Responsible fishing in Manuel Antonio.

Re-connecting our Chefs with Fishermen to serve Sustainable Seafood

June 1, 2016

Dock to Dish in Costa Rica:  The process of implementing a program that “cuts out the middleman” and creates a relationship between local artisan fishermen and the chefs at our sustainable luxury hotels and lodges.

Last week we served our first “Dock to Dish” dinners at Arenas del Mar Resort in Manuel Antonio and Lapa Rios Ecolodge on the Osa Peninsula.  It was a great success.  Thanks to this program, we were able to re-establish a relationship with local fishermen in the communities where our hotels and lodges operate and ensure 100% fresh and sustainable seafood to our guests.

Seafood at Arenas del Mar
Dock to Dish Menu at Arenas del Mar in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica: Locally caught sustainable seafood makes a great match with high culinary standards and fine dining.  No need for any compromises…

A few months ago, we were approached by Sean Barrett, the founder of the Dock to Dish Program in the United States.  He expressed his interest in expanding the program to Latin America and we discovered that the Cayuga Collection would be the perfect fit.  Sean moved to Costa Rica for two months and has been helping us to implement the new program.  One of the most shocking discoveries for us was the fact that the local markets in the communities where we operate only offer frozen seafood imported from China or Vietnam.  How can that be?

Not sustainable seafood
Found in a Supermarket in the small town Puerto Jimenez of Puerto Jimenez, right next to the Pacific Ocean of Costa Rica.  Frozen Seafood imported from China, processed in the United States.  Makes no sense, right?

Dock to Dish is a Community Supported Fishery program for restaurants and works like the “Farm to Table” concept, but for seafood.  Just like in old days, we would connect directly with the local fishermen at the DOCK and buy their catch of the day to serve as the evening’s DISH.  We obviously don’t know what we will get and that requires a certain level of sophistication on our side in terms of the culinary skills of our staff.  But with some training and the help of guest chefs, we are able to overcome this challenge.

We are now offering a “Dock to Dish” night with a special menu using the catch that our fishermen brought us once a week. We also invite the fishermen to the hotel that evening so guests can meet them and learn about what it means to be fishing the Pacific Ocean of Costa Rica.  Our plan is to expand this.

Dock to Dish
Dock To Dish training material for waiters at the Cayuga Collection Hotels. The education of guests about the Dock to Dish program is a critical factor for success.

Unfortunately, we are not ready to serve “only” dock to dish at our hotels.  We still depend on intermediaries.   During the last year, we have worked hard to make sure that we never serve fish or seafood that is endangered and try to buy only sustainably caught fish.  This is sometimes hard to do, so we have teamed up with a local NGO called Mar Viva and continue to work on creating a certification program.  After many years of “begging” they have now published a list of fish and seafood and sustainability indicators associated with it.

We were privileged to have a team of professional filmmakers hired by Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City with us to document our first Dock to Dish events this week.  The footage will be used to create a feature documentary on sustainable fishing with stories from the US, Canada, Chile, Brazil, the Philippines and… Costa Rica.

Dock to Dish at Lapa Rios
The Bloomberg Film Crew in the Lapa Rios Ecolodge kitchen filming the plating of the Dock to Dish dinner.

This is only the beginning though.  In the next two weeks, we will take the Dock to Dish Program to Kura Design Villas in Uvita and then later in the year to Latitude 10 Resort in Santa Teresa, the Harmony Hotel in Nosara and eventually to Jicaro Island Eclodge in Nicaragua.  The idea is that every coastal Cayuga Collection property would have a Dock to Dish element in their seafood sourcing.

sustainable fishing in Costa Rica
Last week, we went fishing with the local fishermen of Puerto Jimenez. All was documented by the Bloomberg Film Crew for a big documentary on sustainable fishing worldwide.  Thank you John and Team of Spot Creative for your support.

We were going to get massive media coverage for our first event at Arenas del Mar with a visit from celebrity chef Niki Nakayama from Los Angeles.  Due to her busy schedule, she was scheduled to come for just 19 hours and cook with our local chefs the first Dock to Dish menu.  Due to a technical failure on her plane, this did not happen.  But we hope she can come down soon.  Also, Sean as told us that there are several Dock to Dish chefs interested in visiting us in Costa Rica including Dan Barber and Eric Ripert.

Lessons learned:  It’s the simple things in life that make sense and can make a difference.  If you are interested in learning more about this program and our efforts to serve sustainable seafood at our hotels and lodges, send us a note to hans@cayugaonline.com

Dock to Dish at Arenas del Mar
Interested in this tasting menu with local fish provided by Capitan Santos? Contact us at info@arenasdelmar.com.

How to become a Hospitality Manager without any formal Education?

April 25, 2016

Meet Rodbin Bonilla.  He is the Guest Services Coordinator at Arenas de Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort in Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica.  He has a great story to tell…

Exactly 10 years ago in 2005, he arrived at the construction site of Arenas del Mar and asked for a job in construction.  He needed time away from some personal and professional problems in his native Naranjo.  He was 23 years old, had dropped out of school, was working random jobs and describes himself as a ‘badly behaved’ back then.

Rodbin
Rodbin Bonilla, Guest Services Manager at Arenas del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort. the Manuel Antonio National Park can be seen in the background.

After eight months of construction work in the heat of Manuel Antonio, he was promoted to become the driver of the pickup truck running errands in Quepos and then a larger truck bringing construction materials from San Jose.

Rodbin in Construction of Arenas del Mar
On the left: Construction of Building #7. On the right, Rodbin lining up with his fellow construction workers at Payday.

In the transition of construction to hotel operation, he was asked by the hotel’s first general manager if he could stay on and help in the cleanup of some of the construction leftovers.  And since he did such a great job, he was then offered to join the hotel’s operations team as an ‘Electric Cart Driver’ taking guests around the property.  He was not sure at first if he should accept the job, due to the fact that he spoke absolutely no English.

Rodbin might not have had the privilege of receiving formal education, but he is “street smart” and has a lot of personality.  So he figured out how to communicate with guests, even without knowing their language and stayed on.

Robdin in the trees
There is virtually nothing that Rodbin cannot get done. After a rainstorm, some branches of a tree needed trimming. He changed his Guest Services uniform for a harness and took care of things…

He joined the English classes that the hotel offered for the staff and studied more English after his shifts with borrowed books.  He realized that it was crucial to learn this language and realized that it just took some discipline.  His efforts got rewarded by management with the promotion to head of Electric Cart Drivers in 2010.  He is an example for everybody in the operation for his commitment and dedication to service.  He deeply cares and wants every single guest to be happy and satisfied.  Hospitality comes to him naturally.

He started to acquire management and decision making skills and due to his great ability to work with guests and staff alike, he was promoted to Guest Services Coordinator in 2014.  His next goal is to become Operations Manager.  He is very thankful to the current Managers Jorge and Alfonso and Cayuga for giving him this opportunity to grow.  He knows he will need get his high school diploma and do some formal studies.

Soccer in Quepos
Rodbin (first from left) is a great soccer fan. Here with his colleagues from work after a game in Quepos.  Do you recognize the other guys?

Rodbin does not have a lot of free time because he also became an entrepreneur. In 2012 he started with $3,000 of working capital and offered to provide transportation services for Arenas del Mar.  He worked from 6 am to 2 pm in his regular job at the hotel and from 4 pm to 10 pm he drove his van providing transportation for guests that wanted to leave the property.  Now he has two buses and employs three local staff.  He is the exclusive transportation service provider for the Arenas del Mar, offers great service and just recently installed wireless internet for guests in the vans.

Rodbin says he gets his energy and motivation from his family.  He just recently got married. He has four children. He is very keen on giving all of his kids a great education – something that he did not receive.   He spent his honeymoon in Nicaragua where he visited another one of the Cayuga Collection Hotels, Jicaro Island Ecolodge.  Rodbin’s hobbies are fishing and soccer.  He is a great fan of the local team Liga de Alajuela.

Rodbin's kids
Rodbins four children. They are a great inspiration and motivation for him.

Rodbin is happy.  It is easy to pick up on that when you talk to him.  He appreciates the stability of having a secure job that fulfills him and running his transportation company.  He is a great example how tourism, if done right, can positively impact people’s life.   We hope to continue to help write stories like Rodbin’s and many other Cayuga Collection staff for many years to come.

More success stories of Cayuga Collection staff here.

View from Kura Design Villas in Uvita

From Eco Lodge to Modern Design Hotel – Sustainability can be “hip”

April 24, 2016

How do you imagine a sustainable hotel or resort?  Many people might have a stereotype in mind of rustic furniture, basic bathroom fixtures, cold water and thin linens and cheap towels.  And in the worst case, lots of mosquitoes and bugs everywhere.

We have several examples that this perception is probably quite wrong – at least at the Cayuga Collection Hotels in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.  The best one is probably Kura Design Villas in Uvita.  An adults only luxury resort that can compete in terms of its sustainable practices with just about any eco lodge in the world.  The owners and developers are very much into design and aesthetics as well as conservation and community development.

pool and restaruants
Pool and Restaurant at Kura Design Villas in Uvita, Costa Rica. Sustainability meets luxury through design.

The result is stunning.  An infrastructure of a world class design hotel with one of the most amazing infinity pools that you will ever see.  The hotel has won several design awards and has been featured in articles in magazines around the world for its great design and concept.

But at the same time, the hotel owners and the management are 100% committed to sustainable practices.   Solar panels heat water and generate electricity.  All staff are Costa Rican from communities just minutes away from the hotel.  Purchasing of goods, especially food is local, organic when possible and respecting responsible practices.  Cleaning supplies and cosmetic products are produced locally, are organic and biodegradable.  The list could go on and on…

Solar panels at Kura
Kura Design Villas: Solar Panels below the pool generate electricity that is either used by the hotel or fed back into the grid.

A guest pointed out in a recent Tripadvisor Review  how she thought that the concepts of comfort and luxury do not have to be excluded when being sustainable.

“Eco tourism as it should be done. Comfort and luxury are not at odds with sustainable practices at Kurà.  Solar energy, on-site greenhouse and local fare all power and provide for the place.  The owners and staff clearly take pride on their efforts, yet there’s no “preachy” atmosphere (as I have experienced in other places); no ideological artifice weighs on the natural and designed comforts.”

Meals at Kura in Uvita
The Food at Kura Design Villas is sourced locally and prepared by members of the community that were trained by professional chefs.

Another example would be Lapa Rios Ecolodge on the Osa Peninsula near Corcovado National Park.  While it probably fits more into the category of a traditional Eco Lodge, Lapa Rios has started to incorporate more and more design elements and luxury over the years.  Below you find an excerpt from a recent Tripadvisor review:

“I have to admit that I had some trepidation, fearing that this would be too rustic for my tastes….but our room was luxury meets nature. It had all the modern conveniences one could want, plus a beautiful and private outdoor shower.”

Bungalow at Lapa Rios Eco Lodge
The guest rooms at Lapa Rios Eco Lodge on the Osa Peninsula are simple and what some people would call “rustic elegance”. Design takes into consideration local indigenous elements as well as climatic rain forest / ocean conditions.

It is an ongoing challenge to find that perfect symbiosis of sustainability and luxury, but every day we are learning and making better decisions.  If you have feedback or ideas for us, we would love to hear from you.  Either as a comment on this blog or send us a note to info@cayugaonline.com.

lapa rios staff
Cleaning staff at Lapa Rios Ecolodge. Working with the local community at all levels should always be an important part of any sustainable hospitality project.

The Cayuga Collection consists of eight eco lodges, eco resorts, and sustainable hotels in different regions of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. All of them specialize in creating a symbiosis of sustainability and luxury always providing a sense of place taking into account local culture and customs.

 

Why we don’t fire our staff in low season!

April 23, 2016

Costa Rica has very pronounced tourism seasons.   Christmas vacation through spring break is the high season with high occupancy (and rates) across the country.  And then comes the low season (we like to call it the green season), and hotel occupancies drop sharply.  This is especially true for Guanacaste that attracts more of a sun and beach type tourism.  The rest of the country has more of a focus on wildlife and nature.

green season osa peninsula
Green Season on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. One of the best times of the year to visit Lapa Rios Ecolodge or Kura Design Villas.

In many hotels and resorts employees get laid off in late April or early May.  In some cases up to 50% off the staff.  In the best case, they go on an “unpaid holiday” and come back to work in mid-December.  This is typical for many seasonal destinations in the world, but a real problem creating unemployment, underemployment and economic instability in rural areas for Costa Rica.  The same thing as in Costa Rica, also happens in Nicaragua.

beach to yourself
You might have a whole teach to yourself during a visit to Latitude 10 in Santa Teresa or the Harmony Hotel in Playa Guiones de Nosara.

At the Cayuga Collection of Sustainable Luxury Hotels and Resorts, we have never liked this policy and since our first year of operation have opted to provide year round employment to all of our staff.   While at first sight, this might not be the most sensible business decision, we believe that it does make a lot of sense and it is the right thing to do.  Here is why…

  • We work with the local staff. In many cases, their educational level and skills are not that great when they start with us.  It takes us a lot of time, effort and resources to train them.  Why would we want to let them go after all that we have invested in them?
Manuel Antonio Employees
Long time employees of Arenas del Mar Beachfront and Rainforest Resort in Manuel Antonio.
  • The months of lower occupancy is a great opportunity for our staff to engage in training. This happens at the hotels or in cross training between the different hotels, resorts and lodges.  Don’t be surprised to see a reservations agent from Arenas del Mar at Latitude 10 or the healing center coordinator from the Harmony Hotel at Jicaro Lodge in Nicaragua.
  • This is the time when we do maintenance at the hotels. Lots of cleaning, sanding, varnishing, fixing things or building new things.  All hands on board.  Everybody helps and pitches in.  You would be surprised to see some of the skills that some of our waiters or kitchen staff at Lapa Rios in maintenance.  Actually, some of them were promoted to their current positions out of maintenance.
lapa rios staff
Cleaning staff at Lapa Rios Ecolodge. Contrary to many other hotels around the world, we have an all male cleaning staff at the lodge.  These guys need to provide an income for their families throughout the year.
  • By keeping all the staff, we assure the same level of high quality service every month of the year. And in some of our hotels, we run occupancy around 70 to 80% even in low season so we really need all of our staff year around.  Kura Design Villas in Uvita is very popular with honeymooners in the months of May through September.
  • Our employees become guests. During the lower demand periods, we invite our staff to bring their families to the hotels or eco lodges and experience the place they work from a guest perspective.  They get treated like real guests by their peers, eat in the restaurants, go on tours and sleep in the luxurious beds.
making up a bed at Jicaro
Our maids here in Jicaro Lodge in Nicaragua have made up the beds for our guests many times. They do it with extra special love and care, maybe because they have had the experience of sleeping in those sheets themselves…
  • It is just the right thing to do. We put ourselves in the shoes of our staff that have financial obligations no matter if it is high or low season.  So we have made this commitment and we stand by it.  Even if it is a bit tough some months of the year (especially September and October).  After all, it is about sustainability.

If you want to be a sustainable traveler.  Considering traveling during the times of the year with less demand.  Read here about peak season travel and its impacts.

By the way, here are The Cayuga Collection green season values for this year.  There are some real attractive savings and you support our staff’s employment for the next months.  They will thank you for it.

wildife
The animals are around all year. No matter if it is high season, peak season or low season. There might even be better wildlife viewing in the green season.
bamboo straws

How we avoided trashing more than 1.5 Million Plastic Straws

April 22, 2016

By not using plastic straws for the past five years at the Cayuga Collection Hotels and Lodges in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, we estimate that we have avoided trashing more than 1.5 Million plastic straws.  And this is just our hotels.  It does not take into consideration all the other hotels and restaurants in the country that were inspired by our initiative and got rid of their plastic straws as well.

lemonade with bamboo straw

A few years ago, Al Gore commented on them during his visit to Costa Rica exposing his work on clima change and promoting his “Inconvenient Truth”.  He insisted in taking some home with him.

bamboo straws
Bamboo straws during the production process on the Nicoya Peninsula in Guanacaste near the Harmony Hotel, Nosara.

Hard to believe that we have been using “bamboo” straws at our hotels, resorts and ecolodges for over five years now. It all started with our frustration of not being able to recycle plastic straws and the fact they are a big factor in the pollution of our oceans and beaches.  How to make the food and beverage experience more sustainable?  And then Constantino Morales had a great idea.

Constantino, former gardener of Harmony

Constantino worked as a gardener at one of the Cayuga managed hotels, the Harmony Hotel in Nosara.  And once the issue of replacing the plastic straws was raised,  he remembered a particularly narrow bamboo that was growing on his father’s farm.  He wondered if he could use the bamboo instead of straws.

After various attempts he finally discovered the best way of producing his straws. The straws are hand made! They are sterilized in chlorine water, then in boiling water and then they are left out in the sun to dry. The final process is filing the ends of any unwanted splinters.  Constantino started with ten straws, introducing his idea to the team at Cayuga.  Obviously we loved the idea and went for it.  Today that number has grown to more than thirty thousand straws being purchased by various hotels every month.  He no longer works at our hotel is now a successful entrepreneur.

Tropical drink with bamboo straw

Using bamboo straws has a financial cost.  About 10 cents per straw.  Although, it costs us about $30,000 a year to provide this sustainability feature to our guests, we feel it is totally worth it and the right thing to do. Being sustainable does not always mean cost savings.  Sometimes it is an investment.  We offer the bamboo straws for purchase in our hotels gift shops.  Or you can get them online at Amazon for about 71 cents per unit (not ours, this is another company).

Help us get rid of plastic straws.  North Americans use about 500 million straws each day—about 1.6 per person—and these slippery little tubes of non-biodegradable plastic wreak havoc on the environment, slipping through the cracks of landfills and recycling processing plants to join the spiraling plastic garbage patches that choke our oceans and marine life.   If your cocktail recipes require straws, consider those made from bamboo—then compost them!

coconut water with bamboo straw
Many of our guests enjoy fresh coconut water served with the a bamboo straw. Unique and different like many of the Cayuga Collection Experiences in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Do you have any other ideas that would make us more sustainable?  Send us a note to info@cayugaonline.com or comment on this blog post.  We would love to to hear from you.

_DSC4417

It wasn’t cheap – but it was totally worth it!

February 29, 2016

Charging premium prices is not necessarily a bad thing – especially in terms of sustainability.

A stay at a Cayuga Collection Hotel is not cheap.  We are well aware of it.  But more and more we get the feedback from our guests – either in person or on Tripadvisor – that even though they paid a bit more, it was totally worth it.  This makes us very proud and motivates us to continuously improve every aspect of the guest experience.

Recently we have heard from guests that have tried out alternative hotels or resorts nearby but then called us to see if we still had room to take them in.  In the end it is all about value.  We are well aware of the high expectations that our guests have and try to exceed them every single time.  We are “price leaders” in the areas we operate and know that we have to go the extra mile every day.

And there is a strong element of sustainability involved here.  Being sustainable does not only mean that a hotel saves on energy due to solar panels or efficient equipment.  Some actions actually increase the operating costs of hotels such as:

  • Keeping all staff on payroll even in the low season. Read more…
  • Replacing plastic straws with bamboo straws. Read more…
  • Not selling bottled water in plastic bottles. Read more…
  • Working with a 100% local staff. Read more…
  • Using biodegradable and organic amenities.
Santa Teresa Outdoor Shower
The outdoor couples shower made of colonial style tiles is a great feature at Latitude 10 Resort in Santa Teresa. Watch out for monkey’s watching you…

We offer a back of the house “sustainability tour” where we take our guests on a tour through the kitchen, laundry, employee areas, maintenance and any other relevant area to explain them our sustainable practices and explain what it takes to be a “green” hotel, resort or ecolodge.  After that tour, the perception of “value for price paid” increases even more and guests thank us for taking such good care of the environment and the communities where we operate.

Below you find some examples how we create “value” for our guests and justify premium pricing for a few of our Cayuga Collection Hotels and Lodges.

At Lapa Rios Ecolodge on the Osa Peninsula near Corcovado National Park, all tours into our private nature reserve with expert guides are included in the rate.  So are three multicourse gourmet meals with non-alcoholic drinks.  You won’t get “nickeled & pennied” for things such as binocular rentals or early morning coffee delivery to your room at this National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World.

At Arenas del Mar Beachfront and Rain Forest Resort it is all about location.  With spectacular views of the Manuel Antonio National Park and Pacific Ocean, access to two secluded beaches and surrounded by lush rain forest vegetation full of wildlife it is no surprise that we have many guests that come back year after year.  And then there is of course free a la carte breakfast, a complimentary minibar with craft beers and healthy snacks, free local and international calls and Internet and free workout and Yoga classes in the mornings.

At Latitude 10 Resort in Santa Teresa and Kura Design Villas in Uvita, the luxury comes in the form of exclusivity.  With six rooms only, you can be sure that you have the undivided attention of all of our staff all the time.  Those to properties are the “anti-hotels” and it feels more like staying with friends at their beach houses than in a hotel or resort.

What fascinates our guests at Jicaro Island Ecolodge near Granada is the fact that the hotel is built on a private island in Lake Nicaragua.  And just like in Lapa Rios, meals and non-alcoholic beverages are included in the rate.  Due to its connection to the Cayuga Collection properties in Costa Rica and constant cross training, the level of service you can expect at Jicaro is not comparable to any other property in this country that is just starting to experiment sustainable luxury tourism.

Travel – The Cayuga Way

February 22, 2016

February/March:  Winter up north.  This is the time of the year that our hotels are booked solid with happy guests.  They take their well-deserved vacations and truly make our day when they tell us how much they enjoy their experiences at our sustainable luxury hotels and lodges in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, either in person or by leaving TripAdvisor reviews.

Lapa Rios
Lapa Rios Eco Lodge on the Osa Peninsula. A National Geographic Unique Eco Lodge located in southern Costa Rica.  An incredible Wildlife Experience.

So how does this feeling come to be?  Why do our guests enjoy the experience so much?  Our guests often ask us ,“how do you create that special ‘vibe’ at the Cayuga Collection Hotels?”

Let us try to explain. We believe that there are four factors and they are very much related with our vision, mission and values.

  1. Our Concept of Experience – Learn – Connect – Relax
  2. Our Commitment to Sustainability beyond recycling and led lights.
  3. Our interpretation of Wellness and Well Being.
  4. Our focus on “people”.
Dances at Jicaro Island Lodge
Cultural Presentation and a focus on “People” is always an important part of the Cayuga Collection Experience.  Here typical dances at Jicaro Island Ecolodge.

 

Experience – Learn – Connect- Relax

We realized early on that we are not in the business of selling hotel rooms. Our hotels and lodges provide the “access” to tours, activities, and adventures that create life-long memories for our guests.  The access is about experiencing the magic of the rainforest while hiking with an expert guide, learning to surf and celebrating the first time of feeling the energy of a wave, connecting with the local chef while preparing fresh ceviche, or relaxing in a hammock on a secluded beach. Every guest has their favorite activities, no matter if they travel as a family or with their partner.

Kura Design Villa Room
OK, we are not in the business of selling rooms. The focus is on experiences. At Kura Design Villas in Uvita, Costa Rica, the room is an experience in itself.

 

Sustainability 2.0 (Reloaded)

We have called it, “feel good,” tourism in the past. How great is it that our guests can have enjoy  vacation experience while doing “good?”  Their stay at the Cayuga Collection Hotels positively supports the development of local communities (see our blogs about “not firing our staff in green season” or “development opportunities for local staff members”) and has a positive social impact in people.

At the same time, staying at our hotels contributes to conservation efforts through private reserves or supporting national parks. Our guests have the chance to get actively involved by planting trees in conservation efforts to make sure that the natural beauty of Costa Rica and Nicaragua will be preserved for future generations.

The design and operation of our hotels and lodges was conceived to have the minimum negative impact on the environment. We go beyond linen change programs, recycling, and energy efficient lighting. Our guests enjoy drinking water and cocktails without using plastic bottles nor straws. We cook with methane gas produced by pigs fed leftover food scraps.

Vegetable Garen at Kura
Sustainability in hospitality is so much more than energy efficiency.  Healthy and locally farmed food is an important part of our sustainability concept.

 

Wellness and Wellbeing

Our idea of wellness extends beyond a massage treatment in a closed-in, air-conditioned room. Our guests take part in wholesome experiences that rejuvenate their hearts and souls. Healthy eating and drinking, as well as mental relaxation and exercising in nature, are important components in our guest’s experiences. Many guests enjoy soccer games with the locals, a stroll through a coffee plantation, and  volunteer work with local schools; often, they realize that such activities can provoke more well-being than traditional spa treatments.

Another concept that we incorporate in our interpretation of Wellness and Well-being is “lifelong” learning. Our guests have the opportunity to take part in Latin dance or Spanish classes, outdoor yoga lessons, cooking or cocktail mixing classes, as well as guided nature hikes.

Yoga at Jicaro
Yoga on the deck at Jicaro Island Ecolodge in Nicaragua. What a way to begin the day.  Wellness and well-being is an important part of the Cayuga Experience.

The People we Work with 

But, what most resonates with our guests and what makes THE difference is the interaction with our staff.  Our staff are all local and might not have had the opportunity for formal education, but they make up for it in attitude and authenticity. In many other cultures, the idea of serving might be more present (possibly in Asia), but often there is no real connection between the guest and the server. It is a very different story at the Cayuga Collection hotels. Our staff always treat our guests with respect and courtesy, but our guests will often see them joking around and interacting with them in a more relaxed and, “Pura Vida,” way.

The Cayuga Way of Service
In the end it is all about the people that you interact with.  Authenticity and a genuine desire to see our guests happy are essentials in the “Cayuga Way” of Travel.

 

More than once, we have seen guests cry when saying goodbye as they felt that there was a real connection built. Nothing is more powerful than genuine human interactions.  We look forward to creating many more special experiences and memories for our guests in the next weeks, months and years.

 

Guest Chef Program at Hotels and Lodges in Costa Rica

February 2, 2016

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 info@cayugaonline.com.

Don’t Kill Yourself Working so Hard

January 23, 2016

Why is it so hard for Americans to take time off and go on vacation?  Research clearly shows that not going on vacation has very negative impacts on health and performance.

We run hotels, resorts and ecolodges in beautiful tropical vacation destinations.  Of course it is in our interest, that Americans and Europeans take time off and go on vacation.  No problem with the Europeans as vacation time is deeply engraved in their culture.  But a recent survey done by Skift Magazine showed that during 2015, 41 percent of Americans didn’t take a single vacation day and almost 17 percent said they took less than 5 vacation days.  These numbers are about the same as in 2014, when Skift did the same survey.

So from a marketing point of view, our “target” market of North Americans going on vacation is cut in half just by the fact that they don’t even go on vacation.  We are not competing with other destinations, we are competing with offices!  So why are Americans not taking vacations?

Lapa Rios: Founding Member of the Long Run

January 12, 2016

The Long Run Initiative is the flagship initiative of the Zeitz Foundation.  It was founded in2009.   It is built around Long Run Hotels, Resorts and EcoLodges around the world and reaches out, into every aspect of our day to day life by putting The Long Run philosophy – acting today for a better tomorrow – into practice.

Lapa Rios Eco Lodge on the Osa Peninsula is a founding member.  Set in a private nature reserve spread over 900 acres of Central America’s last remaining lowland tropical rainforest in Costa Rica, Lapa Rios Rainforest Ecolodge overlooks the pristine point where the Golfo Dulce meets the wild Pacific Ocean.

Lapa Rios Ecolodge
Lapa Rios Eco Lodge on the Osa Peninsula is a pioneer in Ecotourism. It is a great example where Luxury and Sustainability can co-exist.

Lapa Rios is more than just a beautiful rainforest hotel or an eco resort near the beach. Lapa Rios is a model ecotourism project, demonstrating the belief of owners John and Karen Lewis that no matter how you slice it, a rainforest left standing is worth more than it is cut down. Lapa Rios has received worldwide awards for social and environmental excellence and is a featured sustainable tourism pioneer in many international publications and research projects. It has been recognized and recommended by the Rainforest Alliance, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Forbes, National Geographic Traveler, and TripAdvisor.

By staying at Lapa Rios, guests support the conservation of the rain forest and provide direct employment and income to more than 55 families in the area. The ecolodge employs community members, is committed to environmentally sound practices, and has been awarded Costa Rica’s highest sustainable tourism certification (CST).

Seventeen newly remodeled spacious bungalows hidden within the rainforest were hand built to provide eco-luxury accommodations that celebrate relaxation, nature, and the local culture. Private, large decks have outdoor showers, and hammocks allow guests to enjoy the astounding views and rainforest activity that surrounds them. A stone-laid floor massages your feet as you shower under soft, rain-like cool water, providing the unique sensation of showering under your own private waterfall. The main lodge and the Brisa Azul restaurant soars 350 feet above sea level and, with the Boruca inspired design, the conical structure allows air to circulate keeping a cool environment with natural air from the Gulf.

Lapa Rios is 12 miles south of Puerto Jimenez at Playa Carbonera and the best way to reach it is via domestic airline into Puerto Jimenez.

See more at here.

Conservation

The Lapa Rios Wildlife Reserve was initially established to conserve and restore a significant area of lowland tropical rainforest in the Osa Peninsula, the most bio-diverse region of Costa Rica (responsible for conserving 2.5% of the biodiversity in the world), as well as to provide livelihood opportunities to the local communities and to improve awareness about conservation and sustainable environmental management, through support to basic education in local schools and by the provision of job training opportunities.

This conservation initiative happened at a time when the Osa Peninsula’s forests were being gradually degraded as a result of human population pressure and unsustainable land use practices, which was resulting in loss of forest connectivity, especially with the nearby Corcovado National Park. The preservation of the Lapa Rios Wildlife Reserve therefore not only protected a significant area of primary rainforest (approximately 80% of the reserve is old-growth forest), but also began the process of restoration of degraded areas which had previously been converted to cattle pastures. Today, there has been a dramatic recovery of the forest, and vigorous secondary forest growth now covers most previously degraded areas.

Alongside and complementary to its role in rainforest conservation, Lapa Rios has also been a leader in demonstrating best environmental management practices for its ecotourism operation, cooperating with NGO’s to make research around flag species like wildcats population in Costa Rica and endemic flora.

See more here.

Lapa Rios Puma
Lapa Rios is a 1000 acre reserve protecting some of the last remaining low land rain forest on the Pacific Coast of Central America.

Community

Since its inception Lapa Rios had a direct impact on the community. It started on the construction of the Carbonera School in 1991, maintaining the relationship to date with that institute, supporting with educational materials and infrastructure. This project expanded to six more schools in the area, impacting more than 600 children from nearby communities.

Hiring staff and local suppliers generates sustainable growth as well as training students of technical colleges in tourism and hospitality enables them to develop skills to work in their own business or work with Lapa Rios, mentoring students and visitors is important to the educational preparation towards sustainable tourism.

Inspired by native food, our cuisine uses 75% fresh local products, creating employment and healthy recipes for our guests.

Seeking to support the local economy, Lapa Rios is open its doors to Caminos de Osa, a group of entrepreneurs from the Osa Peninsula looking to strengthen their businesses by learning best practices from more experienced companies. This know-how allows the quality of services and sustainable measures to improve standards in the area and align the interest in conservation projects and low environmental impact.

Lapa Rios has long-standing relationships with Carbonera, through its support of the local school since 1991, and with Puerto Jimenez – a major neighboring community that is 12 miles from the lodge. It reaches out to the community through a number of projects such as setting up recycling centres, and activities such as the “building for the future” project for local schools and the “Lapathon”.

Its strong commitment to high standards in sustainable management also significantly contributes to raising employees’ awareness and understanding about the importance of sustainable development transforming their values and beliefs in this respect which in turn positively affect their families’ lives and behaviour at home. By promoting locally-run tours and services to its guests, through sourcing the majority of its fresh produce locally (75%) and through providing skilled and unskilled career opportunities to local residents, Lapa Rios further improves the livelihood benefits for its communities.

See more here.

Lapathon
The annual Lapathon Race is a great fundraiser for the local community. This year, Lapa Rios donated medial equipment worth 5,000 US$.

Culture

Lapa Rios recognizes the importance of promoting local culture and traditions, not only to its guests, but more importantly to its surrounding communities. Guests come in contact with the rich Cost Rican culture in many ways, ranging from the artists and craftsmen that visit the lodge to traditional cooking workshops and a variety of local dishes which are included in its daily menu. Continuously seeking to create an even greater platform for intercultural exchange, Lapa Rios plans to host various cultural events that showcase local culture through art and music.

See more here.

Soccer
Sharing experiences with guests. Soccer is the National Passion of Costa Rica and a big part of culture.

Commerce

The economic success of Lapa Rios’s ecotourism operation is a key aspect of the long-term sustainability of the entire project. To this end Lapa Rios is working on several initiatives to further strengthen the foundation for the future development of the reserve and the eco-lodge. These include the development of new ecotourism activities designed to increase the attractiveness of the destination to visitors.

Lapa Rios has recently developed a Sustainability Master Plan which aims to provide a framework on which any future development of the Lapa Rios’s ecotourism product will be based. The master planning process was led by ecotourism and architectural specialists and involved a wide range of Lapa Rios’s stakeholders including the owners, the managers, Lapa Rios staff, and other experts. The master plan sets out a comprehensive vision for the future development of Lapa Rios’s ecotourism product, including ambitious proposals for additions to the existing eco-lodge, as well as new ecotourism products.

See more here.

Aereal view of our rain forest eco lodge
Where the rain forest meets the Ocean. Lapa Rios Ecolodge on the Osa Peninsula.

 

Lapa Rios is part of the Cayuga Collection of Sustainable Luxury Hotels and Lodges as well as one of National Geograpic‘s Unique Lodges Program.