Entrepreneurs Go All-In on Mahogany Bay Village
With Belize tourism numbers going through the roof, one has to wonder how our crown jewel La Isla Bonita is keeping up. The Belize Tourism Board shows that overnight arrivals are up 44% in the past five years, with the vast majority heading straight for San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. But are there enough hotel rooms today on what was a sleepy fishing town just twenty years ago? Are our goods and services meeting the demand of an ever-discerning North American clientele?
Ambergris Caye was broadcast onto the world stage when it was voted #1 Island in the World on TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice® Awards in both 2013 and 2014 — the only island in the world to be chosen in TripAdvisor's top spot two years in a row! But anyone who has spent longer than 10 days on the island will tell you that it's definitely still a small town; residents recognize one another and wave while passing on golf carts, there are no stoplights, no addresses, no zip codes. In fact, the single post office collects your mail for you based on your name. Surely part of its charm is its quaintness.
Accordingly, when it comes to full-time life on the island there remain niches to fill, and opportunities for entrepreneurs and new businesses are EVERYWHERE. Before Mahogany Bay Village even had a name, the vision was born of fulfilling the island’s growing demand for upscale yet authentic accommodation, while raising the bar on lifestyle conveniences and retail choices for locals and visitors alike.
Here is the story of one of the entrepreneurs who has uprooted his life in North America to move to Belize and open a business at Mahogany Bay Village. We are so very proud to call this dynamic individual part of our MBV family!
Blue Bonefish Fly Shop
Chris Raines is co-owner of Blue Bonefish Fly Shop at Mahogany Bay Village. Chris is originally from a tiny town in Michigan called Lake Odessa. He first came to Belize in 1992 to visit family friends with a banana farm, and to catch tarpon. He recalls the days of travelers using a grocery cart to transport luggage from the airstrip, and when the Boca del Rio Bridge wasn’t a bridge but just a rope and platform!
In 2015, Chris Raines returned to a very different island, one with paved roads, taxis, and travelers arriving by the hour. After seeing the changes, and statistics on record-breaking tourism to Ambergris Caye, Chris began to consider opening a fly fishing business to “live the dream,” as he calls it.
Chris has always been an angler, operating fly fishing outposts part of the year in Michigan and Alaska. To venture outside of the US to set up shop in a warm familiar spot, world-renowned for fly fishing seemed like a natural progression. Belize is an angler's paradise, home to over 200 miles of coastline flats teeming with bonefish, permit, tarpon, and even snook — that's right — grand slam move aside, in Belize it's all about the SUPER SLAM!
“Although it has grown, San Pedro still has that small town feel, and the tourism brings incredible opportunity for local business,” says Chris.
During Chris's 2015 trip to Ambergris Caye he came across an expansive new resort south of town called Mahogany Bay Village. He learned of the resort village’s timeline to soon open the largest hotel in the country, in a master-planned village complete with private vacation homes, enormous event space, and plenty of nice amenities. After meeting Beth Clifford, the visionary and CEO behind Mahogany Bay Village, it didn’t take much to be drawn into the new resort’s momentum and sign on to open a fishing tour business with brick and mortar fly shop in the village downtown. Within six months Blue Bonefish was up and running at Mahogany Bay, offering tours, fishing apparel, and gear to all visitors and island locals.
Chris has had an enterprising mindset since he was a child; he was in the quintessential lemonade business, shoveled snow from neighbor’s driveways for tips, and even picked up a paper route for a year. Although he’s an entrepreneur at heart, he went the traditional route with a management position for many years. Today, however, he says he hasn’t received a paycheck from anyone else for over ten years — and is proud of it!
We sat down with Chris Raines to find out the motivations that led him and his partner to opening up shop at Mahogany Bay Village.
Q. Why Belize?
A. Easy, no snow! But really — for fly fishing you need a population density of a particular amount. Realistic locations aren’t places that are overbuilt like Playa del Carmen. I like the small town feel of San Pedro, you know everybody. I grew up in a place that took four towns to make up one single high school! I love that. I’ve seen the island’s growth first-hand and the opportunity is here. That and there’s not too much fly fishing competition on Ambergris Caye.
Q. Why Mahogany Bay Village?
A. I met the team on the ground, I met Beth, I saw the footprint of the resort back when it was just a construction zone with a coffee shop (Rum+Bean). It was large enough to sustain the amount of business we want to do. We wanted to be able to be here first and ramp up along with Mahogany Bay. Once it’s open and running at full-speed — I mean, it’s going to be a gold mine here.
Q. Do you have a favorite book that has influenced you in business?
A. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. Why? Because there were no big words! Haha, joking aside, I believe the simple virtues and lessons that we were taught early in life are some of the most important and valuable ones.