FAM Trip – Belize
July 19-23, 2019
by Gene Muchanski, Editor
The Dive Industry Professional
Participating in a familiarization trip (FAM Trip) is always an exciting adventure for Dive Travel Specialists. Visiting a new resort two weeks before its Grand Opening is even more exciting. FAM Trips are the way we get to know all about Dive Resorts and their Dive Operators. Talking to a Travel Representative at a Dive Show does not compare to seeing the resort up close and personal and experiencing it for yourself. You learn more about a Resort’s Dive Operation by going diving with them and their staff. That is exactly what 28 Dive Travel Specialists did earlier this summer.
On July 19th we took a group of Retail Dive Travel Specialists to Sir Karim Hakim’s Belize Dive Haven on the Turneffe Atoll in Belize. Debra Helms of Roatan Charter, Inc. put the trip together and asked us to participate. The purpose of the FAM Trip was to introduce Belize Dive Haven to some of the industry’s Top Dive Travel Specialists. Part of what the Travel Division of the Dive Industry Association does is identify FAM Trip Ready Travel Buyers and invite them on a three to five day Familiarization Trip Experience at select Dive Resort Destinations.
We invited a great group of Dive Travel Specialists from our list of FAM Trip-Ready Industry Professionals. We connected with Dive Store Owners and Dive Travel Specialists from California, Florida, Idaho, Maryland, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Belize. We organized the trip so that we would have one day of travel arriving, three days of diving and one day of travel departing. In my opinion, a five day FAM Trip is the perfect length of time for a Caribbean trip. A few days longer may be more appropriate for a South Pacific or Indonesian trip. This schedule gives you plenty of time to reach your destination and still get to see things along the way. Using your first day of travel is a great way to get to know the members of your group and answer any questions they may have. Three days of diving is perfect. Usually, you get to see the best dive spots the resort has to offer in a short period of time. Having the last day off to pack your bags, see some local sites , and say your good-byes makes for a relaxing day.
A lot of planning goes into a FAM Trip, especially if you want it to be successful and FUN. Historically, FAM Trips are put together by Dive Travel Wholesalers, Tourism Bureaus, Resort Destinations, and sometimes, experienced Dive Travel Specialists. I may be slightly biased but I believe that Dive Travel Wholesalers do the best job of putting these trips together. They know the travel market (The Sellers), they know adventure travel (The Product), and they know their customers (The Retail Travel Buyers). They are experienced at bringing travel buyers and sellers together and it shows in their track record of group trip bookings. Having a Dive Travel Association as part of your FAM Trip Team helps coordinate Dealer selection, pre-trip marketing promotions, on-site marketing opportunities and post-trip followup. It also is a big plus if your Travel Association helps you put together a SWAG Gift Bag or Photo Contest for your participants.
Roatan Charter put together a great Belize FAM Trip. The Resort Destination was Belize Dive Haven Resort on Turneffe Atoll. The resort is brand new, scheduled to open to the public on August 1, 2019 and we were her first FAM Trip Group. Two other groups had stayed there a few months prior, so we weren’t the first people to dive with the Resort’s Dive Team. The trip was by invitation only from Belize Dive Haven’s owner, Sir Karim Hakim. It included four nights deluxe accommodations, round-trip boat transfers from Belize City and Turneffe Atoll, three days of diving, three meals daily and hotel taxes. A low cost companion option was included in the invitation. Airfare, drinks and gratuity were not included.
We tried something new on this trip that supported our mission of bringing Buyers and Sellers together. We knew that we were going to be spending five days with Retail Travel Buyers on a Caribbean Island and we wanted it to be fun and enjoyable. We decided to put SWAG Gift Bags together for all of our participants; Retailers, Companions, and Resort Staff. A number of Dive Industry Association Member’s responded to our request and donated over $7,000 worth of gift items for our SWAG Gift Bags. Roatan Charter provided the Bag. 4 Ocean gave each participant a Signature Bracelet and a metal water bottle. Lita’s Natural Insect Repellent provided a sample pack of Insect Repellent, Insect Bite Itch Relief and Duel Purpose Repellent & Itch Relief. Riptide Sales Group provided Peppers Polarized Eyewear Sunglasses and Lanyards. SeaCure Custom Mouthpiece added a custom mouthpiece for each participant. Stream2Sea provided all of us with a choice of either Sun & Sting Relief Gel and Leave-in Conditioner or Sunscreen for Face & Body and Tinted Sunscreen.
The FAM Trip participants came from nine different states, so the plan was to meet at Hakim’s Pizza Restaurant in Belize City and then take the dive boats to Belize Dive Haven. We chose Southwest Airlines as our air carrier and I’m so glad we did. We got a great price on the round-trip airfare from Orlando to Belize and our “Bags Flew Free.” When you have nine bags of dive gear, photo gear, clothing and 35 SWAG gift bags to carry, Bags Fly Free is a BIG Plus. Thank you Southwest.
The flight to Belize was short and enjoyable. Being that it was our first time to Belize I was pleasantly surprised how inexpensive the flight was, how short the flight was from Florida and how easy it is to get to Belize. The Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport in Belize City is a small, but well run and efficient airport. After paying our custom’s duty on our “imported gift items” we were whisked away in Belize Dive Haven Vans, to Hakim’s Pizza Restaurant, across the street from Hakim’s Marina, where we would board the boats to our new adventure.
Photo by Jonas Stevens
Boating to the resort was very enjoyable due to a smooth ride through the mangroves. Our first sight of the 100 room resort sitting on a 500 acre private island was a breathtaking one. Sir Hakim greeted us at the pier, along with Max Monsanto, the Dive Center’s Course Director. We got a better view of this beautiful 4-story resort as we walked across the bridge of the resort’s 50 meter pool. After our customary welcoming cocktail punch we were shown to our rooms where our bags (all nine of them) were waiting for us.
We had plenty of time to unpack, connect to the internet and enjoy a movie on NetFlix. Thanks to the resort’s own communication tower on campus, we had all the internet and wi-fi we needed to correspond with the world. I was starting to see that Belize Dive Haven was designed as a self-sustaining complex, with its own electricity, water making capability and internet communication. That evening we had a welcome aboard dinner, handed out the Gift Bags and got to relax over drinks with our new companions. A staff introduction by Max made us all feel at home with our new hosts.
Belize Dive Haven has tremendous potential as a dive resort. The Resort sits on a 500 acre, privately owned island. It makes its own electricity, makes its own fresh water and has its own communication tower that provides guests with wi-fi and internet capability. Scattered across the grounds are light posts powered by individual solar panels. The grounds are well illuminated at night. The resort complex has its own air strip for small planes and a Helicopter Pad, in case you would rather fly to the Resort from Belize City instead of taking the boat. Next to the new canal, behind the resort is room for a number of privately owned Condos and owner Yachts. The resort has a 50 meter pool in front of the resort and a second pool, near completion, next to the bar and outdoor dining room. The hotel has 100 guest rooms, a grand ballroom & dining area and plans for a roof-top disco. The hotel, itself, is a work in progress and something new is added almost everyday. The dive operations office and classroom are complete and the next projects to finish are the wet gear dive locker on the pier and the equipment storage and repair facility in the dive operations building.
The next three days was full of diving, exploring the grounds of the new resort, learning all about our new friends and trying to photograph and video the trip. I had the pleasure of testing Tovatec‘s new MERA, the hand held Dive Light, Camera and Video. We had another new product to test. It was Sublue’s Underwater Scooter. Our group had plenty of time to correspond with the staff and offer them suggestions on getting their resort and dive operation ready for the general public for their upcoming Grand Opening.
We came for the diving and if anyone in our group books a group trip, it will be to go diving. Max Monsanto and Cardinal Andrews are in charge of the Diving Operation. Max is a Course Director and Cardinal is a DiveMaster. These guys are experienced divers, great leaders and fun to be with. Their two Captains, Tyrell Ferfuson and Deron McKoy did an outstanding job with our group. No problems getting us to our dive sites, getting us in the water or picking us up. Our DiveMasters Rodney Waight and James Andrews Jr. were a kick. Fun to be with, professional in their duties, and always present and observant in the water. I would dive with any one of these Dive Professionals.
Photo by Dana Polites
The dive sites we visited in the Turneffe Atoll gave us a good sampling of Belize diving. The water was warm, clear and calm. We saw Sharks, Barracuda, Rays, Goliath Groupers, Turtles, Dolphins and a few Lionfish. My favorite dive was “The Elbow”, a short boat ride from the resort. We didn’t get to dive the famous Belize Blue Hole, but that just gives us another reason to return to Belize.
At the end of every FAM Trip, I ask myself two questions. 1) Would I go back? 2) Would I take a group there? Since this was my first time to Belize and Belize Dive Haven, the answer is definitely yes to going back. There were so many pictures and video I didn’t take. There were so many dives I didn’t do and I want to see even more of the marine life I did see. I also want to go back to see the progress this new resort is making over time. Would I take a group there? My next trip to Belize Dive Haven will be another FAM Trip. I know what to expect now based on my first trip and I know what I would like to see on the next trip.
As a Travel Trade Association we are always looking for FAM Trip-ready Travel Buyers to introduce to new Dive Destinations. By the same taken, we are also looking for Diver-Ready Travel Destinations to show to our Dive Travel Specialists. I have a good feeling that Belize Dive Haven will one day be on our “most favorite” list. Stay tuned.