Guest Chef Program at Hotels and Lodges in Costa Rica

The Story how a marketing failure turned into a huge operation success for a collection of Hotels and Lodges in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

A few years ago, we thought that we had a “brilliant” marketing idea.  We would bring celebrity chefs from the US and Canada to Costa Rica in the low season months of September, October and November and therefore raise the occupancy in our hotels for those months.  We failed terribly. We brought the chefs down for a week at a time, but the only guests that came in addition to the chefs were some journalists, some friends of the owners and ourselves…

The food was amazing and we all had a great time.  Maybe we just did not do enough marketing – so we tried again a year later.  We got our Public Relations Agency involved and pushed hard on social media, our website and with agencies.  Same result as the previous year.  No noticeable improvements in occupancy.  But, after year two, it was clear to us that this had been a HUGE success and that we would do this now every year.

 

guest chef at arenas del mar
Group Picture with Chef Todd Erickson and the team after a successful guest chef event in November 2015 at Arenas del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort in Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica.

Here is why.  While we were not able to put additional “heads in beds” in the low season, we were able to achieve a variety of secondary impacts that might have an overall much greater impact than our original goal.

Staff Training and Significant Upgrade in Food Quality

Our staff got inspired and loved the opportunity to work alongside world class chefs.  They “soaked up” all they could in terms of techniques product knowledge and started to feel more like chefs than “cooks”.    Our local chefs also learned to fully appreciate the locally grown, farmed and caught products.  They took immense pride in what they did and the impact on food quality was astonishing.  Our Tripadvisor Ratings soared up and we started to become a culinary destination.

Staff Motivation

The yearly guest chef series is a huge motivation for our kitchen and dining room staff.  The look forward to this event months in advance.  They know that learning from and getting inspired by those visiting chefs is a wonderful opportunity for them to grow professionally.  We have started to send some of our chefs to the kitchens up north so they could also see the environment where those chefs operate on a day to day basis.  As you can imagine, the results of this have been incredibly positive.

Todd Erickson at Arenas del Mar in Costa Rica
It does not happen every day that a chef in a rural area of Costa Rica has the chance to learn from pros such as Todd Erickson.

Positioning in Gluten Free Dining

One year, we focused on gluten free dining and invited chefs with an expertise in gluten free cooking and baking.  Another great success.  Our kitchen staff was trained by the guest chefs on how to cook for celiacs and also got certified by a the National Foundation of Celiac Awareness in the US.  Now, we are one of the most sought out beach destinations for Celiacs in Latin America due to our high quality culinary program combined with our gluten free cooking expertise.

Increased reservations during other months

While we did not necessarily receive reservations during the guest chef events, we were able to track back a significant amount of additional business to the guest chefs.  As they were visiting us, they used their social networds to “tweet, pin, instagram and facebook” their experiences.  And since they had such a great time in Costa Rica, they became ‘brand ambassadors’ for the Cayuga Collection Hotels.

Paula DaSilva in Costa Rica
Chefs Paula DaSilva and Adrienne Grenier with the kitchen staff at Arenas del Mar.

So here we are planning for this year’s events.  We are considering inviting some chefs back, working with a great new program to called “Dock to Dish” and expanding the program to all of the Cayuga Collection Properties.

Another side effect of the program is that many guests learn from us about our sustainability efforts and take some ideas and inspirations back with them.  So we can actually teach them something as well.  If you are interested in learning more of find out the dates once we publish them, send us a note to [email protected].

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