We took a building, and made it into our dream hotel Drift Inn.
Humble Beginning for a little Hotel in the Caribbean
A Belizean Dream
We (Donna Powell and Hailey Powell) first visited Belize, as tourists often do, bright eyed and bushy tailed with an interest in investing and moving to this dream destination. We came from Oklahoma to visit. Our eyes sparked when we got on the water taxi and saw the gorgeous hues of blue as we passed by for the first time. Our group relished in the excitement of Shark Ray Alley and brilliant corals and diverse sea life at Hol-Chan Marine Reserve. Next, we ate grilled lobster, rice and beans, and drank panty rippers and rum punches till we blacked out. Then, we bet on crabs at the crab races and cruised around in a golf cart. The tourist experience uncaptured us on our first visit. So, we decided our Belizean dream was to create a budget hotel in San Pedro where young people can experience the best of the island from.
We bought the property just days after our first visit in March 2017 and closed on it in May 2017. When we arrived in May, Donna hired the property’s previous property manager to start demolishing certain areas of the building. Construction pursued. The “pent house” 3rd floor was our home in the building overseeing the construction both literally and subjectively. Our property was a diamond in the rough. It needed a lot of work, but we saw the place and saw the potential gains. So, we brought it up to higher standards. For months, we watched as walls were torn down and rebuilt around us. We watched as our ideas became reality and labor come to fruition. We took a shady building on a sandy street and turned it into a beautiful oasis for us to enjoy and share with guests.
Our First Hire
When it came to hiring employees once the construction crews were about finished, we knew we would need someone to maintain and work as maintenance/grounds keeper for the hotel. Out of over twenty dudes working on the construction site – we asked the contractor if we could offer Eldon a full-time position with us. Eldon, who always came to work early and left late with the sweetest Belizean smile on his face is who we chose. He took initiative on the job site and we knew he had great potential.
He accepted our offer and has been with us from the very beginning. We are blessed to have him on our team. Eldon takes care of us and our home like his own. The furniture you find around the property from bed frames, patio furniture, the reception desk – he built them. Not only a carpenter, he is an excellent electrician and plumber. If ask for another power outlet here or there – boom – he has put it in and I can plug stuff in. We couldn’t imagine running the hotel without him and his many talents.
Our Belizean Dream Hotel - Open for Business!
Our first dollar of income came in October 2017. Rooms were still incomplete and furnishings weren’t all done, but the units that were ready – were available as walk-ins at Sandbar. The property initially opened with Sandbar as the management company selling the rooms as their own. Hailey received a Fulbright grant to teach English in Hungary the same week we signed for the property. Donna was still running multiple businesses in the United States. By partnering with Sandbar, we received income on the property without the obligation of being on-site.
During 2018, Donna made monthly trips to Belize from Oklahoma. She brought friends and showed them the wonders of Belize while Sandbar managed the property. Once Hailey completed her experience in Hungary, she went back to work in San Pedro to make our Belizean dream come true. From July 2018 onward Hailey focused on getting permits, licenses, and getting “Drift Inn” official. (First, you need to live in Belize for six months in order to apply for a work permit. Next, you need a business to get a work permit, but you need a work permit in order to own and run a business. You see the issue?) Nevertheless, we filled out paperwork, we signed checks, and we made it happen.
In March 2019, our Belize Tourism Board hotel license came in and were able to operate as a hotel on our own. Just two years after our first arrival to San Pedro. Our Belizean dream was coming true!
Drift Inn Established and Official
With our own licensing, it was time to build out a reception desk, which we placed like a cubby hole under our staircase. With only a handful of units and Hailey living on-site, a small desk made sense. Then, after some interviews and flops, we found our receptionist, Stephanie. She is a pleasure to interact with and guests love her. An absolute sweetheart. Stephanie received her Associates Degree in Business while working with us and she has creative control over our Instagram and TikTok.
Since 2019, we have been growing our business and molding an atmosphere and experience our guests will love. First, we built our online presence. We made our website, joined several OTAs (Bookingdotcom, Airbnb), and social media profiles @driftinnbelize. Then, we built our social credibility through guest reviews and maintaining our social media pages. By January 2020, we were fully booked and sometimes turning guests away. Our dorm and private rooms were buzzing with people. All our hard work seemed to be paying off. Over 3,000 guests from 60+ countries visited Drift Inn.
Of course, after only being seriously “in the business” doing it all on our own for one year – the pandemic started. Even when the hotel closed for the pandemic, in lockdown, and after the borders remained closed for over six months we kept our staff on. We started projects to give work to Eldon and Stephanie. To maximize the experience and communal areas where our guests can come together we built a wrap-around balcony and a communal kitchen. While Eldon built, Stephanie took online courses on social media marketing and improved her skillset for the hotel. We value our staff. Through supporting each other and powering through this time together – we have all grown stronger through these trying times.
Pandemic and Beyond
Of course, after only being seriously “in the business” doing it all on our own for one year – the pandemic started. During 2020, we made the decision to pay our employees – even when the hotel was closed, when we were in lockdown, and the borders remained closed for over six months. So, we started projects to give work to Eldon and Stephanie. With Eldon, our kitchen concept came into realization and a wrap-around balcony. We wanted to maximize the experience and communal areas where our guests can come together in and enjoy the Belizean experience. While Eldon built, Stephanie took online courses on social media marketing to improve her skillset. We value our staff and know they rely on us to help support their families. Through supporting each other and powering through – we have grown stronger through these trying times.
The entire crew pitched in to get the paperwork and property ready to pass the test for Gold Standard. We were the twelfth hotel in the entire country of Belize to get Gold Standard Certified back in July 2020. Our eagerness to start back up and open our doors to guests again consumed us during this task. Lucky for us, Donna’s other businesses in the United States never faltered and kept Drift Inn afloat for the pandemic. We have seen through the worse of it. Now, we are back to a point where we can share the Belizean experience with people from around the world.
Purse your Dreams
The combined talents of Donna and Hailey have been the backbone of building up this business. Without having each other to lean on, neither of us could have succeeded in growing the hotel into what it is today. Drift Inn is the product of a powerhouse of two strong, wild, driven, independent women. We have been through trials and tribulations with this investment and venture – but the risks have been worth the rewards.
With that being said, do not be too nervous to seek out new environments, to get out and make your dreams come true. Take a chance and see if Belize, the Caribbean, or anywhere outside your home country is where you’re meant to be. Make your life what you want it to be by actively deciding who and where you want to be.
Donna and Hailey Powell
Visiting Belize? Stay with Drift Inn
Are you ready for an adventure in Belize? Look no further than Drift Inn. Our comfortable and affordable accommodations provide all the necessities for your trip, including premium mattresses, private bathrooms, A/C, hot water, and WIFI. Plus, our convenient location on the island or in Cayo puts you just steps away from the beach and easy access to all major tour sites.
But we don’t just offer a place to rest your head. Drift Inn is a community of travelers who live to explore and make new connections. Our staff can organize tours and excursions, from trips to the Blue Hole to golf cart or car rental. And with opportunities to meet other guests at the bar, participating in tours, and gathering for live music, you’ll never be short of company. So, book your stay with Drift Inn and start planning your Belizean dream adventure today.
2 thoughts on “The Belizean Dream: How We Built Our Boutique Hotel”
Wow!! I’m so proud of you both!!
Amazing im Los for words .. Donna has been an idle to me since I was a kid always fun and beautiful .. SO PROUD OF YOU BOTH !! THIS IS AMAZING MAYBE ONE DAY I CAN AFFORD TO TRAVEL TO VISIT!!!