San Pedro Holiday Hotel

The three buildings shown in this photo are the San Pedro Holiday Hotel today. It looked much the same - although not so "prettied up" and more a dingy yellow than a bright white - when I first saw it in 1977 and last saw it in 1987.

The hotel was built by John Greif and Celi (nee Nunez) Greif McCorkle in 1965 - a time when there were no plane flights to the island. Sometime between 1965 and when I got to know them, they had gone their separate (but, as it seemed to me, close) ways to success - John to begin Tropic Air and much later pass it on to their son, "Johnny" - Celi to own and manage the Holiday, which she continues to do today. My adventures on Tropic Air and the Airstrip, which John helped hack, with a machete, out of the jungle south of San Pedro, are another story to be told elsewhere in these pages. Incidentally, Celi is the half sister (in San Pedro, the same as a full sister) of Fidel Ancona whom you should remember from other tales I've told or will tell in these pages. Farther down on this page you will see a recent photo of Celi, and can read her short biography.

My adventures at the Holiday usually involved Dick and/or Jan Hayes, two of the finest people I've ever known. After they moved out of the second floor of the Cruz Nunez Apartments (another story also) and for the rest of the time I was in San Pedro, they lived on the second floor of the middle building in the photo, and in the apartment behind the door on the left. From their balcony, we often saw views like this one I call:

Dick and Mervino's view from the balcony.

Someone remind me to come back here (one of these days?) and tell you about some of the fun times that Dick, Jan,  and I (with others joining in sometimes)  had while visiting with each other on that balcony. Is the background music a clue to what most of the fun was?

Dick and Mervino's views in a bar.

At the same time that I tell you about the fun on the balcony, I may even get loose enough to tell you about some of the times in this even happier location, particularly when Wil Nunez and his gang were playing their music and joining with us in the festivities.

Celi McCorkle of the San Pedro Holiday Hotel
(courtesy of the San Pedro Sun)

The name Celi immediately comes to mind when you mention San Pedro Holiday Hotel. Celi Nunez McCorkle is the person that planted the seed for the first hotel on the island which has flourished to become one of San Pedro's best known resorts. Celi was born in the village of San Pedro on April 25th, 1938 to Frederico and Clara Nuñez. She grew up in a time when a girl's only aspiration was to complete an elementary education and to be married. But while growing up, Celi always had a curious mind. She recalls the jets passing high above in the sky and always wondered where they were going and how it would be, growing up on the other side of the world. At the age of 12, Celi became the first girl from the village to receive a government scholarship and attended St. Catherine's Academy in Belize City.

Graduating at the age of 16, she worked in the U.S. for three years, gaining experience as an office manager in a mahogany exporting company at a top salary of $135 a month. After returning to Belize at the age of 19, she met John Greif, Sr., an ex World War II pilot visiting from the States. They married and moved to John's home town of Paducah, Kentucky where they lived until her return in 1964 with their two children, John Greif III, owner of Tropic Air and Celi Jeanne Varela, owner of Sea Gal Boutique.

Having been exposed to a different way of life in the United States and with the desire to be an independent, modern woman, she realized that Americans, were drawn to recreational activities and water sports. Knowing that they would fall in love with the unspoiled natural beauty of her island, the idea to build a guest house was born. After some careful thought and planning, the San Pedro Holiday Hotel opened it's doors on June 15th, 1965. San Pedro's first hotel had five small rooms, one cold water shower, one bathroom with plumbing and four full hours of electricity. Mr. Jim Woodman, a travel writer from Tan Airlines, was the hotel's first guest arriving by sailboat from Belize City. He knocked on the back door of Celi's kitchen with inquiries about room rates. "How about $10US," Celi answered. Mr. Woodman asked what was included with that rate. "I'll feed you three meals a day and do your laundry," she replied. After his visit, an article on Belize appeared in the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. Requests for reservations started to pour in.

Now the problem was transportation. Celi and John received permission to clear the area which is now the present day San Pedro Airstrip. Holiday Hotel's guests, who at first were all fisherman, were now flown in from the Belize International Airport aboard a Cessna 170 (four seater). "Business was good all year long," stated Celi.

With her second marriage to Phil McCorkle, Celi had two more children. Lisa McCorkle Guerrero, who now runs the restaurant and bar at the hotel and Martin McCorkle, who is currently completing his third year in the U.S. Army. Through the years, the island has undergone many changes both in community lifestyle and in the tourist industry. Celi has tried to be a part of both, being the first woman to participate in the San Pedro Village Council and giving advice to other entrepreneurs sprouting up in San Pedro.

Holiday Hotel has also changed with the times. A seminar professor once taught her a fundamental principle of marketing: Good marketing requires you to first identify your client's needs before you can appeal, attract and satisfy those needs and in the process profit from it. "That is a basic philosophy that I have used in my business and have been able to successfully continue for the last 33 years," Celi commented.

To say the least, Celi Nuñez McCorkle has been an active member of the community in the past and present. She was the chairperson of the San Pedro High School for ten years, served as president to the local BTIA and has been involved with the Belize Tourist Board. She has contributed several scholarships to the High School and has been awarded the distinguished Melvin Jones Award from the Lions Club International Foundation. Her success has allowed her to travel extensively throughout Mexico, Central America, Europe, the Caribbean and the U.S. "I try to stay healthy and active by keeping a young look on life. I've been snow skiing for the past ten years and walk five miles a day, five days a week," she explained.

The Holiday Hotel and Celi's Restaurant have been recognized internationally for their excellent service including write-ups in the prestigious magazine Condé Nast Traveler, Fodor's Travel Guide, and other travel publications.

Today, the Holiday Hotel caters mostly to its repeat clients who are still looking for that quaint, relaxing atmosphere that it's colonial doors have to offer. Their annual Halloween Bash and New Year's Gala are events that the whole town look forward to. Every Wednesday there is a Beach Bar-B-Q with live music. New additions to the hotel include a 30 foot deck, where one can enjoy a delicious lunch or cool down with ice cream from Celi's Deli.

Celi has slowly been turning over the day to day management of the hotel to her daughter Lisa, who received her Bachelor's degree in Business Administration from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. "I will still keep my finger on the remote control," Celi laughed.

Celi looks back with joy at the times when she used to work 18 long hours a day. Today, with a staff of 28, she is still making plans for the future. A pool on the premises is her next move. Celi has come far, making the name San Pedro and San Pedro Holiday Hotel synonymous with fun in the sun. A pioneer in the tourism industry and an admirable lady. Hats off to you, MRS. CELI NUÑEZ MCCORKLE.

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