Interview with Belize’s #1 Snorkel Tour Operator

edited February 2019 in Service

From Sleeping in Coconut Trees to 1,164 5* reviews

Caveman Snorkel Tour founder Harrison Cadle (aka: The Caveman) spent his early years living in the coconut trees, trading coconuts and stories for food, and now runs the #1 snorkel tour business on Caye Caulker, Belize: 5*, 1,428 reviews, #1 of 41 Caye Caulkler tours, and #1 of 69 Belize Scuba and Snorkel Tours on Tripadvisor as of Feb 2019.

The Caveman sat down with uScale.org’s Eric Hennessey to share the story of his life and business to serve as motivation for other small scale entrepreneurs.

Principles

There are 3 principles that guide everything the Caveman does:
  1. Show respect
  2. Be honest
  3. Show the customer a good time, every time
And in his specific business, there’s a fourth and foremost principle: “Safety First.”
Harrison learned the first two principles from his mother, along with two further attitudes he attributes to his success:
  1. Never give up
  2. Put God first in everything you do

Early Life

Harrison’s mother sadly died when he was just 6 years old, leaving him an orphan. Shortly after, he ran away from a negative foster home situation and ended up on the island of Caye Caulker where he lived in the coconut trees to hide from the police, hung out with the few tourists that were there, and sold coconuts and told stories in exchange for the occasional meal.
He remembers being told by his mother: “Son, if you want something from anybody, never go and beg, you go and ask them for a job. Rake the yard, take the garbage out, whatever.” So he asked Chocolate, a snorkel tour operator, for work and was hired at $5 Belizean per week to do odd jobs. Over the years, through many ups and downs in their relationship, Harrison became a captain and a guide leader in Chocolate’s business.
After working for Chocolate for 25 years, when Chocolate was sick in bed, Harrison told him: “Chocolate, I want you to know this: we had some good times me and you, we had some bad times, but let’s not worry about that and let’s focus on the good ones. I want you to know that I love you as a Dad, I love you as a friend, I love you as a mentor, and I want to thank you for everything you have done for me.” Two weeks later Chocolate died and Harrison scattered his ashes at sea.

Create Happiness to Grow Business

With this large experience base in lieu of any formal education, Harrison registered Caveman Snorkel Tours, named from the time he was lost in a cave overnight at the age of 10 and assumed dead by the search party, who gave him the nickname “The Caveman” when he was finally found.
The Caveman learned his 3rd principle from an elderly businessman. Caveman saw him smoking a big cigar and said to him, “My brother, that stuff will kill you.” The man said he’d been smoking his whole life and was now 81 years old, so didn’t need the advice, but that he had some business advice to give: “Show the customer a good time, every time,” he said. Let them know that they are the boss. The customer is always right.
Taking this principle to heart, Caveman says, “I don’t work only for money, I work for people’s happiness. If they’re happy, I’m happy to take their money. If they’re not happy, I don’t want to take their money.”
As an example, which Eric personally witnessed, the previous day a traveling couple had their expensive phone knocked out of their hand while feeding tarpons (a large fish that breathes air and can live in both salt and freshwater), and the phone fell into an underwater cave that provides access to an extensive cave system under the island. The Caveman spent the day retrieving the phone for them, and gave them a free tour the next day.
Another time, a couple couldn’t take a tour with a competing company because their boat was broken—Caveman couldn’t give them a tour because he was fully booked and all his boats were out, but he took them to five different shops until they found one with space, and got a glowing review for it. “Sometimes it’s good to lose to gain,” he says.

Ask for Feedback

How does he get 5* reviews every time? Besides showing every customer a good time and making them happy, and treating them with the utmost respect (for example, shaking every customer’s hand after every tour), he asks for feedback when they leave the boat; he asks them about his guides since they represent the business.
He has strict standards for his guides, and the guides know it. The only time he ever got a horrible review was from disreputable conduct by one of the guides, so he immediately and with humility approached the affected customers and went to great lengths over months to make things right, to the point of having the guide’s license revoked. After this, the customer took down the bad review.

Rather than harassing potential customers on the street as some businesses do, he relies strictly on referrals. Indeed, this is how Eric first heard of his tour, from the glowing words of another traveler while hiking a volcano in Guatemala.

Entrepreneurial Success

From one run-down boat and being unable to pay taxes, seven years later through various 18% loans and thousands of happy customers, Caveman has 8 boats, many employees, and enough income to support his 8 children, one of whom is finishing her Masters in Canada.

Caveman’s last words to other entrepreneurs is: “Only the fittest of the fittest survive—don’t be the weak link. Never give up. You can’t be afraid—have faith.”

If you’re ever on Caye Caulker, say hello to the Caveman, and if you feel like seeing big fish, seahorses, rays, sharks, turtles, and lots of coral while being honoured and respected as a customer, consider giving Caveman Tours a chance to make you happy.

The Future

If you have thoughts or ideas of how Caveman Snorkel Tours could be even more successful, please share them below. Ethical and humble entrepreneurs like the Caveman certainly deserve their success.




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Comments

  • A few ideas:

    1. What have you done so far with digital marketing, besides ensuring top reviews in the major traveler review sites?
    2. Have you explored partnerships with the dive shops where customers can book a dive and a snorkel tour at the same time for a small discount?
    3. Are you allowed to put more prominent signage on the main street directing prospects to your office by the ocean?
    4. You could train your guides to take a few photos that get posted on Instagram/Facebook which people can share with all their friends.
    5. Have you worked with the cruise ship tour booking agents?
    6. Have you considered partnerships with the ferry companies?
    7. Have you considered working relationships with the travel agents on the mainland, especially during the slow seasons?

    What else have you tried and found to work or not work?

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