Transformational Travel – the cayuga way

Transformational Travel is defined by the Transformational Travel Council as “any travel experience that empowers people to make meaningful, lasting changes in their life.”

There are lots of articles about transformational, experimental, conscious, responsible and just ‘different’ travel out there.  This is a “hot” topic in all travel related conferences these days and many in the industry of travel and hospitality are trying to figure out how to become part of this trend.

We feel that we have “touched” the life of many travelers in the last 20 years in our hotels and lodges in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama and that it probably all comes down to walking the talk in terms of sustainability, providing a sense of place and keeping it local at all levels of the experience.

A colleague sent me this quote recently, but unfortunately, he could not remember who had sent this to him.  But it is a great summary of the challenge that conventional travel is facing today: 

“The current travel landscape is not conducive to the kind of exploration that inspires us to learn, grow and change. So much of travel has succumbed to serving a tourist that has unreal expectations, seeking only to be entertained, and worst of all, with a sense of entitlement.  Not only is this toxic to the experience of travel, and the industry, but it exploits the destinations and the people we visit. “

The Transformational Travel Council states that Transformational Travel should include those three elements.   

  • Traveling with intention, openness, and mindfulness
  • Engaging in challenging physical and/or cultural experiences 
  • Taking time for personal reflection & meaning-making

We agree and have taken this a few steps further.  At the Cayuga Collection, we want to shift the paradigm and create a connection with the traveler that is beneficial for the traveler and the local host that is receiving and serving the traveler.  Here are a few examples from our Cayuga Collection Hotels and Lodges on how we strive to be “transformational”.

Isla Palenque
It is about a Sense of Place. The use of locally inspired architecture that blends in and using local design and materials for furniture is a key element applied at Isla Palenque in Panama. This means employment for local designers and carpeters. No, we don’t import furniture from Bali.
Local Workforce
Working with a local workforce that has guaranteed year around employment is one of the key pillars of the Cayuga Collection philosophy. Jay, who has been working at Kura since its opening, grew up about a two-hour hike through the rain forest form the hotel. And yes, the General Manager, Chef and all other staff are local as well.
Lapa Rios Lodge
Lapa Rios Lodge is all about nature conservation and guests take part in this by hiking into the rainforest reserve and learning about how conservation can actually be good for business. To make this model successful, it is crucial to have the “buy in” from the community for conservations projects like this.
Cultural Events
The connection to the local community is a key element in transformational travel. This can happen at several levels. Supporting local youth groups like here at Jicaro Lodge in Nicaragua is just one way.
Latitude 10
Sometimes, transformation happens when our guests leave their “comfort zone” and decide to stay at a hotel that has no windows and A/C and offers ‘sandy feet yoga classes” like in the case of Latitude 10 in Santa Teresa.
Local Ingredients
Using fresh and only local ingredients is part of the Cayuga Culinary experience. At the newly opened Senda Monteverde Hotel, we get most of our ingredients from within 100 miles.
Manuel Antonio
In a destination like Manuel Antonio, almost all of our guests at Arenas del Mar want to go to the National Park. We try to make this happen. But we also encourage them to visit less visited destinations and tours that really benefit the local community.

It is very important that the transformation goes both ways.  It is very special to see when travelers are inspired and in awe about their travel experience.  But the same must be true for the local staff on the other side.  A nature guide, a hotel employee or member of the local community needs to feel part of this positive transformation, otherwise the model is not sustainable, and we will run into issues of over tourism, which is another topic that we will blog about again in the near future.

2 Responses

  1. Our first experience was with Lapa Rios this January in Costa Rica. We were so impressed by the lodge, the people and the food that this experience will last forever for us. We look forward to more experiences like that and we support the travel philosophy that is espoused in this article.

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Andrea Bonilla

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