Innovative Hospitality: Using Food to Strengthen Tourism and Community in Belize

Innovative Hospitality: Using Food to Strengthen Tourism and Community in Belize

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Angela: Good afternoon and welcome everyone to the third webinar session of course number one for the Belize Tourism Futures series, which for this first course, it's called Crafting Unique and Immersive Experiences. My name is Angela from Belizing. com and I'll be your host for today's session.

So just to backtrack a little, the goal of these series, um, is to revolutionize the tourism industry by fostering innovation and sustainability. This initiative was inspired by no other than Lorenzo, um, because of his dedication to Belize's economic growth and is supported by the Emergent Ventures grant from the George Mason University's Mercatus Center and in collaboration with Belizing. com and the Lodge at Chaa Creek. Today, we're diving into innovative hospitality with Lorenzo and Mara Jernigan, who is a Canadian food and hospitality specialist with over 30 years of hands on international experience specializing in sustainability, local food and cultures.

As a multilingual certified chef, culinary instructor and manager, Mara believes in working side by side with staff to provide solid training and systems focused on quality and efficiency to create outstanding guest experiences and foster accountability, pride and sense of place. Now with that said, I like to cover some housekeeping notes. There is a chat box on the left. I'm sure everyone that has logged in has already sent home messages. So you're familiar with communicating with us.

If you'd like to share any comments or ask any questions, all of the questions that are asked during the presentation will be answered at the end of the of it. So there will be a Q and A session after Mara is done with her presentation. For those of you who would like to request mic and camera access, you could also do so. There is a button.

I think if you click on the mic button, whether you're on a laptop or a phone, you can request mic and camera access so you could communicate or share your thoughts or questions that you may have. Other than that, I will pass on the mic to Miss Mara so she could go ahead with the presentation. Mara Jernigan: Thank you, thank you Angela and Lorenzo. Okay, so, Um, I'm a chef and consultant based on Vancouver Island in B. C. So I'm probably the furthest away on the west coast of Canada.

And I am really passionate about sustainability, social justice. By that I mean a food and tourism experience that is just as good for the person that works there as the person who visits, local and food cultures. And i've been working well, quite a bit more than 35 years, actually, yeah, over 40 now, cooking and doing hospitality. Um, and I was so lucky to live in Belize.

I'm just going to go to the next. To the next image here. Um, I'm, I was so lucky to live in four different places in Belize, in the Toledo district, in Placencia, in Cayo, and in Ambergris. Um, so I thought the easiest way to do this presentation today to just kind of make it hopefully enjoyable is to share a bunch of images and tell some stories. So, um, okay.

So this is a beautiful collage of pictures that was, um, featured in travel and leisure magazine, which was an important magazine and this is when at that time, it was called Belcampo, but now it's called Copal Tree Lodge, and I landed there in 2011 with, uh, um, a mandate to increase local food production, serving local food, culinary experiences, and so this picture, this was only taken after I'll see you later. Just a little bit over a year, um, and we worked on a lot of different things doing bean to bar chocolate making classes, uh, cultivating the garden, um, with a great staff. Uh, the place that we kind of started was, um, in the garden and I think it's really important that, you know, we respect farmers and food producers, and we had 40 farmers on our thousand acre farm working in different areas of production.

We had a, we had a two acre garden to produce food for the lodge. And so, in the middle of that beautiful garden that the guests would drive by every day. One of the first things we did was build a, build a palapa. And the palapa was so that. the workers would have a place to have lunch and relax and meet and make lists and, uh, yeah, so make the workers comfortable and, and make them feel at home and proud of what they're doing. And this was a great girl named Sweeney who worked in our garden and other parts of the lodge.

Um, so here we started to get seeds from Johnny's seeds to grow because it's really hard to get seeds in Belize. Belize is quite seed insecure and a lot of the seeds that come in from Guatemala are treated with herbicides. So, but here we have these beautiful long beans, um, that we were growing in the garden and, and guests would just love seeing things like this come up in one of those little three wheel, uh, red wagons that you can, you can get in Spanish lookout. We would use that to transport our food up the hill to the lodge. When I got there, I had been cooking for over 20 years at the time that I arrived. Okay.

And I saw foods that I'd never seen before. Things like vanilla, nutmeg, mace, allspice, cacao, uh, sugarcane. Uh, you have to realize that your guests from the Northern Hemisphere have never seen these things before, and it's really, really exciting for them. We once had a pastry chef. Who was an instructor at a, at a community college and on Vancouver Island, um, to culinary students.

And he came and he saw, he had been working with chocolate his whole life, but he'd never seen cacao growing. And when he saw it, he started to cry when he tasted it. So really powerful. Um, this was an article that we had in, I'm standing in front of a giant vanilla, vanilla vine that's wild in the jungle. And it was just the most remarkable vine that our farm crew found.

And uh, Yeah. It's on route. One of the captions that they put for this magazine, and this is the on flight magazine for Air Canada, it said taking terroir to another level. So terroir is the idea of the land and tasting what's from the land. And so, you know, Belize is so exotic from a culinary perspective to a lot of the visitors. Um, we also wanted to really help biodiversity.

Biodiversity is having. Many different kinds of plants or things to eat. And so we're always looking for unusual things to feed our guests and, and to, you know, feed our workers as well. And so the Mayan farmers in the Toledo district got us some blue corn, which we grew and ground to make blue corn tortillas. So the interesting thing with food is one of the things you can do to save biodiversity is eat it.

So you're kind of ingesting. The message of protecting biodiversity as well as enjoying the food. And these blue, this, these blue corn tortillas just have incredible flavor. Um, we built a lot of infrastructure for the farm. This is a chicken coop that I designed and I had one on Vancouver Island.

And this is the tropical version of it that the very talented maintenance crew at, um, what was then Belcampo made. And it's designed, I don't, I, I don't know how many people have been in a chicken coop, but a chicken coop can be kind of like creepy or full of spiders or dirty or dusty or smelly. And our chickens would go out on the field and they would have access to go in and out of this house all day. And then we could lock them up at night where they're safe. But here we have this little girl. With Ilan Rongai, who is one of our, one of the farm managers there, and she's gathering eggs.

So she's not getting chicken poop on her feed. It's very clean and very user friendly. So, building clean, well designed systems for healthy and happy animals.

Um, you'll be proud to show them off to guests. And I think, uh, a great example of this, another great example is Chalk Creek. I remember touring the worm composting facilities with Mick, and just being completely blown away and sharing his passion for sustainability.

This is an example, for breakfast, we used to have, uh, People ask about the same, but what's this bird? What's that bird? And we usually had our guides on the deck, but, um, we also decided to print, print the breakfast menu. If you turn over this little laminated card with all these birds on it, on the other side, you'll see the, um, you'll see the, the breakfast menu so that you can look at the birds that you might see and then turn it over and see the breakfast menu. This is, uh, Maynard Jacobs.

You know, again, I think Historically, not just in Belize, but all over the world, you know, people didn't want their kids to be farmers, food production was dirty and too hard, and there was no dignity in it. I mean, I think that's part of what the capitalist system has done. It stripped the dignity out of food production.

And this is an interesting picture because this young man, Maynard Jacobs, was working as a, as a construction worker on the agritourism site that we were building. Um, at what is now Copaltree Lodge, and he came to me and said he was really interested in working in the building once it was completed. So he went from being a construction worker to a chocolatier and here he is operating the equipment, the roasting equipment, and making bean to bar chocolate. So now we're jumping to another region here. Um, after that I worked in Placencia for a while and that was, uh, it was going to be Itzana Resort, but at that point it was, maybe some people remember Lubahati.

So Lubahati was kind of abandoned and it was actually very beautiful when it was kind of abandoned. There were giant lizards and, and a family of foxes, mother fox and her babies that lived under the lodge and so for the first year during a development and real estate phase, they wanted something to attract investors like individual investors to buy a home in a part of the it's on a development. So, we had the idea to do a culinary pop up. So, really, in a back courtyard where there wasn't much of anything, you can see, we built a table out of old scrap wood and a bit of a counter and a sink. And you can't really see it, but in the bottom of the photo is a real traditional fire hearth with a comal.

And then on the left hand side, you'll see there's a wood burning oven, which I've worked with a lot. And then you can see the big dining table out in the middle and in the other image. So we would host dinners here for, I think, up to about 18 people. Maybe more, maybe 24.

People just loved it. They literally were getting a taste of what was to come. With the it's Anna development, and even I haven't been back since it's Anna's been finished, but I think they do have a nice little outdoor eating area.

That's still very reminiscent of that pop up. Um, and then also in Placencia, we had a lot of fun with the kids of same bite, which is right next to it's Anna. And, uh, when we were dredging part of the lagoon side to build residences with the sand, we built a basketball.

We had a basketball court built properly. Um, poured concrete and you can see the Atlantic Bank donated the, the hoops. And my son and I used to go and play with the kids, play basketball at the end of the day.

And we also did a school garden. Um, insane bite. I'm not sure if it's still there, but, um, engaging with the community because, uh, that's, that's where you are. These are the future. These are your future employees.

I'm sure if I went back today, there'd be a lot of them still working there or working there now that they're older. This is a picture of what for me is one of the very best organic gardens in Belize. This is Blancaneaux Lodge.

I was very lucky to be able to do some work with them. I went once a month for a year and helped Bernie, um, with some advice and around how to build a garden spot in the middle of the garden. Um, Bernie wanted to build something and Francis Ford Coppola as well, wanted to build something in the middle of the garden where people could eat in the garden or have a cooking class. And so this is the garden spot that was built. But this garden is just.

really, really incredible. It's so productive. It produces so much food.

And you know, I have to say because I have a great love of the Belize people in the country. I was thinking about everybody during COVID and speaking to a few friends in Belize. And I thought of these big gardens at like Blancaneaux and, and Chaa Creek and, and, uh, Copal Tree Lodge that at least if there was no business and no tourists. These gardens would help to feed the people, the local people. And hopefully a lot of people had learned more about growing food. Uh, this image, I think this is very important.

I've been teaching cooking classes for years. And, I've often worked with photographers, and nowadays, everybody's a photographer. Everybody's on Instagram.

So, this is some of your most powerful marketing. When guests take pictures of things , and this is just a lovely picture of food out of the garden at Blancaneaux, but you'll notice we didn't put it in plastic, present things nicely, always lay things out so they're photo ready, because people will take pictures of them. This image are some of the salad greens that went into the lettuce mix at Blancaneaux but we realized that the waiters didn't know the names of everything. The farmers did.

But the waiters didn't, and even the cooks didn't. So, uh, we labeled everything. You can do something like this very easily, just make sure you know what it is, take the picture, print it off, put it in the service area for the waiters so the waiters can talk to, to people about, about the food and what it is. And, and these are all varieties, um, that have come out of the North American seed market so, And then, you know, they say if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Well, the gardens at Blancaneaux one day gave us about three rows of Napa cabbage, which is a huge amount of Napa cabbage.

And so we made Kimchi, which people love. Of course, that's a Korean food and it wasn't, none of these cooks had ever made Kimchi before, but, um, it, it was a great use of it and things ferment really well in Belize. So, so that worked great.

Um, also, you know, keep records of your gardens for, for, uh, to see which varieties do best and which things you want to plant next year. And also, in case you decide to get certification for organic or, you know, sustainable standards, it's good to have those records. This is a picture of the dining at Blancaneaux Lodge and, uh, the picture on the right, I know that's not one of my pictures, because if I had been there cooking and put that plate together, it would have a lot more vegetables on it than a fried plantain, but I'm sure the cucumber is from the garden, so, um, and you know what, people always say to me when they're traveling, they don't get enough vegetables.

Oh, I just want, I just want a salad. I just want some vegetables. So your guests really like to eat healthy and get plenty of vegetables. And, uh, yeah, this is, I'm sure you know, this is Mamey or Sapote, um, which is a very unusual fruit.

I had never tried it in my life. North Americans really don't know Mamey. And we made a dessert here with it.

I'm not even sure all the things that are in it. It looks like some kind of crispy cookie thing and cacao nibs. Um, Oh, I was going to tell you a riddle, but I forgot. Anyway, the riddle is what is the one thing that you can eat without the living thing that you can eat without killing? And the answer is stone crab, because you can pull one cloth. and it still has one claw and it'll grow the other one back.

So I've never had stone crab and it wasn't, I'm up in, here I am now in the last area where I worked in Ambergris. Um, I had this at Victoria House. The owners from Texas of Victoria House love stone crab and it was the first place I tried it and it was the, I mean, the traditional way to eat it is just with like butter and lemon or butter and lime. But here or mayonnaise cold, but here we did it kind of Vietnamese style with some Vietnamese greens and spices and another great experience, which you'll find in places like San Pedro is, uh, to be able to catch fish and eat it. And of course, um, fly fishing is super important to Belize, but.

But people are really thrilled to be able to eat something that they've caught themselves. So this was a fun day catching tuna and Yeah, we've already reached the end of the presentation which leaves lots of time for questions and interaction And, um, I'm not seeing anybody right now. I'm just seeing my own slideshow. So I think this could be a great opportunity to do that.

Um, on the left, I'm cooking at that pop up that I told you about in Placencia and down in the middle is the beautiful Rio Grande River in, um, the Toledo District and the beautiful Belize Reef above it and uh, Xunantunich and kids from Seine Bight who um, are really, really the future. So I'm going to exit out of this, uh, let's see, and try to get back to you. Did it stop? Oh look at all these.

Who did that? You, Lorenzo? Did it stop sharing or not? Maybe I have to hit it again. It's the audience. Okay, nice. Thank you. Thank you. Um, I'll put this back to full screen.

Yeah, thank you for, go ahead. Sorry. I was just going to say, Lorenzo, you and I went through this last week and, uh, and I went on a lot more. I tried to make it a bit more brief this time.

But I'm, I'd really love to have some engagement from people on the call anyway, because I'm happy to talk about anything and in general, I talk too much. I don't manage to finish early. So Lorenzo: yeah, no, um, uh, that was really great. And, um, I like that. You mentioned the aspect about, um, uh, about, um, Not eating enough vegetables when you travel because I actually just came back from a trip like a work trip in Alberta I spent the entire week there and um, I the first thing I did when I got home was like Make myself a few a couple of salads and then it was like oh I need I need more vegetables because it's I don't know why, but it's not so easily attainable. Um, but it's like something that your body needs and appreciates.

Mara Jernigan: And I think the North American diet has changed quite a bit. People are eating more vegetables and they realize, you know, even people that eat meat, I'm an omnivore, I eat everything. But you know, people also, if you look at your average traveler, of course, there's young travelers.

But there's also, you know, people that are raising kids, or sending their kids to university, or buying a house. They don't have a lot of disposable income. And the, often the bulk of your travellers will be a little bit older. And so you have to kind of think about their digestive system, and when you're in another country, and You know, I think making people feel good, um, physically is really important and establishing that as soon as they get to your hotel as quickly as you can, and that can be done a lot through diet, you know, too much deep fried stuff or too much oil in your food or a lot of big have, you know, you said if you were to sit on an airplane for six hours and fly to Belize, and then eat a big hunk of meat and then go to bed, you're not going to feel good. So, and you know, even in Belize you have like a lemon bomb.

What do you call lemon balm? Fever grass, like fever grass, tea, like all these little interesting things. They can make people feel better. They can teach them something. It's a new experience. So Lorenzo: yeah, thanks.

Um, yeah. So let me, I have a few questions prepared for you. And, um, we're always, uh, hoping that the audience, if the audience has any questions, please type it in the chat, and then we can ask Mara , um, yeah, the first question for you, Mara is, um, how crucial is storytelling in crafting culinary tourism experiences? Uh, could you share insights on how to effectively design narratives around local food and culture? And how we can enhance memorable, uh, memorability of these experiences for tourists.

Mara Jernigan: Well, I think it's incredibly important and I think it's something that Belize really, really excels at, you know, especially the guiding program in Belize is outstanding and the guides are very, very good storytellers. Um, and there's, there's a story around everything and I think just valuing people in your staff and their connection with people. I found when we were in Punta Gorda, a lot of the farmers were very shy. And when I got there, it was almost like us and them, like the lodge staff were better than the farmers and I think, um, letting people meet some of the farmers and letting them give farm tours, which is a great activity to do in a garden along with dining experiences or cooking classes. I really watched the farm staff evolve over the years.

and really feel good about themselves and feel a lot more confident because of the interaction with the guests because the guests just love it. You know, Belize is a little bit of an intimidating place for people to travel. Um, you know, because of the bugs and the heat and the jungle and are there snakes? And so I think in a country like Belize, the guests need the, they need that support more than ever. And through stories comes education and understanding, and that's where, but it's really that, you know, you can build the most beautiful multi million dollar property, if you don't put the right staff in there with the right kind of skills to relate to your guests, all your money has been wasted. Um, or you can have a very simple place of which there's many in the jungle in Belize, lots in Cayo, um, it can be simple, humble, but really clean with outstanding service and really good people who will tell you a story and, and it can be the best experience ever. Lorenzo: So you mentioned that, you had never tried Mamey before you went to Belize.

And , I think sometimes Belizeans are surprised when, tourists come from abroad and appreciate the stuff more than they do. Yeah. So, um, can, can you talk to the, about that a little bit more and like why, uh, sometimes Belizeans need to like maybe be a little bit more proud of their like blue corn or, or like some tropical fruit that they have in their backyard so the are so accustomed to it, but actually it's unique and amazing . Mara Jernigan: Well, you know, it's very interesting. I'm sure a lot of people on the call have been to some neighboring countries to Belize, Guatemala, or Mexico. And of course those are Latin American countries and Belize is the only British, uh, Colony or former British colony and I think in Belize it was very extractive and a lot of like, the timber was taken out the indigo, all sugar, all the oranges, all these different products. And then when you look at what was shipped back for those workers in those extractive industries to take out, you know, like, I don't know, maybe some of you know, Lyra Spang, who's the food anthropologist.

She's so brilliant. And she grew up in the Toledo district. And one of the things that she said to me that really hit home is, you know, a lot of Belizeans prefer red beans. But black beans are actually more native, um, certainly to the Mayan culture in Belize and, uh, they're healthier. They're way better for you.

But the reason that red kidney beans made it to Belize is when the boats would come from England, full of, I don't know, wool and textiles, they would stop in the southern United States and offload and then pick up red beans and other things and, and I mean, eventually tinned meat, things like that for ballast, and then go to Belize and drop all that stuff off and then go back to England with hardwood. So, you know, that's why there's red beans in Belize. Because really, black beans are the beans of Belize. So, I think Belize is really different.

If you look at all of Central America and South America and Latin, um, American history, there's a lot of things, like, I think Belizeans think things from far away are better. You know, and what they have if somebody comes, they might serve you a Coca Cola, but really what we want, we want you to pick a coconut and crack it open and give us like coconut water, because in New York City, you'll pay like six bucks for a little tiny Tetra Pak of coconut water. That's exotic to us. So although you do sweeten your coca cola with sugar instead of genetically modified corn syrup. So it's a little bit better Little bit. Lorenzo: Yeah, no, that's a great point.

I really like that. You mentioned that because um, what I think one thing that makes me an unique marketer when promoting Belize was that I was like very boots on the ground and Interacting with tourists all the time. So I understood, um, you know their perspective and what they were interested in so I was able to like sell that sell that back to them and and that included like oh knowing that You know, they actually want the local things when they when they're traveling because that's part of the experience. Mara Jernigan: Yeah, Lorenzo: I think my point is that as as a provider of tourism experiences , I believe that, uh, individuals should make sure they do a little bit of homework and find out what are these things that can't be found elsewhere, and what are exotic things, and what are important things, and then highlight that and build experiences around this, I used to work with a colleague and whenever she'd see squirrels, we were at a restaurant, and whenever she'd see squirrels, she'd run to the tourists and be like, Hey, Hey, behind you, there's a squirrel, there's a squirrel, like trying to make the tourists, like, you know, be like, Oh, wow, thanks for showing me that wildlife. But actually squirrels are pests in the U. S., so because we didn't have a lot of squirrels around in

Belize, especially in San Ignacio. Like locals think that squirrels are exotic, but they aren't the tourist. So this is just like a small example that , people should consider when providing experiences, what is exotic to you? What is exotic to the tourists coming and visiting and how you can build experiences around that. And, you know, uh, talks about the value of education. Mara Jernigan: That's a great story. Yeah.

What a wonderful experience for me once in Punta Gorda was going out and, you know, Lyra Spang, the food anthropologist who works out of Placencia was talking to me about, um, kind of hidden foods. And this also has to do with colonialism that there were things that locals really liked, but they just kind of ate them quietly in their own homes and blue crabs were one of those the land crabs. Yeah.

And I remember when that, you know, everybody knows when the season is right. You, if you're driving down the road at night, you have to, it's really hard not to end up hitting crabs because they're all over the road, but they're also in the mangroves. And we went out, I went out once with a bunch of the guys on the boat, went with like a hook stick and a machete and a, and a, Cocosac and gathered blue crabs in the mangroves and it was an amazing experience But most people don't even know about that, you know, Lorenzo: okay.

Let's move on to another question. Um, Yeah, can you provide an example of a location other than belize where integrating local culinary practices into tourism? Has significantly impacted both the tourist experience and the local economy Mara Jernigan: Well, one of the first places that comes to mind where food drives tourism, and it's where I got all my early examples of agritourism, is Italy. Um, I mean, even in Belize, you can get Italian products.

You can get olive oil and parmesan cheese and prosciutto. And Italy has really made themselves famous for those products, and they've had to work hard at it. Protecting them because from fraud or other things. So that's why they're all certified with DOP and Appalachian. Um, but I take people to Italy every year. I've done it for 20 years with small groups of usually about six people, three couples or something.

And we go and see Parmesan cheese being made. Or now we go to Sicily and go and try the best. pistachios in the world that come from the base of Mount Vesuvius or the sides of Mount Vesuvius in Bronte and go and try sheep's milk cheese and have a cooking class in a palace with the duchess and um, I mean Italy is just one of the best places in the world and if you're on social media there's many many ways to look at some of the different things that are being offered. If you just used a hashtag like agritourism or culinary tourism. All kinds of stuff would pop up. So it was from early things that I'd seen in Europe that got me to open a cooking school on a farm on Vancouver Island, which I did for 18 years.

Um, and we would have people come to the farm and harvest the vegetables and cook field to table. And, uh, so it's kind of a philosophy. I learned about early and I think I, because my own personal life was missing a lot of those cultural elements that I really was attracted to. And so I just kind of carried it right through my career.

And even still, um, usually once or twice a year, I'll go and work on a beautiful, small expedition ship that only holds 24 guests and 10 crew. Way up in the north near Alaska, where there's whales and bears and just so much wildlife and you're really in the middle of nowhere and, um, even there, you know, I'll look for mushrooms or local seafood or anything I can find, um, I can remember one time we were watching a bunch of, this is a real example to an extreme, we were watching a bunch of whales harvesting or the whales were feeding on krill and krill is a little tiny thing about half an inch long and these giant giant humpback whales were feeding on this krill for a good hour while we were watching them and I got the deckhand to get a net and scoop up some of the krill and I tossed them in flour and fried them and so the whales were eating the krill and we were eating the krill and it went like the guests just went out of their mind you know it cost nothing But it's just a super memorable experience. And it's funny because I saw the captain who was on that boat and this was over 15 years ago that that happened and I saw him a couple of years ago and he brought that up to me. He still remembered it.

He said, I'll never forget it. So Belize is so good with the nature and the diving to already give people experiences. They'll never forget food is. That's kind of the next step because you're actually the experience is actually you're ingesting it goes right into your body.

Yeah, um, to build on, uh, on the question, um, how, how, how do you think someone, you know, a chef or even a server at the restaurant, how do you think, how can they know what are different food experiences or types of food that the, you know, North Americans would enjoy? Like they're the typical tourists. Well, I mean, the easiest way around that question is just don't buy imported food. We took, um, we took Belcampo at, when I got there, they were importing 95 percent of their food.

They were importing Stilton from France. It wasn't Belcampo, it was Um, Machaca Hill in those days, um, they were importing Stilton cheese from England, lamb from New Zealand, beef from Miami. They were paying a fortune to Tropic Air, having it all shipped in. And it wasn't really about money, but that was just one of the extra benefits.

We, by the time I left, we were producing 70 percent of all the food we served. That created way more jobs. Um, it was healthier and had a lower carbon footprint. Everything was fresher. It was more unique.

Um, I noticed when I was working in Belize, now it's getting on 10 years. Not quite. Maybe seven years ago.

Um, even up to seven years ago, a lot of places were just serving carrots and broccoli, carrots and broccoli. Well, you can get carrots and broccoli in every grocery store 12 months a year in North America. And you'll get it in the hospital, too.

Because it's just really mainstream, boring vegetables. Now, it's not to say carrots can't be great. You pull those carrots out of your garden.

I mean, Blancaneaux grows great carrots. And do something different with them and that's fine, but just boiling carrots and broccoli That's, that's not gonna, but you know, use like, people don't know chocho, they've never had fresh okra, um, and then maybe get some seeds, like those nice, um, purple long beans that we used to grow. One of the craziest things we used to do, to me it's crazy, I remember, um, in one of the first images with the collage, there was a plate with a salad with watermelon and some white stuff on it. The white stuff is Heart of Cohune Palm. When I tried it for the first time, and I tried it at a restaurant that I love, which is Coleman's, um, near the Spice Farm, and very simple kind of East Indian, a little bit East Indian restaurant because they're Belizean East Indians, um, and they called it Cohune Cabbage. And I said, well, what is this? It's not a cabbage.

Like, what is it? And then I realized it was Heart of Palm. If you go to France, You can go into a fancy food shop and buy a tiny can of heart of palm for like 25. And so why are we taking something as exotic as that and calling it cabbage? And there's always the tendency to name things after apples, like Star Apple, um, what are some of the other ones? Mali Apple, but it's not an apple, you know, it's something different. So, but I think it's part of colonialism and shame about local food. It's like, well, this is our apple.

This is our cabbage. No, it's not a cabbage. It's a heart of a Cohune Palm. So we were careful about how much we'd cut for sustainability. And we would also serve it raw, which was great. But we would, um, send our guests out as an activity.

We'd let them go out with one of the guys from the farm. And he would cut down a Cohune palm with a machete. And just watching that is incredible enough for a, for an outsider.

And then he'd harvest the heart of palm from the center of it. And then the people would be eating it in a salad with arugula grown in the garden and watermelon later that night, and they, they can't believe it. So, Belize, to me, without a doubt, it was the funnest place I ever worked. I never had an opportunity to be as creative as I was able to be in Belize.

And people were just up for anything. You know, the staff, any idea you had, they'd just, Just say yes, Lorenzo: Okay, I think, The final question we have is, from your experience, what are the main challenges in convincing tourism operators to adopt more sustainable and community focused practices, and how can these challenges be overcome? Mara Jernigan: Well, that's a really important question and it renders a lot of staff feeling kind of helpless if they believe in sustainability and they're in an environment that's not supporting it. And I experienced that firsthand in a couple of different places.

Number one, I experienced overwhelming support for sustainability at places like, um, Belcampo, Copal Tree and, um, and Blancaneux, I mean, and so I learned early in my career, if you feel strongly about a philosophy, don't put yourself in situations where you're not going to be happy. If you find a business that's aligned to your values, the battle's already half over, and then you're going to have that creative license to do some of those things. But I also was at one property that liked the idea of sustainability, liked the marketability of sustainability, but the commitment from the top down just really wasn't there. And the thing about sustainability, sustainability often means extra work, um, and more accounting. So I was actually there for a tour.

I forget the certification. It was maybe Rainforest Alliance, one of those certification bodies that came through with two inspectors from Guatemala. And they found some things at the lodge going through it that, you know, people, the staff were hiding it, you know, or, you know, the manager put pressure on the staff to do it, do it quick.

Um, you know, you know how we always hide the mess in a lodge. We always have a fence and behind it is where the garbage is. Is that garbage sorted or not? You know, the guest is not going to see. So, if there's a level of transparency, if you're proud of your sustainability, you actually want to show your guests.

I mean, those, that slide of the chicken coop is a good example. Most people, you know, 15 years ago in Belize, if you told your staff that you were going to take people to the chicken coop, they'd think you're crazy. Because the chicken coop was not a very nice place to visit. But if you, if you really drink the Kool Aid and you're really proud of your sustainability and you're honest and transparent, your guests will feel that.

And there's so many creative ways to be sustainable. But yeah, I mean, I think we found some terrible, the inspectors found terrible pesticides in the maintenance department of this hotel. And it was hard on me. It was very embarrassing. And the staff had all kinds of mixed messages.

I was brought in as a consultant to make the place more sustainable, but the manager wasn't really on board and kind of made fun of me about it. So, you know, really when you go to get a job, pay attention to the place's values. If the values are important to you.

Make sure it's important to the place you're applying. Otherwise apply somewhere else because if you get it, right You'll be really happy and your guests will love it. Lorenzo: Yeah, no and as an organization I think making sure the community knows your values is very important and it's like part of your brand, right, like I remember growing up in San ignacio and and everyone knew about the Lodge at Chaa Creek because of what they did. You They regularly did community events where the children could go and see, uh, you know, the Blue Morpho life cycle and they could see how all their sustainability practices.

And you heard about all the good things the owners did. So naturally I'm a kid and I'm like, Oh, like when I grew up, I want to work somewhere that I'm proud of saying that I worked there. And, and I was fortunate to be able to find work there and even better be being able to work, one on one like with, with the owners, you know, um, for example, Ms. Lucy Fleming. Um, I remember one year I worked with her for this project called the eco kids camp and beforehand, the project was partly funded by some, uh, nonprofit organization and, we had lost that funding and I thought that maybe, okay, since we can't fund this, like, we're not going to have this camp this year for kids, you know, it's free, , kids just come from across Belize and learn sustainability practices. You know, teach them while they're young.

I thought we were gonna like maybe scrap it or make it smaller. But, you know Miss Lucy just said, no, you know what, we're just going to fund it a hundred percent from our organization. And it's not, you know, it's not like they're making any money from it.

It's more because it's part of their brand and they believe in the work and they believe that it's important that you plant a seed in the children so that they can grow up and be sustainable and appreciate that. And of course, in the end, That looks positively on the organization, on the brand and people like, you know, little Lorenzo will want to grow up and be like, I want to be a part of that brand. I want to be part of that. Mara Jernigan: That's right. You've already got your future employees halfway trained as children.

No, it's so important. And, and yeah, Mick and Lucy are incredible. Chaa Creek is just the best example of years and years of sustainable practice. And that's what we realized as we get older, like, you know, those kids and those pictures, they are tomorrow's employees.

And, and it makes a huge difference. They're, they're, they're already, they already have that philosophy. We used to pick the garbage up on the side of the road once a month. And we would always do it with the farm crew and the maintenance crew. We'd always do it at about 7 o'clock in the morning on purpose because we knew that many school buses would pass by.

And so the school buses, the kids would look out the windows and see us all picking up the trash. And so then, you know, the parents would go home that night and maybe talk to their kids about it. So yeah, parent shaming by children is a real thing. It sure is in North America when your kids say, don't throw that out the window, daddy. Lorenzo: Yeah, that's a, that's a great example. No, Angela, do you have anything you want to share? Angela: No, um, not necessarily, but I just have like a quick question because I know that, um, Mara, your presentation was mostly like around, um, the theme of food and then incorporating, you know, the farming, including your guests in the entire experience.

Um, how would how could you translate that into let's say someone who's working for a tour operator? Um, what are some ways that they could be innovative when they're out out on a tour with someone I think I saw in the chat that they're with a diving company out in San Pedro. How could they be innovative while they're with guests or sort of enhance the experience overall? Mara Jernigan: That's a really good question I mean working in the natural environment there's always opportunities to point out the different aspects of sustainability and sometimes even the negative effects like we just had news yesterday that so many reefs in the world are experiencing, uh, coral reefs are experiencing bleaching. So you don't want to get overly negative, but guests also want to talk about that too. Um, but, you know, one of the, one of the real challenging things to figure out when you send people out on guided trips in very, very hot climates is the lunch. And part of it is because you've got to keep it really cold.

Um, and you don't want to go out there with a bunch of plastic or cans and bottles. Um, so I think, you know, when the guide is out there, if he's telling you all about the nature and how beautiful everything is, and, you know, or maybe he's telling you some of the bad things, maybe it's the Gulf of Honduras and, You know, there's garbage floating in from the rivers that flood in Guatemala and come out into the Gulf, and the guests are curious about that, like, why is this garbage floating, why is it, and so if you explain to them as the guide, but then you give them a lunch that's covered in, you know, single use plastic, it's, you're not part of the solution, so I think, uh, yeah, again, that's kind of an operational question, But I think, no, I think people want to know when it comes to diving, people want to know about regulations in Belize around fishing. And there's some really good management practices, like, you know, having a season when conch and lobster is closed during the reproductive season. People are interested in those facts, and the guides are really good at telling them about it. And the Belize Zoo is just such an amazing place.

You know, because there has been, I'm hoping there's less now, but in the past, sometimes by people farming, there's been cruelty to some of the important species of animals in Belize. So, at points where conflict happens, there's an opportunity for discussion and education. So when there's conflict between the way things are, the polluters, whatever, and, and the nature, um, it's something that has to be handled very carefully, but I believe that, uh, you know, the guides of Belize have really good diplomatic skills to interpret that and tell people, you know, because if you look at an organization like TIDE, that exists in the Toledo district and has the Gulf of Honduras and a lot of it. I mean, the owner of Orvis fly fishing and the owner of, uh, Copal tree lodge. These people were instrumental in making sure that those waters were protected.

Um, you know, very rich people went down there to fly fish and had such a transformative experience that they wanted to protect the area forever. So. You know, guides often have a lot of quiet time with people, and that's a very special and valuable opportunity to educate people about sustainability. Angela: That's a really good point to make.

We have Inez in the chat who mentioned that they have, uh, tour called Fisherman's Tour Where the guide and the guest fishes and go hunting for conch and lobster during the seasons And then they would cook the catch on the beach. So basically directly from the seas to your plate I think it's similar to like Lorenzo mentioned in one of the previous sessions where he did a cook your catch, um, experience where he along with, um, the guide, they went fishing, snorkeling, um, they, they cooked the, the entire lunch or basically they cook whatever they catch. caught, um, on the, like the initial part of the tour. So I guess that would allow like the guests to be a part of the entire experience. Um, we have now Javier who mentioned that as a diver operator, one of the good practice is lionfish hunting and turning, turning it into ceviche to eat during service intervals. So two birds with one sustainable stone.

Mara Jernigan: That's a perfect example. Actually had an image in the opening collage of the lionfish. And that's a, that's a really perfect example. We had a boat, uh, we had a big, uh, pontoon boat that our owner wanted to sell when I first got to El Campo. And I said, give me one summer, one season with that boat before you sell it.

And we came up with a tour called snorkel with the chef because it was a, it was like a party boat really, and we would take it down the river and out into the Gulf of Honduras, and we'd put a bartender, a guide, a captain, and a chef on the boat. And then you could still have eight guests and people had so much fun and they would dive and snorkel and cook and can you imagine like you're snorkeling and you're catching things in the water and then you come up out of the water and you can smell like lobster tacos cooking on the boat. It just doesn't get better. So those kinds of ideas are great.

Yeah. Lorenzo: Yeah, that reminds me of, um, a saying that, um, I worked at, um, Jaguar Paw for like a summer as a student and they had a shirt, uh, that said, when was the last time you did something for the first time? And tourists love that. Mara Jernigan: Oh, cool. Yeah. Lorenzo: Yeah, it's all about creating, you know, those Experiences that people don't typically have and the pontoon boat one is a good example Um, Mara Jernigan: You know what the owner never did sell that boat and it's their best selling tour to date, and this is like 14 years later.

Yeah. Oh. Yeah. What a pleasure.

What an honor to be, to, it's just been really nice to hear that Belizean accent again. That beautiful Belizean accent. Without turning on Love FM. Lorenzo: Love FM.

Yeah. Um, yeah. Um, before we start singing, uh, we, I think we can wrap up. Angela: All right. Well, thank you all for joining us. I think we still have a good 30 in this.

Um, live session. So thank you all for sticking through the presentation and for the Q& A session. Um, I also want to remind you all that this is the last session of the first course of the Belize Tourism Futures webinar series. Thank you Mara for that wonderful presentation and thank you Lorenzo for hosting this session along with myself.

For those who have completed and watched the first two sessions and have completed the mini test after you completed The mini test for this session, you will get a certificate of completion for crafting unique and immersive experiences. So that's the first course. Now we also have two more courses in this entire webinar series. The second course will start with the first session On June 19th at 1 p.

m. Belize time and the topic will be technology in tourism presented by Dr. Abner Mendoza. So if you haven't registered for that yet, please go ahead and do so.

It's very informative and I do recommend for everyone to register for the third course. If you haven't as yet, this is a bundle of three courses. And today is the third lesson of the first course. So thank you for joining us from the beginning, or for those who just recently joined, um, thank you for joining us.

And I hope that you found all the presentations very helpful and you'll be able to use, like I said, these golden nuggets of information into your business or in your work experience in the tourism industry. Um, I'd also like to thank of course, um, that, um, this initiative was made possible through the general support of the Emergent Ventures grant in collaboration with and the Lodge at Chaa Creek. Thank you Lorenzo for always, um, being a good support and of course hosting the sessions.

Thank you again, Mara, for the wonderful presentation. And thank you everyone for, um, joining us for this entire session. Mara Jernigan: Thank you so much. And my website is there if anybody had any follow up questions, feel free to contact me.

Lorenzo: Yes, thank you. And, uh, I just want to mention that if you have any issues getting the certificate, you can always reach out to us. Angela is the best person to reach out to.

It's going to be a digital certificate and feel free to post it on LinkedIn or social media and tag us. Um, So that, you know, we can reshare it and we can, you know, give you a thumbs up and like it. Okay. Angela: Yeah. And you could feel free to use the WhatsApp chat group that Lorenzo had mentioned earlier as well.

Mara Jernigan: Okay. Thank you. Bye everyone. Thank you so much.

Okay. Bye bye. Thank you. Bye bye.

2024-05-08 01:14

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