Business View Caribbean profiles Chabil Mar Resort, a guest-exclusive, luxury, boutique resort, located in Placencia Peninsula, Belize.
Mayan for “Beautiful Sea,” the Chabil Mar Resort sits at the end of the 16-mile Placencia Peninsula, a gorgeous strip of palm and mango-covered land that borders the clear blue Caribbean Sea at the southeastern tip of Belize. The small, private, guest exclusive, luxury resort opened in 2005. “Placencia was, at that point, getting the attention of the tourism industry in a very different way that it had in previous years,” says co-owner and Director of Sales and Marketing, Larry France.” Up until that time, San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, in the northeast, was the center of the country’s tourist activity.
“As a result of the attention, the developer chose to put together a property that was more upscale and different than what was being offered,” France continues. “It was developed with a boutique approach in mind – that it would be an all-villa resort, as opposed to a hotel. And the property was selected because of its proximity to the Village of Placencia, at the end of the peninsula.”
Chabil Mar Resort has 19 luxury villas and one honeymoon suite; all have personal verandas, and all are outfitted with Belizean hardwood cabinetry, granite counter tops, marble tiling, and fine linens and bedding. Original art and local artifacts complement the villas’ more modern conveniences, such as air conditioning and wireless internet. The entire Chabil Mar Resort property sits amidst lush tropical gardens and displays with imported plants and flowers from all over Belize that were brought in by the resort’s landscapers and often transplanted in their native soils.
Chabil Mar Resort began with ten employees and today has 45. “As our inventory grew and occupancy became greater and greater, we added staff in order to cover the essential needs of high-end tourists,” says France. “We had to expand all the food and beverage operations immensely, as well as the front desk and concierge. And, of course, the grounds are something that we had to maintain at a very high level. We expanded the pier so that we could provide lounges for people so they could sun out on the pier, and it gave us more space for dining activities and private reservations. The area that we call Café Mar, which is a decked area right on the beach, seated about 20 people when it was originally built, and we doubled the size of it, so it seats close to 40, with one area carved out as lounge. Last year, we added outdoor showers. We also expanded our bar and lounge area that originally seated just eight people and we expanded it to a seating of 15 and then added a lounge attached to the bar. Those were the major projects.”
France says that Chabil Mar Resort closes down, each year, for the month of October, which, along with September, are the two slowest months for tourism in Belize. But that doesn’t mean that the staff goes home; employees are kept on the payroll and shifted into other jobs, including major maintenance work – painting, or rebuilding, or expanding different amenities of the property. “Every two years, we have power-washed all the buildings; repainted them, refinished all the woodwork and wood furniture,” he reports. “Every villa has a personal veranda, so we end up sanding those down and refinishing all of our verandas every other year. Inside the villas, we have various types of tile so we have to clean all the floors and re-polish all of them. So, although we’re cleaning every single day with our housekeeping staff, it’s important for us to do heavy maintenance once a year.”
Chabil Mar’s clientele mirrors that of Belize’s overall tourism ratios – 75 percent of them come from the U.S.; about 15 percent from Canada; and the rest from the rest of the world, primarily Europe. France tries to capture his share with a three-pronged approach: “First on the list is that we are a luxury property meaning that I would classify us as a four-star property out of five stars,” he states. “But we believe we always deliver five-star service. For instance, when people get to the area airport, we provide round-trip transportation for them. We greet them, not only at the airport, but, when they arrive, our staff is out there greeting them with a cool towel and a nice cool drink, and then we give them a private tour of the property. When they arrive in their villa, they have a fresh vase of flowers, a welcome card, chocolates from Belize, and those kinds of things. So, five-star service, is, and always will be, our target.”
“The other thing that we do to differentiate ourself is that we’re the only resort in Placencia that offers a full-service resort operation, meaning we have a full-service kitchen, bar services, and concierge services right on the property that is reserved for the exclusive use of our guests,” France continues. “There is no other resort that provides those services exclusively to their guests. And even though we’re boutique – so that means that at most, we will have 50 people on the property at any one time – we don’t open our doors to the public for our services. That gives us the ability to enhance the services that we provide because we’re completely focused on the clients. Our staff is trained and expected to know when anybody arrives on the property, and everybody in the service area knows them by name before they even arrive. Everybody greets them by their name throughout their stay from the very first time they step foot on the property. And that guest-service exclusivity is something that we market that completely distinguishes us from the other resorts.”
“Last but not least,” he concludes, “as in all real estate, location is extremely important. And we are the closest, full-service resort to the Village of Placencia, so people can walk there, down the beach. The other resorts that are in our category of quality and service are outside of the Village and further up the road, so their guests have to get some kind of transport. But within our property, people can just walk or take a bicycle or even a kayak down along the shoreline and go have lunch or breakfast. So, they have the ability to utilize all of the culture, the gift shops, the night life, and the restaurants that are available in the Village.”
France says that Chabil Mar books its guests directly, as well as through agents and wholesalers. It also works with one of the OTAs (Online Travel Agencies), Booking.com. “When I first wanted to make people aware of who we were, we utilized people like Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, and Jetsetter,” he says. “But I always hoped, someday, that I wouldn’t have to use them, except in unique situations. And the reason for that is because of the volume of commission that they charge – they were charging 25 percent, while a wholesaler would charge 20 percent and an agent would charge 10 or 15 percent. But maybe three years ago, we finally got to the point where we were getting so many bookings through direct, and through agents and wholesalers, that I discontinued the contract with Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity, because we wanted to focus our attention and what monies we had available in our budget for marketing towards the agents and wholesalers who gave us great value. They understand us; we like them, they like us; we treat them well and they treat us well.”
“And, of course, direct bookings are always great because of the margin of profitability involved in those types of bookings,” France adds. “So, I stopped using them, except for Bookings.com and Jetsetter. And the reason I kept them on was because they were willing to give us a commission contract for lower than 25 percent; and also, because they were linked with TripAdvisor. Being linked with TripAdvisor is extremely important because TripAdvisor has a lot of influence on buying decisions in the tourism industry. When I’m on the property and I ask our guests how they found out about us, pretty close to a hundred percent of them mention TripAdvisor in one way or another. We ask guests to write TripAdvisor reviews and we have a phenomenal TripAdvisor profile – 98 percent of the people have given us a five-star rating. So, I needed one or two OTAs that were synced with TripAdvisor and Booking.com is one of those.”
In another example of the type of personalized service offered at Chabil Mar, France relates that on its website, there is no immediate booking engine for guests to reserve villas, because the resort wants to talk with people, directly. “It just says, ‘Please send us your contact information through the website and we will contact you within 24 hours to discuss your objectives,” he relates. “The other reason is that when people come to Belize, they want to do a lot of touring, so it gives us the ability to work with them on a personal level to find out what their wants, needs, and wishes are.”
France asserts that Chabil Mar Resort is a property that has been designed and focused on everything that there is to celebrate about Belize. “Many new properties are very modern, not just in the interiors but on the exteriors, as well,” he says. “And so, what we are really very proud of is the architectural style of Chabil Mar; it’s lush with flowers and becomes intimate as a result. In the interiors are works by local artists and the furniture is made from Belizean wood. We have intentionally put plants on our property that come from all over the country and we actually brought soil from the western part of Belize where these plants grow to Chabil Mar, so when they were planted, they were planted in soil that would enhance their ability to grow. Chabil Mar is a statement and a celebration of all that is Belize.”
Which is why Chabil Mar’s motto is: “Beauty by Belize, Luxury by Design.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Chabil Mar Resort
WHAT: A guest-exclusive, luxury, boutique resort
WHERE: Placencia Peninsula, Belize