But we also know that this is far from over and it will take all we have to make it through this!
Five months ago, we closed our hotels and lodges in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama. We had to let go of about half of our staff and significantly reduce the salaries of the remaining teams. This was an extremely hard and big struggle for all of us.
We spent the first months of the pandemic getting organized, working on maintenance projects, and improving our skills through training. Then we had the chance to reopen some of our hotels again local guests which gave us a bit of “oxygen”.
To “hang in there” was made possible because the owners of the hotels continued their financial and moral support for the operations. And the new normal, like for many others around the world, was to work more while earning a lot less. But nobody complained. We were ready to make the sacrifice. We all agreed that if we would be strong today, there would be an extraordinary tomorrow.
We are immensely proud of how our teams at the hotels have performed through this crisis so far. Especially when we see other hotels around us struggle to keep their employees on payroll, maintain their infrastructure in good shape, and reopen the operations to receive guests with high expectations. The teams have done an incredible job showing their passion for hospitality, sustainability, and people in general. We stayed true to our values and did not cut corners. We innovated, got creative, and made sure that we take advantage of all the opportunities that this crisis offers.
Here are some examples of what we have accomplished during the past months:
To raise some cash to continue to maintain our teams and pay the bills, we raised almost $150,000 in Cayuga Green Future Bonds. Our guests “invested” in our future by purchasing those bonds at a 50% discount. And for each of the 83 bond purchases, we planted a tree.
We launched the Cayuga Gratitude Giveaway and received 60 nominations for “Travel Trade Heros” that really made a difference during this hard time of the pandemic for travel agencies and tour operators. For each nomination, we will be planting a tree. Yes, more trees. We believe it makes a difference and we will continue to plan more trees. The winner of a luxury itinerary to Costa Rica will be announced in September. Stay tuned.
We convinced over 90% of our guests that had reservations from April 2020 onwards to reschedule and not cancel. This also made a huge difference that allowed us to keep our staff employed and just plainly survive. A big GRACIAS to every single one of you that postponed and did not cancel. We are here for you and will take extra special care when you visit us in the near future. Promised.
We implemented strict and effective COVID protocols and even developed our own Cayuga Safety Seal. We are in compliance with the WTTC Safe Travels Protocols. We know that our sanitary measures work as we had a staff member in one occasion and one guest in another one diagnosed with the virus. But thanks to the strict application of our protocols, the virus was NOT transmitted to anybody else. Our guests have expressed that they feel safe and we continue to take this matter very seriously.
We continued to support the communities where we operate. Even and especially during tough times, our focus is on people. We donated funds to build a vegetable plot at a school near Isla Palenque in Panama. We bought food for former staff members that were in need in Manuel Antonio, Puerto Viejo and Granada.
We helped finance the maintenance work necessary to reopen the Marino Ballena National Park near Kura in Uvita. And just recently we provided the money to install foot pedal sinks for a school in Monteverde so that when the students come back they can wash their hands and prevent COVID from spreading among their peers. And this is just the beginning.
During the time of being closed, we really doubled up on staff training. In May, we had over 25 training sessions. And we worked hard on keeping the hotel look like new. Not easy with limited budgets and zero income, but we made up for by putting our hearts and soul into it. And we even started an innovation contest at all the hotels because we know that there is no better time to come up with great ideas that can really make a difference than during a crisis. We expect to have the first results in October.
We are especially proud of the fact that we have 5 of 7 Cayuga Collection Hotels open and operating again. This means increased salaries for our staff and we have even started to hire back some of the team members that we had to let go of in March. We are excited that our guests have great experiences and after visiting one Cayuga Collection Hotel one weekend, come back to another one a couple of weeks later. Being open does not only help the local economies, but it also ensures that we are ready for when international tourists start to visit us again later this year.
We must be doing something right. The Cayuga Collection is getting quite a bit of attention from investors. We keep getting called by local and international groups that want to invest in Cayuga, the current Collection Hotels or look for new properties to acquire and manage. We are ready to grow again. We know that the concept of sustainable luxury in hospitality is gaining momentum. Operating small hotels and lodges in remote locations was always a challenge. Now it is an opportunity.
We are cautiously optimistic about the next months. Little by little flights come back to Costa Rica from all parts of the world. Panama and Nicaragua are still a bit behind, but it will happen there as well real soon. We just need to be patient and continue to stay strong for an extraordinary tomorrow.