What Type of Businesses Does Ambergris Caye Need?

Here’s one of the questions that I am asked most frequently:   What sort of business do you think Ambergris Caye (or Belize) MOST needs?

It’s incredibly hard to answer – there are so many factors that go into opening a business on Ambergris Caye but lemme give it “the old college try”.  Or try to outline a bunch of things that the question makes me think about.

It’s tricky for SO many reasons – and I’ll try to touch on some of them and ask those who have opened businesses in Belize to add some ideas in the comments.  PLEASE DO!  And let me know the positives too.

Opening a small business anywhere is hard.  You hear the statistics all the time when people are talking about the US.  20% of small businesses fail within the first year, 30% by the end of the second year.  50% won’t even make it to 5 years.  (I’m guessing that the pandemic made things even worse?)  These numbers are from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics…I’m guessing that they are underreported.  Opening a small business is HARD.  And food-related businesses fare even worse.

“Needs” is a very subjective word.

I think we need a fast-easy-to-go lunch spot with sandwiches and salads that you can just grab and take away.  But maybe that would be tricky in the off-season?  Many Belizeans tend to eat big, hot lunch meals.  And fresh foods, lunch meats…the ingredients are expensive!

A couple thought that we needed a Line-Dancing Bar on the Beach a bunch of years back…that didn’t work.

You might think we need hot yoga studio or a place for great steaks or a Spanish/English learning center or a golf cart Uber (MAN that would be great)…

Ambergris Caye is a quirky, tourism-driven, seasonal market with two big customer bases that sometimes are looking for different things (let’s call them “locals” and “visitors” – a big generalization).

It’s also a “living the dream” economy…or at least that’s what I call it…but I’ll get to that.

And one quick fact…foreigners can own businesses in Belize.  You need to get the proper work permit – depending on how involved you get in your business (can I suggest very involved?) but permanent residency is not required.  There are other things you will want to know: taxes, permits, liquor licenses, minimum wage, etc. but I will let you do your own research on that.  And hopefully push you to ask questions, learn the area, patronize lots of other businesses and ask more questions.  This is not time to KNOW IT ALL.  It’s time to eat humble pie.  Even if you ran a similar spot in the US or Canada.  Belize is a different country – a different culture –  a different market.

Seasonality on Ambergris Caye:  Historically, for half the year, things are booming; December thru the summer months (the last week of Dec to the beginning of May is really the sweet spot), tourists are flocking in, primarily from the US.  And then things slow significantly into the Slow Season….the months when we can get some rainy weather or potentially a tropical storm.  Where folks in the US are headed back to school and work and vacationing goes on the back burner.  Some businesses here close for a few weeks or longer – to take a vacation, to work on improvements, or, for some, it just doesn’t make economic sense to open when customer flow is so low.

Living the Dream Economy on Ambergris Caye:  Visitors come to Belize, find a favorite bar, restaurant, business, and think…this looks easy…and fun…I can do this too!  In fact, with a few small tweaks, I could make this even better!  They don’t look into many of the details…utilities, taxes, real sales numbers, customer flow, comparables, and competition…nothing.  They sometimes don’t have any experience running a bar…they would NEVER think of opening a bar in their hometown but for some reason…it all seems possible in Belize.

(Trust me…I understand this!  I moved here after only 2 vacations!)

The dream is hazy and minimal when it comes to details but it goes something like this:  Buy a bar, open it to accolades and lots of success, friends and family flock down to visit and enjoy, hire super fun workers who are also your new friends, travel, drop in most evenings and collect the profits.

The owner might find a bar or a small cafe for sale – you can check sites like Buy Business in Belize – for ideas.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  And then the business is often back on the market – and there is usually a buyer, if the price is right.  Often sold to the next person with “the dream”.

Not so much supply and demand-driven…businesses don’t fail and then close.  More often they falter and are listed for sale.  (They can falter for a long time…sometimes the owner has quite a bit of money to put into it)  It’s more of “Living the Dream” Driven.

So I guess…in fact, I know, that I don’t have a good answer for the question:  What sort of business is needed in Belize?

I still would love to see that quick, easy health lunch-takeaway place.  But that seems like lots of work…LOTS.  All small businesses are!

Let me know what YOU think Belize needs…

I’d LOVE to hear it.

And a few of my ideas

  • Spend some money on professional help with a logo and a name and a webiste.  If possible, make it about Belize.  Merchandise (hats, t-shirts, stickers) can be a big part of your business!
  • Differentiate!  If you do open a bar or a cafe, make it different!  What’s going to make your spot stand out from the crowd!
  • Work your Social Media.  I know, I know…it’s a slog for some people.  But Instagram, Facebook…it’s all basically free (except for the misery and depression and fake news it inflicts on all of us – but that is another discussion 😉 ) – USE IT.  You’d be surprised how far a consistent feed of pretty pictures can take you.
  • Visit in the ON season and the OFF seasons


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