I am a guy who moved to a 3rd world country 2 and a half years ago and opened a Backpacker’s Hostel which in now becoming a renowned business. Ask me anything.
He he he... I have been hearing bits and pieces about him, but I must say I don't own a TV and i don't really follow what is going on in the world. I think McAfee is getting much more media coverage in the US than here.
What's this about?
Well, almost every guest that I let on to that I am the owner will ask a million questions, so I thought that it would make a good post for reddit.
Do you pay protection money?
he he he he... Nope. There are various colorful issues with cops sometimes but no protection money to cops or the gangs.
No corruption whatsoever? and you were just able to open a business in Belize without any problems from the locals?
Where are you from anyways?
He probably can't, and definitely shouldn't, admit to bribing officials on the Internet.
Then it should be AMAA.
Or OP could have skipped the self-promotion bit and it could have been done anonymously. But hey, free advertising done under the pretense of answering questions is priceless.
No man. I am not doing this for advertising. If you read all of my answers you will see they are quite long and I enjoy writing. I do not mention the name of my Hostel or the location at any moment, if I was doing this for marketing then I would be dropping in the name of my business all the time. The name of the hostel has only been written in comments from others and I have not even mentioned Belize. reddit users asked about it. I had to include the links as requested by Reddit. Right?
As I have said in a previous post, there is corruption in this country and it is quite commonly seen, there is corruption in a lot of developing countries but The Belizean government is working hard to fight it. Since i have been here some procedures have been changed and different ministries have been assigned to take different tasks that make if harder or impossible for corruption to take place. There was a big shift in the immigration Dept and I believe that was to prevent corruption.
I am a high level official in the Belize government and I just noticed your hostel does not have a bribe permit. You are going to need to pay me some bribe money to get your bribe permit.
he he he... ok then. see you soon
can i get a job?
Sure! but you will need a Belize work permit or residency :)
Will you also demand that I work for Belize salary?
Well yeah. Unless you can single handily cover for 3 people :) But i would not have that anyway. i love my Belizean staff and i would never jeopardize their jobs.
If a traveller came by and couldn't afford the [already reasonable] rates, would you let them work for room and board? I've gone backpacking broke and have found it's really hit-or-miss, even if you're looking to put in an honest day's work.
I have had volunteers at time helping out in exchange of food and a bed but i dont always take people on. Quite a few people will ask but I have Belizean employees who do all the day to day tasks so i dont need help there, the only time I have volunteers is when I am building something, but not all the time. I like to give the work to the locals who need it.
How many guests have you sexed today?
none, but twice with my gf ;)
Thanks for the answer, good luck with the sexes.
One thing I think would be good is if you put some larger pictures on your website. The ones there now are really tiny, it's hard to see the place.
Ok I have just had a look at that, thank you for mentioning it, there is something wrong with that. i will tell my bro :)
how do people find you? as in internet, taxi drivers, lonely planet etc?
I have a pretty good online presence, this comes from my brother who is a web developer and has helped me a lot with all my online marketing and has taught me all about SEO etc. Then also online there are websites like trip advisor, they offer a wonderful marketing tool and people base their travel plans on online reviews. There are also numerous websites like hostelworld who send me a trickle of business and then of course all the guide books. i am in the lonely planet and the rough guide and a few others. I will be in the new Central America on a shoe string coming out in October this year :)
- What were you doing prior to your move and how did you decide to go to Belize?
- What was the process of starting the hostel like/how much did you invest into it?
- Do you speak any languages/how many staff do you have and what languages do they speak?
- How is business going/how busy are you?
- What advice would you give to someone considering a similar move?
Prior to moving to Belize I was a building contractor. I worked mainly in the UK and France doing mostly residential conversions and barn and farm house conversions. Well the process of starting the hostel was finding a suitable place and not waste your money travelling the world trying to find that dream spot. a place with all the boring factors nicely lined up. Good property market, secure investment, low competition, a backpackers trail etc etc... and then make sure it has all the fun things that travelers need to do on the road, snorkel, dive ,trek, swim, sail and all that. For the investment part.. well as mentioned above... Oh Sod it... OK i have invested in the region of 170000.00 USD so far :) I speak French, English and Spanish, my staff speak English and some Spanish and Creole and Garifuna of course. I have 5 full time staff in high season + us 2 Business is great thank you :) it was really tough getting started, really tough... broke, no guests, the whole village totally dead, bills I could not pay, power got cut off, people banging on my door for money etc etc... But now I am on the map so to speak, things are great. It is still a new business and I have reinvested everything I have made back in to the property so i dont have any money in the bank to speak of but over 6000 individual guests have slept in my beds :) Advice for someone starting up... I will ahve to make a post about that. i could write a book
Thank you for answering all that. I wish you the best of luck with your business - 6000 guests is awesome! :)
No worries. A pleasure. :)
Weirdest people to come by? And what's your favorite type of customer? Also, cool of you to do the stuff you do.
Well I have had 3 crazy people stay here so far... That I remember anyway. the 1st was a girl from Australia... she was a bit of a nutter when she was sober... But once she aahhhh sorry... i have to run back to work.... I will be back as soon as I can to answer all of your questions. Ok I am back. Sorry about that. No rest for the wicked :) So once she had had a few drinks she would turn in to a loud noisy mess and started trying to invite local men to have sex with her in the dorm... The next one was a guy who showed up at the reception desk, polite and friendly and checked in to a room, he then went to the shop and sat down at the communal table with the other guests and drank a 75cl bottle of rum neat to himself. 30 mins later he was insulting me and the other guests, vomiting everywhere and I had to forcefully carry him to his room, and warn him in no un certain terms that I would throw him out on the street he he came out of the room before he was sober. the next morning he came and very humbly paid his bill and left. The next one which was quite recent was a girl who clearly had mental issues and was talking to her self in her room all the time which was ok because it was not disturbing the other guests, but after a day, probably because she was not getting any attention in her room she took her drama outside and starting banging pots in the guests kitchen. i had to calm her down and explain that I have busted my arse to build this business from nothing and i was jot gonna let some attention seeking lunatic spoil things for me. She was quiet after that and left the next morning. Anywhere you go in the world you will fins nutters. And out of 6000 guests so far, only 3 nutters is not bad :)
Sorry i got carried away with the nutters and forgot your other questions. My favorite type of guest... well there are several types, I like to hang out and socialize with my guests and i will always go out of my way to make sure everyone has what they need, what tour they are going on the next day, if they slept well, but I must say occasionally one gets guests that just sort everything out for them selves, they dont come to the reception desk ringing the bell every 5 minutes and they drink at the bar every night, are easy going and dont expect a Hilton experience an a 7.50$ a night hostel :) Thank you for you comment about what i do :) Touched
What made you want to open a hostel?
I decided to open a hostel one day when I was first travelling as it seemed to be a pretty cool line of work to be in. It is a heck of a lot of work mate, but definitely worth it.
Is there something special your hostel provides, a niche of some sort, or is its renown from just being good?
Well... No not really, just all the right factors like free wifi, chill out areas, communal kitchen, a bar with music where you meet people and good atmosphere. and of course the location is essential. A distinction with this hostel compared to a lot of more popular places is that here you will be greeted by the owner (me) rather than a bored staff member who does not care if you stay or not.
I'm sure that helps with any issues that arise and building a good rapport with folks.
yeah for sure, it is very important. People immediately have a lot more respect for the place when they understand they slept on a bed i built and are sitting on a bar stool I made that is sat on the floor I built on the building I erected :) Thanks for your comments
Comment saved. That's beautiful. You must read The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm.
Ok then... Will do. many thanks
Communal kitchens and clean beds are, as you know, a godsend for a weary traveller. Thank you for doing this and I hope to add yours to the long list of hostels I've crashed at over the years!
Thank you :) I hope you make it here one day, there is a clean comfy bed waiting for you.
How much money did it take for you to start your hostel?
Initially to buy the property and build the 1st stage of the accommodation I had around 85K USD... but that has gone up a lot. Initially I just had the dormitory and 1 set of bathrooms. I now have the dorm, 6 rooms, 3 sets of bathrooms, a treetop bar and the commercial kitchen. :)
Initially 85K to get going, but now i have reached around 170 000... But that is nothing to base anything on at all... 70% of the initial 85K is the price of the land, and of course land will vary immensely depending where you are in the world, as will the building materials and the labor costs. Then legal, licensing, marketing and bureaucratic issues will vary in cost too. So the numbers are nothing to base anything on.
I am opening a hotel in South Texas and find the regulatory environment even in this business friendly state to be rather burdensome.
What was required to get your business off the ground, other than a roof, walls, floors, and running water?
Well i had to buy the property and build the hostel, but legally speaking you have to obtain a hotel license, a liquor license, a work permit and then residency status, deal with the 3 taxes there are here, register for social security payments for my staff. i had to incorporate 2 businesses ( the hostel and the bar & restaurant ). that was all that was required to be able to operate legally, but each of those items requires about 10 documents you have to produce and pay for and go to meetings for and wait in line for. As with every business there is a huge amount of boring work that goes on behind the romantic voile of having a guest house on the Caribbean just to keep this show on the road. Ignorant people think I am raking it in and living the dream, it takes 10K a month just to pay the bills in high season and i work like a dog. We are open from 6 am till midnight everyday, and I have not closed ever, not for 1 day ever since I opened the doors.
I'm going to Belize City this summer. Any tips? Things I should pay attention to? Never been to a 3rd world country.
Hello. Well... Belize City is an interesting place, but as i am sure you know it is quite dangerous. Most people are only there for the bus terminal or the water taxi. I have spent a day or two in the city on a couple of occasions and I am still here to tell the tale :) the city has some beautiful colonial architecture and the old part of the town is nice to walk around. However, please, just use a taxi where ever you go, as they cost next to nothing and you will get a lot of info you need by asking the taxi driver. A ride anywhere in the city is 7bzd.
Cheers for the tip mate! I can't wait to see Belize. I see that Hopkins Village and Belize City are quite distant, otherwise I would have come by and say hello. If I get the opportunity I might try to travel around a bit but not sure at this point.
Mate Belize is tiny, Hopkins is only 3 hours drive from Belize city. it will be a pleasure to welcome you here :)
How are the internet speeds? ;)
Well in the last few weeks we have upgraded from a 3G connection that used to supply the whole hostel to a cable connection, and today I was downloading at 400kbps which is neck breaking speed for down here ;)
Nope I still have a British passport but i have Belizean residency, and yes setting up a business and providing employment in the country does certainly help you become resident. Some one from another country who would potentially be taking a Belizeans job will not be given a work permit or residency.
Would you recommend opening a business(well, sort of) in a 3rd world country like this?
What have been your challenges?
What has been surprisingly easy about all this?
Well, in the early days, right in the beginning it was tough, real tough. I was broke and had no customers and i was stuck in this hot dusty village. i had to do construction work for other expats in order to survive In those days i used to wake up and think "Arrrgghh.... get me on the next plane out of here" But i persevered and kept on going and the high season slowly came around, by then i had borrowed more money and built the 3 rooms i needed and suddenly, one day like magic, there was laughter and music and the place was absolutely packed out and the people loved it. I stood in the door way having an emotional moment and realized... i made it!! I Fxxxing made it!!! So yeah... i do recommend doing this if you can. Definitely rewarding
I want to start by saying that I was in Hopkins, Belize about 4 months ago, and actually stopped by your lovely hostel! The only reason we didn't stay with you is because the only available space was in the dorms, and I was with a family of 3 who couldn't really do the dorm. We met mr Ransom, and many other kind locals there and eventually ended up resting our heads at a place I believe to be called something along the lines of "Whispering Seas". The owner was a round, plump, young woman named Carrie and her best friend Charlotte was always close by. It was right next to a Chinese market and restaurant. We absolutely loved Hopkins, the drumming, the food, the herbs, everything. Our personal favorite food came from a stand down the road owned by a wonderful woman named Sonia. Anywho, I am overcome with a strange feeling upon seeing this, it truly is a small world after all.. Anywho my question is this... How is your creole accent coming? Did you learn to speak creole before you started the business or after?
Hello!! :) :) Wow... i am overcome by a strange feeling upon seeing this too. I was not expecting such feedback to my post, let alone by people who have actually been here. I am so pleased you have been to my place, and i am sorry we were not able to accommodate you. It is a small world indeed. Yeah Hopkins is lovely, I really feel at home. This morning I went to the shop for some groceries and I realized that I knew everyone who was in the shop by their 1st name and everyone knew mine. Whispering seas? I am not familiar with that name.. I will have to look it up. We ate at Sonya's place just the other day and she cooked up a storm as usual. She is a lovely person. For the Creole i am getting there, i did not study creole at all, not before or after opening the business, but I have been picking it up along the way and i quite enjoy using the few sentences I can pull off.
Cool, another dodo fan (:
Hey dude!! yeah man it is all about the Dodo's! Have a good one dude!!
I'm sure you've had some sketchy people come through there, what's your craziest story?
Well as mentioned above, i have had some crazy people stay here. But not all were unpleasant. i have many stories of some most excellent times with some crazy fun loving guests... There are so many tales... but I think the swamp story has got to be the best.. or definately up there. Do you wanna hear it?
Ok comming soon, sorry I have to do stuff right now :)
So… The swamp story. It was slow season and the guests consisted of 2 Australians. We had been hanging out a lot and listening to music and drinking beer over the week end. On the Saturday night a friend of mine came over and somehow during the evening the idea of taking his truck off roading in the swamp at night went from some light hearted banter to the 4 of us actually climbing in to his truck in the pouring rain. It had been dark for a few hours by then and we went down the Hopkins road and after 3 miles we hung a left and went down a farm road. We carried on tearing around the fields and lanes for about an hour or so, having a great time, but sure enough we managed to get the vehicle stuck. We had driven on to a small mound and the chassis was sitting on the hump and therefore none of the 4 wheels were even touching the ground and we were not going anywhere. It was pitch black and pouring with rain, we climbed out of the truck to try and push but in a beered up state with a lot of laughter we did not really make it, and the truck was stuck. We got back in to the truck, I pulled out my cell phone and it had signal, but with a sinking heart I saw the low battery warning flash… I called my friend and quickly explained the situation and that I had low battery and that would probably be my only call. My dear friend who did not mind being called at that hour, jumped in his car and headed out in our direction. I had explained we were around 3 miles in south west of the village. His final words on our brief phone call were: “stay in the car, we will find you.” And then the phone went dead. We could see street lights in the distance which indicated where we were in relation to Hopkins village. We got out of the car intending to reach the Hopkins road to signal to my buddy where we were. We were completely disorientated and in fact… The street light we could see in the distance through the rain were not Hopkins village lights at all. They were Sittee River Village lights… We had been heading in the opposite direction the whole time. I had no idea we had gone so far in that direction that we would be able to see them, so it did not cross my mind. My buddy who was out to rescue us had gone to a farm where another friend came out in his 4 x 4 and they found our vehicle in no time at all… but were not there. The 4 of us had been walking through the rain for over an hour when we realized that we had been going the wrong way. It became pretty desperate and we had been wading though water 2 feet deep, unable to see anything, no flash lights back tracking the way we came, but somehow in the maze of farm trails, swamp and tall bush in the darkness we could not find our vehicle. We kept on going and going, thankfully with a cool bunch of dudes the mood was solidarity, keep on going lads… And then, at long last we saw head lights coming through the rain. The relief of being in the dry cab of the truck was amazing and we were taken home. A huge thanks to both Friends who came to recue us that night… In the morning when retrieving the stranded 4 x 4 they made me realize how sever the situation could have been, the swamp is dangerous, there are snakes that will leave you dead in 45mins with one bite, not to mention the crocodiles and a lot of the creatures are nocturnal.
were you a big hostel user prior to this or growing up? do you now do anything special because of that? one of those situations where, if I owned this place I would do xyz?
hello :) yes i traveled quite a lot when I was 18 through to 17 or so... trips to Latin america and south east Asia etc... I have had a lost of influence from the hostels that I stayed at and I had a pretty good idea of what travelers needed. I must say when I am on the road or staying places these days, I often find myself making mental notes on how i would do it or how I would change this and that. So may business owners dont look after thier properties at all, so many run down places on the trails. :)
You traveled from the time you were 18 to the time you were 17?
Are you Benjamin Button?
Errm that must be a typo... sorry. 18 to 27 :) Benjamin Button? Nope :)
How much did it cost to open the hostel?
What kind of money does a hostel make in a month?
Ever have any crime issues? Any scary hostel stories?
How much sex is being had in those hostels?
Well it has cost a fair bit so far.. I have kept on adding more rooms and then a bar and then a restaurant... I am sorry i would rather not say how much it has cost so far.. For the income of the hostel it is a seasonal business and therefore it varies immensely. The income from my hostel would not be figures to base a hostel project on as you need to know the number of beds, in which country, economy, government, the size of the hostel and the number of staff. Minor crime issues... but no worse than in your home town. For the sex, i do not have a questionnaire for the guests concerning their sexual habits :p
Which countries are most of your guests from?
guest nationalities seem to come in waves some times, occasionally you will get a hostel full of Brits, then french, the US, then Canada, but most of the time it is a mixture of Europeans, Australians, Americans and a few south American countries. Lots of Canadians.
Respect for such a balls to leave your home and find new one in Belize. I bet you like weather more than in UK. Here are my questions: 1.Did you take any loan or just use your saved money? If you took loan where did you do so, UK or Belize? 2. Is there any other hostel around or how far is nearest one? 3. How often you go to UK to see your friends and relatives? 4. Is your GF from UK or you met her in Belize? or? 5. How would you describe Belizeans?
thanks for answers if I am not already too late
Thank you :) Yeah the weather is definitely better, although too hot in the dry season sometimes. Yesterday it was 42c in the shade. I borrowed most of the money to get going, I had some savings but not that kind of money. I borrowed from my parents and bank in France, I am currently trying to borrow some more money from a bank here in Belize for the next project. I do have competition only a few blocks away from me but in that place all you get is a room. At the Dodo you get a whole experience :) I have been back to the UK only once in the last 2.5 years, but i go back again quite soon. 3 weeks today in fact :) Dying for some Cheddar! And to see my folks and friends. My GF is French. I grew up in France and we met there last summer. And now she is here. Belizeans are laid back and chilled out, a little to much some times :) and things move very slowly. They are great people and very kind and down to earth.
What was the process for your visa or whatever lets you stay and work there?
Well at first i got a self employment work permit, a lengthy process which requires a police record, a belizean bank account, letters of recommendation from the tourist board and about 5 or 6 other items to complete the application. It took them 4 months to produce this work permit by the way and it is valid for 1 year only, non renewable, you have to start the whole process again. But once you have been in Belize without leaving for a whole year you can apply for residency. A whole load of meaningless time-consuming bureaucratic mess and 9 month later I had my residency. So I can now come and go as i please without paying exit taxes and I can work in any field, for my self or for someone else.
The media makes it out to be a very corrupt country with regards law enforcement. Do you think that aspect is exaggerated, or is it quite bad in Belize? If so, what are some of the most corrupt things you've seen?
Well there is a lot of corruption in many fields, particularly in the police force... Abuse of power etc etc. here in Hopkins we have a new "Corporal"... up until this idiot arrived in the village we had 3 good officers who did their best with their very limited resources to keep the peace in our village. then this lazy fat slob shows up and starts throwing his weight around, the officers who were here before and had a pleasant manner and professional behavior suddenly seemed stressed out. they came round to my place one evening saying they would like to introduce me to the new corporal. the done thing here is to offer a few drinks on the house, so we sat out in the yard chatting and time went by and it was not until the Corporal was 2 hours late that he slowly waddled in the gate, dressed in a football shirt, shades ( at night time ) and his girl friend in his arm. This slob just started ordering all the expensive cocktails and drinking more than what would be reasonable, then his girlfriend's friend showed up and his gf's friend's son, all invited by him started ordering the drinks on the house. I was getting more and more pissed off by the minute. And then... The fat asshole did not have the courage to ask me himself, but sent one of the officers to ask me to borrow my car for a few hours... NO! was the answer. I walked up to the corporal and and said: "Mate... i have worked so bloody hard to get this business of the ground, to earn the money to buy that car, if it is an emergency I will drive you my self right now" "is it an emergency Sir?" "No" was the reply. "Sir" i continued " I pay thousands of dollars in taxes every month, I provide a salary for 5 of your fellow Belizeans, I volunteer my time and skills to help the community, I organize beach cleaning operations with my guests... Anyways... sorry.. maybe I needed to get that off my chest. :) Corruption in Belize... i have met many people who have had a hard time with the cops, but so far i have been fine.
Interesting story... What was the corporal's reaction ?
his reaction was "ok then" and then he gradually collected his crew and left. he has not been back since, but if he ever come back here tryng to get a free drink he will Have to deal with the consequences. I have already asked Johanna to grab the camera as soon as he walks in and start discretely filming it, and I will be in contact with the Police commissioner of Belize as soon as he has gone :)
I've been to caye caulker and belize city. And I noticed there are quite a few chinese take out. Are there any in your town?
And why did you choose Belize in the first place?
Yeah man... the Chinese control almost all of the convenience stores, shops, and supermarkets nation wide as well as a lot of fast food joints. They are hard working and enterprising and they control the economy when it comes to retail. They supply the demand and work long hours, the are good too work with (my suppliers) always happy to discuss the price of anything if you are a good customer. The purchasing I have to do for the hostel make me a good customer. Why Belize.... That is a very popular question from my guests, and over time I am getting worse and worse at answering it. I love Belize and it's people and it is a beautiful place, but the main reasons, as mentioned in a previous reply, are a few factors that would secure my investment on the other side of the world and give me a chance to be successfull
I have always dreamed about opening a hostel in a foreign country, so I wish you the best of luck man!
You can do it. Many thanks for you kind words. All the best
Although I;m definitely late to this, I have to say, I looked at your website and your hostel doesn't look 3rd-worldish at all; you did a great job with the place!
Thank you so much :) I am glad you took the time to look at it.
How do you deal with bed bugs or prevention of?
We do a preventative spray of all the beds and rooms every 3 weeks. None so far. :)
Why not :) Where do you live and why do you live there? Belize because it has a stable economy and government, a good property market, land title security, land ownership laws... Nothing romantic :)
I'm from the USA and Live in the Philippines. Why do i live here, hard question. I got a job , since the states were having a recession and i was unemployed there. I just kept the job and stayed here. Married now, and have a family etc. Here , expats can't own land but my wife can so most foreigners just get everything in the wifes name. (no divorce here)
Expats can own buildings/structures but just not the land, no idea how that works
keeping the job and staying there. I think that was the right move... things still don't look great over in the USA :) I hope you are enjoying life where you are. How long have you been out there? That is crazy about not being able to own land there... There is a large Philippino crew here. My friend is Philippino and his dad has a construction crew, a farm, a remax franchise, a wood work shop... Al philipino workers. Great guys.
Favorite character from the FOX hit series The OC?
Hmmmmm.... maybe... Sorry mate i do not watch much TV and I have never heard of the show :)
ha ha ha :) not at all mate.
Do you really think the term 'third world country' is helpful in describing places?
errm well i did not use the term in order to describe the place, but just to clarify that it was not in a modern country with everything set out for you.
If you post an AMA, you need to actually answer questions. This isn't just a free advertisement service.
Easy guys... I know that thank you but i only posted this a few hours ago and I am running a business at the same time :)
Can you give me a discount? Can you send me a passport so I can get on a plane too? "The man" took mine away...
Lol... Err who is the man? Well you are welcome to a discount mate. For the passport on the other hand... that may be tough...
he he he he... Nope. There are various colorful issues with cops sometimes but no protection money to cops or the gangs.
An ama without any answers, how interesting!
Hello Sorry. My internet was down (3rd world problems). Answers coming now.
mate... i am sorry but that is ridiculous.. i run a business as mentioned before and i can not sit in front of the computer waiting for a comment all day long. if I worked for someone else, I am sure my boss would not like me being on Reddit all day long
Have you set up cameras in the dorms/showers to catch hot tourists fucking the shit out of each other? if i ever owned a hostel/hotel/whatever that's the first thing i would do
Man... You must be so desperately frustrated and unhappy in your life to write such nonsense as that. i feel sorry for you mate and I really hope you manage to sort it out. If you are too ugly to get laid them maybe hire a hooker for the night and stop spewing your bullshit all over the web. Thank you. Have a lovely day.
What a shitty AMA
Is it really? please elaborate... i could use some advice as I am new here.
have you seen my man McAfee around them parts?
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