Sustainable Hospitality: Local Management vs. Expat Managers?

What do you prefer? Being received by a European General Manager at an Eco Lodge in a remote destination or by a local manager that has worked his or her way through the ranks?

General Managers, Corporate Staff and Operations Managers of Cayuga at a Training and Team building Session in early 2014

Last week, we were approached by Harsha Chanrai, a young woman that just graduated with a Master Degree from the Cornell School of Hotel Administration last May.   She was wondering if we were interested in supporting her project of educating and training  hotel staff in third world countries.  The necessity for such an endeavor became apparent to her during an internship with Sis Senses  in Thailand and Maldives and she put together a very interesting project that she presented at the Hotel School’s Hospitality Business Plan Competition together with her classmate Felix Tabary.   See the video for the complete presentation.  By the way, she won the $15,000 prize.

What struck us in this video were her comments during the first seconds of the  presentations  about how local management staff feels resentment against the highly paid expat managers that enjoy many more benefits than the locals.  We never had to deal with this.  Here at Cayuga, we don’t hire expat managers.   That is against our sustainability practices as we believe that the commitment to hiring and working with locals should be at all levels of the organization.

Jose Pablo Saenz. Passionate Surfer, Fisherman and General Manager of Latitude 10 Resort in Santa Teresa in Costa Rica. One of the 7 Cayuga Collection Hotels and Lodges in Costa Rica.

Is it hard?   Oh yes, it is.  Very hard sometimes.  It requires a lot of patience and backbone.  We are luxury hotels charging premium  rates and guest expectations are sky high.     We promise our guests to deliver hospitality services at the highest level.   However, what we don’t get right in terms of perfection 100 percent of the time, we make up for in passion and attitude.   And you will always get the local touch.

We have struggled with this topic in the past and thought about hiring polished hospitality professionals for management positions when things have not gone 100 percent right.   But then again, while we are always looking for that perfect balance between luxury and sustainability, sustainability usually wins.   And if you look at the reviews of our hotels on TripAdvisor, it does not seem that our guests have to make any compromise.

Lapa Rios Eco Lodge on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. One of the world’s premier eco lodges is managed by Marijke, a local women from the Osa Peninsula.

Meet some of our managers.  Great hospitality professionals and incredible man and women that do not only have a huge passion for serving guests, but also for conserving the environment and having a positive impact on the communities where the hotels operate.

Jorge Arrieta is the General Manager of Arenas del Mar Resort in Manuel Antonio.   He has been with Cayuga right since the start and was part of the corporate team as well as General Manager of the Lapa Rios Eco Lodge.   His passion for service and hospitality are unrivaled and he has been able to give Arenas del Mar a real boost in performance in the past year.

Beachfront Lunch the Cayuga Collection Managers during a training session near Manuel Antonio National Park provided by the staff of Arenas del Mar Beachfront and Rainforest Resort.

Marijke Mulder is the General Manager of Lapa Rios Ecolodge  on the Osa Peninsula near Corcovado National Park.   She started as a receptionist at the lodge 9 years ago.   She worked through several positions in sustainability, food and beverage and operations to become the first truly local manager of the lodge (she was born in nearby Golfito).   The previous managers like Jorge were ” imported” from San Jose.

Jose Pablo Saenz is the General Manager of Latitude 10 Resort in Santa Teresa.   His passion for surfing, fishing and life at the beach are contagious and since he is such a personable, hands on manager, guests leave the resort absolutely fascinated.   He is one of the Cayuga managers that best interprets the concept of Experience, Learn, Connect and Relax.

Andres Fernandez is the General Manager at the Harmony Hotel in Nosara.   He was going to take a really well paid cushiony job with an multinational company in San Jose earlier this year after graduating from the prestigious INCAE business school.  But he followed his gut and went for a career in sustainability and hospitality.

The path to the beach at the Harmony Hotel in Nosara where Andres started at General Manager earlier this year.

Howard Coulson is our General Manager at Jicaro Island Ecolodge on the Granada Isletas of Lake Nicaragua.   Most resorts and ecolodges in Nicaragua employ only foreigners in management positions.   Howard has grown immensely as a hospitality professional in the past years, but most importantly he is developing a middle management team of local Nicaraguan’s that is unrivaled in the country.

Kura Design Villas in Uvita is managed by Alejandra Umana and her husband Martin (who is also the architect).   They built and opened the hotel and are currently training a young women called Ana Catalina, who started as Support Services Manager to take over.

Alejandra, the General Manager of Kura Design Villas in Uvita Costa Rica. The newest member of the Cayuga Collection of Sustainable Luxury Hotels and Lodges.

The Hotel Grano de Oro and Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation and Inn are managed by long term employees Marco Montoya  and Johnny Alvarado that have the full confidence of the owners.  In the case of Marco, he has been with the hotel ever since it opened more than 20 years ago.

We are open to hiring local residents in the country where we operate and in the past we have brought in International Consultants to help us with specific projects especially in the area of Food & Beverage management and culinary arts where Costa Rica and Nicaragua still need to develop more professionals.  Maybe that could be a project for Harsha from Cornell?

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Andrea Bonilla

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