunich-blog-inlineHolbrook's Jennifer Bruck at Xunantunich

Belize site inspection, at-a-glance

Days: 4 | Miles driven: 220 | Locations visited: 14 | Rooms reviewed: 33 | Toilets checked: 40 | Activities inspected: 12 | Cups of coffee consumed: 18. You get the idea.

Not unlike the researcher who is peeling back layers to observe hidden Mayan ruins, program developers need to look closely and inspect the components of a destination. How have lodging options changed? Are there new activities? Which provide the most authentic experiences? The best value?

Q - How many site inspection trips have you taken?

A – In my 12 years in travel operations I’ve been on almost 20 different site inspection trips to over 10 different countries. I guess I’ve seen my share of lodges, probably well over a hundred.

Q – How do you prepare for a site inspection trip?

A – It starts with a list of properties to see, including lodges, sites, and activities. We review all the recent trip evaluations on each property. We look at trends. We also list places we have not used before but are considering. This gets put into a binder we take with us so we can review with local suppliers.

Treetop Suite at Chaa Creek Lodge

Q – What’s it like to do a site inspection trip? What’s a typical day?

A – The pace is pretty fast. Basically we cram as much into a day as possible from dawn to dark. People's eyes pop out when we tell them what we did in a day. On a typical day we would visit 3 lodges and 2 activities before lunch, then do it again in the afternoon.

Q – What do you find on an inspection that you don’t find on a website?

A – Obviously cleanliness is one key item. But we also pick up on the manner and knowledge of the staff. We evaluate if the property fits our company vision – meaning, are they authentic to the destination, family-owned, and committed to sustainability. The property and staff need to reflect these intangibles.   

Hiking to St. Herman's Cave

Q – Any other things to look for?

A – Lighting is a big one. Not just the ambiance but for safety. Also how many steps up guests would have to climb, and distance from the restaurant or lobby. We make sure to look at the different type of rooms, the bedding, the mattresses. It’s the one time I lie down on the job!

Q - In Belize, were there any surprises?  

A – One of the nicest surprises was my visit to La Milpa. Many things about this place fit our model. The staff, the grounds, the quality of rooms, even though basic. There are many activities to choose from for educational aspects – archaeology, birding, natural history, science education.

Great Curasow at La Milpa

Notes on select properties and sites visited by Jen on her Belize 4-day inspection:

  • Crystal Paradise - Family-owned, perfect for seclusion and birding.

  • Hidden Valley Inn & Reserve - 3 yoga/wildlife viewing platforms as well as pool, hiking, biking.

  • Pook’s Hill - Reserve and Mayan ruins onsite, family-style meals, small and intimate.

  • Chaa Creek - Upscale lodge with 400 acre private reserve; birding, medicine trail, full service spa center, natural history center, canoeing.

  • Tropical Education Center – Ideal for student groups; located across from Belize Zoo. Recently added pool and more lodging.

  • La Milpa - Located in the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area; owned by Programme for Belize, a non-profit conservation organization. Owns and manages 254,000 acres of reserve.  To pay for this conservation area the program coordinates tourism as well as sustainable logging.

  • Rumors Resort – Just south of San Ignacio; cute and excellent for student groups.

  • Some of the sites and activities:

    • Xunantunich – most impressive ruin for size; easy to get to

    • Cahal Pech – ongoing excavations in progress

    • Belize Zoo – superb for education; not a typical zoo

    • St Herman’s Blue Hole & Cave – hiking optional, great natural resource