When did you open Hotel Chillies and Native Sons Dive Shop and what inspired you to do so?
Here is our story. My man, Alvin Jackson, and I run a small hotel, Chillies and dive shop, Native Sons, on the island of Roatan, off the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Alvin was born here and has lived here all his life, apart from a few years working in the merchant marine as a diesel mechanic. He started working in diving nearly 50 years ago and worked as an instructor and dive shop manager in a few of the islands big resorts. In 1993 he achieved his lifetime dream and set up his own shop.
I grew up in London, England and between computing jobs did a lot of traveling. I came to Roatan, with a couple of girlfriends, in 1996, to learn to dive and Alvin was our instructor. On day two of the Open Water course I lay on the bow of the boat and dreamed of staying on Roatan for ever and hoped Alvin would become part of the dream. I did and he has! After completing my divemaster course I started working for Native Sons and became an instructor in 1997. We completed work on the hotel soon after and now run the hotel and dive shop together.
What do you love most about Hotel Chillies?
I was still a backpacker when I opened Hotel Chillies. We originally had 7 hostel style rooms with a shared bathroom. As we aged so did our clientele and each new cabin we built was a step up from the one before, all with private bathrooms and hot water. 5 years ago we opened the Mango studio with 2 lovely rooms, with bathroom, kitchen, porch and air conditioning. We have a 3.5 acre property so we still have plenty of room to create interesting options for our guests, maybe even building a couple of treehouse-style cabins. I grew up in central London without even a small garden and have loved turning a grassy field, into a tropical paradise, full of so many wonderful plants and flowers.
What has been the most rewarding part of opening Hotel Chillies?
Having so many wonderful, return customers over the years, so many people I have come to know and call friends. And constantly meeting new, interesting guests.
What has been your biggest challenge and how have you overcome this?
Keeping all my guests happy when we live on a small island where basic infrastructure is not that dependable! We have worked hard to have back-up systems to keep water flowing 24/7, internet streaming and electricity functioning.
Tell us about your team!
Alvin and I work well together. He can build and maintain anything, while I work on marketing, accounts and reservations. Apart from our dive instructors our team is all made up of local, island people, some of whom have worked for us for nearly 20 years. It gives for a lovely atmosphere of people who all work together to make things run smoothly.
How has Tab helped Hotel Chillies?
It's been wonderful to be able to facilitate payment for our guests, an easy, affordable way of paying by credit card. It has also made reservations and working with Booking.com so much more dependable.
What is your favourite feature that Tab offers? Why?
For a number of staff members to be able to have the app on their phone and process payments. Gives me more freedom.
Why would you recommend Tab to another business?
It's an easy, secure system, with plenty of support.
Why is Roatan a great place to visit?
It is a magical place, with beautiful beaches, healthy, world class reefs, tropical jungle covered hills and lovely, friendly people. Before settling here I had traveled all over the world but this is where I chose to call home and it never disappoints.
What would your advice be for anyone thinking about starting their own dive business?
Many people dream of running a dive shop but it is not all plain sailing. I'm so lucky that my partner has worked in dive shops all his life and has so much knowledge about compressor and engine mechanics, equipment maintenance, everything to do with keeping boats running and afloat, through winter storms and tropical weather. It is very challenging but rewarding at the same time.
You can find out more about Hotel Chillies on their website at www.hotelchilliesroatan.com.