What does luxury mean to you?

A few weeks ago, I was at Isla Palenque in Panama, the Cayuga Collection Hotel located on a 400-acre island in the Gulf of Chiriquí. Our manager Aldair told me an interesting story.

We received a message from the management of an ultra-luxury resort about an hour’s boat ride from Isla Palenque. Two of their guests wanted to come for lunch. We said of course. Con mucho gusto!

They came with their captain and guide and had lunch at our beachfront restaurant—feet in the sand and just a few feet away from the water. After lunch, they asked to see our bungalows. Then, they asked about our availability over the following days.

Isla Palenque, Panama

We had a room available — so they decided to leave the other resort and stay three nights with us. While we were honored to host them, our manager asked them why they decided to leave the other resort — which was much more luxurious — and come to Isla Palenque. The answer stunned us.

“The other resort was just too perfect.”

Too perfect? This comment got me thinking ever since. Can a hotel experience be “too perfect”? What did she mean by this? Aren’t we striving for perfection in our hotel operations?

I decided that this is worth a blog. In my quest for answers, I reviewed the feedback and comments left by our previous guests. I found some recurring themes used by our guests when they referred to their stays with us.

Culture – Wildlife – Staff – Special – Beach – Service – Sustainability – Local – Natural Beauty – Experience – Authentic – Wild – Tranquil – Forest – Pura Vida

These are great concepts — though I didn’t see a lot of mentions of luxury.

Of course, no hotel guests want to find a bathroom that is not cleaned correctly or have a cold risotto served for dinner. We need to get those basics right. Always. And if we make a mistake, we bend backward to fix it and get it right.

So what is luxury anyway?

Is it expensive building materials and finishes? Marble bathrooms with golden faucets? An oversized suite? A perfectly executed fine dining meal? Flawless service that one does not even notice?

Can luxury be different?

This “traditional” luxury might be very appealing for some travelers, but it may not entirely be what our guests at Cayuga seek. A Cayuga guest wants an authentic and honest experience with real people.

Reflecting on this idea, it’s become clear to me that the “The Cayuga Way” of luxury is different.

I’ve called this, Luxury Rewilded.

Luxury Rewilded is a return to a deeper, meaningful connection. To the natural world. To each other. And to yourself.

At our hotels, we achieve this through four key pillars.

A Sense of Place

We see spaces as an expression of our local culture, our people, and our relationship to the natural world in which our hotels are located.

The People

We often get asked: “What is the most important thing about sustainability for you at Cayuga?” And the answer is simple. It’s all about people. The well-being of the local communities where we operate is our number one priority. We firmly believe that if you take care of people and their communities, they will, in turn, take care of nature and the environment.

Experience, Learn, Connect & Relax

For 20 years, we have used this concept at our hotels. Our guests do not come to sleep and eat in our hotels. They probably live in very nice homes and have access to great restaurants. This is why we encourage them to Experience – Learn – Connect – Relax.

Pura Vida

In Costa Rica we call it Pura Vida. It is about a way of life and being “for real.” What it comes down to is authenticity. We don’t put on a show. We are happy for real, and our smiles are genuine.

What does luxury mean to you? Can perfection and authenticity co-exist?

I would love to hear your stories.

Please write to me at Hans Pfister hans@cayugaonline.com or leave a comment on this blog.

Hans Pfister

PS: And if you haven’t yet, download The Cayuga Way: A Journal of Sustainable Luxury for more stories, here is the link.

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Hans Pfister

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