Canadian entrepreneur keeps belize close from afar:
Like many across the country, Montreal-based lawyer Daniel Lighter, the owner of two eco-properties in Belize, is taking advantage of a much shorter commute in the wake of COVID-19. In addition to working from home and enjoying his son’s culinary delights, he’s also finding ways to look after his staff at Matachica Resort and GAÏA Riverlodge, impacting 100 Belizean families facing profound challenges during the pandemic.
How has your daily routine changed during the pandemic?
My daily routine has changed from waking at 7:00 a.m., dressing in a suit and tie and heading to the 28th floor of the National Bank Tower, to waking at 9:00 a.m., dressing in workout gear and heading 50 yards from my home to my garage to work out. From there, rather than meetings throughout the city, my meetings are held sporadically throughout the week, with lengthy gaps offering wonderful opportunities to overeat on my son Stephen’s (graduate of the Culinary Institute of America) baked goods. From leaving the office at 6:00 p.m. and heading home through traffic, I now fold my tent at 5:00 p.m., still dressed in my workout gear for my daily shower and dinner. Quite a change indeed!
Do you have more time for personal interests or are you taking up new hobbies?
I wish that I could say that ‘fortunately’ the free time has offered the opportunity to pursue new hobbies, but the truth is that the situation is so ‘unfortunate’ that the free time is mostly spent worrying about my staff back in Belize and trying to find ways to help. Yes, I have caught up on films and television shows that I hadn’t seen, and to read a couple of books that have been waiting for my attention, but in large part the ‘free time’ has been spent trying to create safe and meaningful programs to help my 100 Belizean families who are facing profound challenges during this pandemic.
Are you doing any volunteer work?
My volunteer work has largely been a remote effort focusing on Belize. From the creation of a fund to help my own staff, to producing and distributing vegetables and fruit from the GAÏA garden, to doubling the size and output of that garden and increasing staffing in order to increase supply, and to distribution of food baskets on Ambergris Caye, my volunteering has been both challenging and very rewarding. The latest initiative is to have our three tour guides, Chris, Charlie and Henry head out on a daily fishing run hoping to catch as much as they can for distribution to as many islanders as possible. Assuming a daily catch of a dozen fish per guide and one second fisherman on board, we can realistically pull in sixty to seventy fish daily, enough to distribute well beyond our own team. The plan will hopefully be approved by local authorities by the end of May.
Finally, I have sent along my thoughts for an ambitious community project in San Pedro for a major cleanup, paint, refurbishing where the community from children to adults, from business to government might come together to improve the overall experience for our visitors within the town itself. With the country closed for business and so many unemployed, it seems most opportune to get to work and dramatically improve the town of San Pedro itself, so that when the gates reopen, we can all look back with a sense of relief but also of accomplishment. While difficult to orchestrate from Canada, I am doing what I can as I engage local leadership in this initiative.
What will your personal reaction be when coronavirus ends?
My personal reaction will be one of caution but opportunity. The closing has allowed us to accomplish some major repairs and cleaning that is otherwise impossible while operational. Kitchens will be revamped, thatch repaired, boats painted and staff training increased. This has already begun with the hope that with the end of the virus, we can reopen to our guests with a polished product, a refined newly trained staff and new protocols in place to meet the new demands of both our guests and the local community. I hope to be positioned to offer my ideas to the local government on ways that the hospitality industry in Belize might improve the quality and overall experience to our future visitors. So I would say that the end of the virus will of course offer relief but will also create new challenges and opportunities that will keep us all busy over the next few years.