Kermit the frog gets quoted quite often for this famous line. And although there really is no other way than being green, I do sometimes identify with him quite strongly. Running sustainable lodging operations in remote destinations can be quite challenging.
In 2013, Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality will celebrate its 10th birthday as a hospitality management company managing upscale hotels, resorts and lodges in Central America, all with a strong focus on sustainability. It has been 10 very fulfilling years, filled with challenges and drawbacks. When we started, we had one client and now our portfolio boasts nine projects in Costa Rica and Nicaragua (with several new ones on the drawing board). So business is good, but often at a high cost and wearing our owners and managers at a stronger pace than normal.
While our way of operating is not that different from typical hospitality management companies, there are some differences that make the work a lot more fun and rewarding, but at the same time a lot more difficult and complex. My first job out of Cornell was to open a Hampton Inn Airport hotel in San Jose, Costa Rica. Wow, that was easy. Full set of operating manuals, GM training in Memphis, standardized rooms – cookie cutter is the word!
This is very different from our current reality. Our smallest hotel has six rooms and the largest has 40. Average daily rates range between $135 and $400 and staffing levels range from 12 to 90 employees. Yearly sales range from $350,000 to $5 Million. Some properties are located in the middle of tropical rainforest or on remote islands; others are more resort-like on a beach, or urban hotels with air conditioning and a fine dining restaurant. Some of our owners are pure philanthropists and others look very much at the bottom line results. Standardization is hard to achieve with so many differences.
As often in hospitality, the food and beverage operation is the most difficult, especially from an economic viewpoint. Running a restaurant for a six- or nine-room hotel without being able to draw on customers from the outside is hard. Doing this in a remote location where you have to bring things in on damaged dirt roads or by boat is even more of a challenge. Training the local staff and maintaining quality levels consistently over time has been one of our biggest headaches. We did it, but again, what was the price that we paid for in terms of managerial wear and tear?