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Introduction To The Young Woman-Owned Hotelier: Hailey Powell

About our owner, Hailey Powell

Hailey is a person to look up to for her motivation and passion she brings to her role as the business owner of Drift Inn. She is fierce and honest and admirable. She is willing to roll up her sleeves and do whatever is needed – from housekeeping to reception and doing yard work. Hailey motivates her employees to challenge themselves daily and do the best they can.

What is your background?

Hailey: I was born, raised, and educated in Oklahoma. My parents are both self-made high school drop outs who came from poverty. They were a driven, power couple as young adults and started companies in their early twenties to support our little family. My mother, Donna, opened her staffing agency before 25 and my father had a playground equipment company for several years. So, coming from an entrepreneurial family willing to hustle influenced my expectations in life.

Where I diverge is in my international interest, first drawn to exchange students in high school. Then studying abroad and choosing the international floor and international roommates throughout university. I wanted to live abroad and get out of Oklahoma from a young age, but I ended up going to college in my home state.

I finished high school in 2011 and enrolled into the top university in my state, the University of Oklahoma. During my program, I studied abroad in China twice for one summer and one semester. After completing my undergraduate degree, I fell into a Master’s program that I heard about from coworkers at the Center for International Studies at OU. The program would be online and if I started it within the next semester, I could get a crazy good tuition rate. I took so many courses in undergrad because I did not expect to want or get my masters, but I am happy with the education I received and hopefully will be able to put it to use.

2016-2018 MA Global Affairs, Univ. of Oklahoma

2011-2015 BBA International Business, BBA Entrepreneurship & Venture Management, Minor in International Security, Minor in Mandarin Chinese, Univ. of Oklahoma

So Hailey, what did you do before Belize?

Hailey: I moved abroad in January 2016 and haven’t spent more than a month in the US at a time since then. The cost of living was so much lower in the places I traveled to and live in while doing my master’s degree online. I frequently found free housing, and was continuously saying yes to any opportunities that arose. And, my volunteer position in Jordan gave me a small stipend. Living abroad is a hands-on learning experience in itself, so coupled with my master’s degree, I am well-rounded when it comes to culture and international relations. Fast-forward a few years – I’m rusty but when I get back into a professional field I will come equipped with all these memorable and educational life experiences from time living abroad.

On our first visit to Belize, I had returned home from Bosnia to take this trip. It was a drunken, chaotic blur. We went on a boat, snorkeled, ate great food, partied till 4 am, and toured a couple properties. Upon reaching home, we agreed to sign the papers on this property and return in May to start renovations. Read more about how we started the hotel here. It all happened really quick. I spent the summer of 2017 in Belize trying to complete the renovation before I left for Hungary.

 

Why Hungary? I applied for a Fulbright Scholarship in Hungary before we even considered Belize. So, although we signed papers to the property in Belize I already told my mother if I received the Fulbright – I would take it. So, I spent the 2017-2018 academic year living in Hungary while the hotel started without me. I taught English at two NGOs and at Szeged University while continuing courses for my masters degree online

Which year did you open Drift Inn?

Hailey: Initially, we worked with Sandbar and they opened it under their licenses as a property manager. As neighboring properties, the paperwork and procedure went smoothly. We were able to have our first guest stay at our property October 2017, which with the renovations was an insane feat. I managed the construction project during renovations (having never done something of the sort), but left before the project was complete.

When I returned from my Fulbright program in July 2018 – I started working towards my work permit (required to run a business) and business license (a work permit is required to run a business). The catch-22 of starting up in Belize is hilarious, a fun adventure through bureaucracy and hearing that something can be done within two weeks over and over. Only to mean, it is definitely going to take longer than two weeks.

 

I had the hotel open, a work permit, and everything going good by March 2019. We opened my own reception desk October 2019 and moved from sharing the front desk with Sandbar. This is an exciting journey, of course the pandemic slowed down my progress. Now I’m working on my tour operators licensing process and hoping for tourism to safely come back to its 2019 numbers.

 

How did you choose "Drift Inn" for the hotel?

Hailey: I brainstormed names, and this is the only name I liked. I used it as a placeholder name when I worked on the Business Plan and grew to love it more and more. It isn’t super original. There are Drift Inn’s around the world – but it is the only one in Belize. And it’s mine.

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What have you discovered or learned while travelling?

Hailey: I’d say the main lessons I’ve learned is that the United States is not the best country on Earth. Many Americans have not spent enough time observing during visits and living abroad to know any different. However, I do not think the United States or any one country “is the worst”. There are pros and cons to different societies and corruption found in everyone’s governments. Like, Europeans think Americans are extremely racist and messed up, but after living and traveling Europe, you’ll find they’re just as racist, it is just towards different people. It does not make them better nor worse.

Why did you leave the United States?

Hailey: I’ve always been drawn to people from all over the world. My home has never rightfully been The United States. I have roots in Oklahoma, but it is not where I choose to be. I’ve lived in capital cities in China, El Salvador, Hungary, and Jordan. I’ve lived in small towns in Bosnia, Belize, China, and Hungary. I wouldn’t consider myself a small town girl, a city girl, or an island girl. I’m down for whatever and wherever.

When I lived in El Salvador, I taught English and studied Spanish for 3 months. Then I lived in Jordan doing a workaway in a hostel for 3 months while volunteering as a dance teacher with Syrian refugees. Then moved to Bosnia where I volunteered at an NGO working in skill development, which is a great program. I did some video projects and had a grant writing project that fell through. However, the grant writing opportunity fell through and that same week my mother called me home to visit Belize.

What is your main goal in life?

Hailey: I am very goal-oriented, but the goals change and shift as I meet them. In grade school I danced and dedicated myself to the artform. I danced around 30 hours a week and participated in competitions, choreographed my own routines, and was on color guard. For the past few years, my main goal is running the hotel successfully and growing it. It is a slow, steady process that cannot be done without my staff and the guests who choose to stay with me.

What or who is your motivation in life?

Hailey: I am self-motivated. Completely. I enjoy challenging myself and always have and I excel, or at least suffer through sufficiently, at anything I choose to do. However, it is that choice that matters. I have strong boundaries/limits and things I choose not to do. Ask me to do a sport? I will say no. Ask me ten more times, the answer will still be no. When it comes to trying food, I will try any food you put in front of me, be it something I typically have a dietary restriction from or not. But, I know what I do and don’t do.

My mother is always an inspiration though. She is a powerful, independent woman who gets whatever the job is in front of her done. Donna fostered my strong work ethic and treated me like a business partner from a young age. I worked after school and weekends as needed my entire childhood.

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Why did you choose Belize, Hailey?

Hailey: I did not choose Belize, but since I’ve lived in several different countries, I am flexible and adaptable to anything. My mother researched and chose Belize as our home away from home.  Before Belize, I hadn’t lived in a beachy place. I hadn’t gotten tan before or had experience with beach/ocean activities. Never had I ever worn sandals. However, I adapted. I am now a basic b*tch wearing sandals with a tan.

I’ve absolutely fell in love with it since arriving. The warmth of the island and the people is really what got me. The Belizean people’s kindness is almost appalling. For a people who have so little, they will literally take the shirt off their back to give it to you if you say you like it (true story). Plus, I lived in Europe before moving to Belize both times. So, the coldness of European locals and winter is drastic when compared with the warmth of Belize and Belizeans. I am at home in Belize.

What is your favorite thing about living in Belize ?

Hailey: It is a warm place to be, not just because of the weather. People here enjoy the day for what it is, you get done what you get done, and you enjoy the water and the people you’re with. People are willing to spend their last dollar on a beer/soda for you, if you need or want one. There are issues with that, but the willingness to give and the kindness of people here, is definitely my favorite part.

I previously thought I would enter the workforce and perhaps do the corporate thing in Dallas or get into the grind of trying to outcompete my peers, like I learned in business school. It is great to not be in that kind of stressful daily grind environment. I am goal-oriented and work hard, but if I want a day off I take it. Likewise, if my employees want an extra day off – they get it. No one should be tied to their jobs and miss out on life.

Are you planning moving back to the States? If yes why?

Hailey: I would not mind living in the United States part time. It is just I’ve never worked a job where I have two-weeks vacation and that’s it. I do not think I’ll ever be able to live with those constraints. In the hotel, I do typically work seven days a week with my job and am always on call. I am okay with that, but being limited to one location sounds painful to me.


My dream is to live 75% in Belize and 25% between the United States and other locations.

Hailey, where do you see yourself in 10 Years?

Hailey: There are two paths right now that I foresee. Either putting in my time here and then handing it off to my mother to seek out new adventures and opportunities abroad. OR my mother and I continue to add new businesses and properties to our portfolio which keep me satisfied in my professional development. I have grown to love and call Belize home, but I am nomadic by nature.

 

No matter what the future brings, Belize has a place in my heart and is home to me. I have experienced and grown so much professionally here. To learn more about the development of the hotel, check out these blogs.

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