Alumni of the Month April 2007

Rob Hirons (1973 History & Russian Studies)

1. How did you get to where you are now? 

By a fairly circuitous route.  This included almost twenty years with the British Council, mainly involved in English Language Teaching overseas in Iran, Syria, Kuwait, Portugal and Egypt followed by six years as a management consultant before moving to Belize to build the Lodge at Big Falls in 2001.

aom_Rob Hirons 2. What has been your biggest achievement so far?  

Building the lodge here with my wife Marta and getting it established over the past four years.  A large part of that satisfaction comes from seeing our local Mayan employees learning and developing their confidence and self-esteem, doing demanding jobs like cooking and running a restaurant and facilities management that were unavailable to them in Big Falls until our arrival.
And with such diversity of birds, plants, butterflies etc I have a lifetime of learning ahead of me still.

3. And your biggest mistake?

The Lodge could still turn out to be our biggest mistake (financially) since so much remains to be done to develop the place and  increase our occupancy and profitability.  We are still a new business.  It has put off all consideration of retirement for the next fifteen to twenty years.  So, who needs to put their slippered feet up in front of the fire?

4. What are your ambitions now?

To continue to work on developing the Lodge.  We are already the top-rated inland lodge in Belize on tripadvisor.com but want to consolidate that position and work to develop caving and kayaking activities down here in Belize’s deep south.  If Keele’s caving society wants to help with cave exploration they should get in touch with me.

5. What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field? 

If you have business experience in the service sector, experience of living overseas and have a clear idea what you as a guest would demand from an eco-lodge, don’t be put off by lack of experience in the hospitality sector. Almost all the most well-known lodges in Belize were started by people (Francis Ford Coppola among them) with no experience in tourism and Belizean lodges still have an average of only ten rooms and are each the idiosyncratic creations of their owners.

6. What made you choose Keele University?

The attraction of the four-year course with the “liberal arts” Foundation Year.  The ability to change major subjects during the FY was also useful in allowing students to “try out” subjects like philosophy and law which they would not have experienced at school.

7. How has Keele influenced your life? 

Maybe the broader approach at Keele in those days helped to prepare me for what has been in the end a portfolio career with “eco-lodge owner” being the third and final stage.

8. What is your favourite memory of Keele

Cy Asika (sp?) racing down the M6 in 1969 (?) to sell photos of nude sunbathers to the News of the World was fun. Studying the Wars of the Roses with Colin Richmond was formative.  He taught me I was unlikely to be a great historian.  Seeing Pink Floyd for ten bob around the same time was another great Keele musical event.  But meeting so many great  people comes first.

9. And your worst?

Final exam results.

10. Anything else you would like to add?

If any Keelites would like to arrange a Central American re-union for small groups then we would be happy to host them and give them a time to remember.  Keele discounts will apply!