Understanding the demand for eco-tourism in Belize
By Bob Merrigan and Matthew Clifford
Leonardo DiCaprio is a well-known environmental activist, so it was little surprise when the world’s media publicized his plans to transform Blackadore Caye, his 104-acre unpopulated island off the coast of Belize, into a luxury resort.
Apparently, he first set eyes on the island a decade ago and bought it with a partner for a reported $1.75 million. Once work is complete in 2018, it will house luxury villas and all the frills associated with 5-star hospitality in one of the most beautiful corners of the globe.
But there appears to be more to this venture than financial gain. He said in news reports: “The main focus is to do something that will change the world. I couldn’t have gone to Belize and built on an island and done something like this, if it weren’t for the idea that it could be ground breaking in the environmental movement.”
Plans for Restorative Island, as it will be known, show a large raised platform that stretches in an arc over the water with artificial reefs underneath. The island will grow indigenous plants to support a manatee conservation area, and mangrove trees will be replanted. This vision is the result of 18 months of work from a team of designers, scientists, engineers and landscape architects but this labor of love extends beyond that. Following a decade-long search for the perfect hotel operator to partner with, DiCaprio settled on Restorative Islands, which is owned by Delos founder Paul Scialla, the company that founded the WELL building standard. Together, they are positioning this as a rating tool for wellness in the same way LEED/BREEAM, etc. serve environmental sustainability.
While the WELL accreditation is still new to the hotel industry—its implementation is a growing trend as developers, operators and consumers alike become more conscious of responsible travel—the concept of an environmentally sustainable hotel is not.
Aside from DiCaprio, Marlon Brando conceived something similar in Tahiti and, while relatively well known, we’ve also had the experience of Soneva and Six Senses in Asia for a number of years with their eco-resorts. Australia, Caribbean, Central America, North America, Scandinavia and the Alps are also markets where eco-resorts have been created; in truth, they can be found on all continents.