Waterfall in Costa Rica

Why Heavy Rate Discounting is the Enemy of Sustainable Tourism

If you care about sustainability and consider yourself living a sustainable lifestyle, you should consider travelling in the low or shoulder season.

It is the low season – or as we say in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the “Green Season”.  Demand is soft.  The weather is getting nicer up north and people are busy at work, attending graduations or gardening.  Running a lodging operation in a seasonal destination is never easy and in some cases it is not sustainable.  If you add the recent news about the Zika Virus in Latin America, an uncertain presidential race in the US, a weak Euro in comparison to the US Dollar and some mixed economic news from Wall Street and China, you get a very volatile economic environment.

Beat the crowds in the green season
Travelling in the green season has many advantages. Most importantly, you beat the crowds.

Most of the bigger hotels and resorts lay off up to 50% of their staff for the low season and run with a bare skeleton crew.   There is evidence of operations “cutting corners” to save money on employee health benefits and adapting other non-sustainable operating practices.  And then, it can easily turn into a big discounting game with rates that surely are not sustainable to maintain a quality operation and pay honest wages.  The pressure and promises by Online Travel Agencies such as Expedia or Booking.com to lower rates even further in order to get better positioning does not help either.

A quick sample of heavy discounting on Expedia by high end hotels and resorts in Costa Rica.   This is for May 2016.  Sustainable? Probably not.

We have observed that high quality companies like the US retailer Nordstrom had to lay off several hundred employees in a restructuring process.  Are they feeling the pressure from “bargain hunters” and the always better deal?  Heavy discounting in main stream tourism destinations has been around for years.  Is sustainable tourism the next victim?

At the Cayuga Collection, we know that it is important to offer value to our guests throughout the year.  We have the highest demand for our guest rooms when our rates are the highest.  We do offer green season values with additional free nights and complimentary experiences to attract more green-season reservations.  And yes, we also have sinned in discounting on the Online Travel Agencies websites.  But we are looking for ways to avoid that at any cost and focus on revenue management practices rather than just discounting.

Lapa Rios staff
Not firing staff in the low season is very important to us at Cayuga. We work hard on making sure that we keep our staff all year.  Who can support a family with only six months of income?

We also continue to explain to our potential guests that travelling in the green season (between May and November) has many benefits.  People that live in the north are “afraid” of rain as they associate it with cold miserable rain.  But if you have ever played on a beach or hiked a rain forest in a tropical shower, you will understand the difference.

We know that discounting is not the answer and continue to focus on the guest experiences.  We don’t fire our staff in the green season.  We continue to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hotel’s infrastructure and staff development.  And we will not let go of our sustainable practices such as using bamboo straws, not selling water in plastic bottles and buying hormone free chicken, sustainably caught seafood and grass fed beef.  We continue to support education, use biodegradable and organic products, protect the environment and invest in the local communities.

Education at rural schools in Costa Rica
It is important to support education projects all year. Not just in the high season. Cayuga and its hotels pledge support to the local schools all year around.

Think about this.  If you are a sustainable travelers should travel in the low or shoulder seasons.  It means less pressure on the communities and environment, you support year around employment and ensure that business don’t cut corners.  If you care about the destination you visit, you should help them not to compete on price but on quality.

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