Award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio has unveiled plans for a 68-unit ecoresort in Belize on an island 45 minutes off the country’s coast, according to a report by The New York Times.
DiCaprio has developed plans that include villas stretching into the ocean, with artificial reefs, replanted mangroves, fish shelters, and a manatee conservation area. Guests will be required to attend an ecology orientation session, and plastic bottles will not be allowed. The resort will include an airstrip and is expected to open in 2018.
After falling in love with Belize during a 2004 visit, DiCaprio and business partner Jeff Gram, owner of Cayo Espanto Island Resort, bought the unpopulated 104-acre Blackadore Caye in 2005 for US$1.75 million. After a 10-year search for a development partner and coming close to a deal with Four Seasons Hotel, DiCaprio decided to work with Paul Scialla, head of the New York-based development firm Delos and a former partner at Goldman Sachs.
“It was like heaven on earth,” DiCaprio told The New York Times. “And almost immediately, I found this opportunity to purchase an island there.”
DiCaprio is a well-known environmental activist. As a UN Messenger of Peace, he spoke at the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit. Warning world leaders about the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, he said, “You can make history… or be vilified by it.”
Despite the hype surrounding DiCaprio’s project and his pledge to the environmental cause, his plans have not escaped scrutiny.
“No hotel can be truly sustainable because you have to fly to get there,” Jan H. Katz, a senior lecturer at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, told The New York Times. “If you really care about sustainability, instead of enlarging your carbon footprint by flying to a remote island and then creating the garbage that they need to compost, just give money to a conservation program.”
Tourism in Belize makes up about 25% of the country’s GDP, and ecotourism is a large segment of that.
According to a report in PLOS Biology, the global ecotourism market sees an estimated 8 billion ecotourist visits per year and growing.