New to the game

It can often be one of hardest feelings in the industry to describe, but being welcomed by an hotelier who treats you as an old friend can make all the difference in a new location and environment. The ability to offer personal warmth that can make one feel at ease and which sets the scene for an enjoyable and relaxing stay.

Yens Steller and partner Patrick Ludwig (pictured) possess this talent and provide this hospitality in five hillside cabins they have designed and built in Costa Rica. The proprietors dreamed up a vision for their property located on the Pacific coast of the Osa Peninsula when working in the technology sector in the US. Dissatisfied with the stress and increasing speed of that world, the duo decided it was time to leave the tech industry behind and embark on a new adventure in the tourism industry.

They built Drake Bay Getaway Resort as a luxury sustainable jungle lodge which appeals to both those who want an eco-friendly stay but also one that matches the demands of the growing number of travellers who want a personalised experience or simply need to switch off and relax.

Yens, who is originally from Costa Rica, explains what made them turn their dream into a reality, “In our old jobs the money was good but we hardly found any time for life. We would travel to Costa Rica for holidays and finally decided to sell up and build our hotel on the Southern coast, where I grew up. We had some land which we purchased from my family a few years earlier. This would be the home for our luxury sustainable hotel.”

They sold their cars and house and built their dream in an area of the world famed for its incredible diversity of animal and plant life. “We wanted to do something very different than the technology industry. We love people and this is the perfect environment for that passion. In the tech world, our mind-set was always to look towards the future, to innovate and think about how something would look and work in 3 or 5 years’ time. We simply apply this same thinking to our resort. One of the main differences we have encountered is that in the technology sector you can sometimes drop the ball and think ‘it’s ok; we can fix that in the next update’. In hospitality, there is no chance for this, we are in the business of happiness and have to ensure everything is perfect for our guests. We cannot forget to pick someone up from the local airport or leave them behind in one of our adventure tours.”

“Opening the resort was a shock at the beginning but we learnt so much in such a short space of time. We saved money during the

construction process by buying the materials directly from the suppliers. If we hadn’t sourced in this way, we would have paid at least double the amount. We had $10,000 left to our names when we first opened the hotel doors. We felt sick knowing that’s all we had left in our bank account. This feeling soon disappeared once the guests started staying.”

Making such a career change takes a lot of courage and determination. Yens and Patrick would have had to have the belief they were doing the right thing. “We felt in the states we had fallen into a routine and really needed to experience something else – a trend we are actually seeing with our guests now. They need to feel alive and don’t want to get stuck in the system, which is what happened to us. I believe you have to be genuine in this sector and not in it for just making money. If it was just about that we would have stayed in our technology jobs in the US! We are fortunate that some of our guests have invited us to their homes and we believe this shows the deep and emotional connection we make with those who stay here.”

Drake Bay Getaway Resort is popular with honeymoon couples but 50% are actually made up of families and solo travellers, especially those looking for adventure. “It’s difficult to explain, but guests do really want an experience which they remember and has a deep meaning in their life.”

“Building a sustainable jungle lodge was always part of our vision and we have achieved this in many different ways. Not only during the creation of the property but in how is it operated as a business. We have no air-conditioning which is better for the environment and does keep the bills down too. Instead, we have used ‘Passive Cooling’ design principles in all our buildings to keep them cool naturally. We catch rainfall for our gardens and laundry with all clothes sun-dried in a special transparent room we built. Water is solar-heated and cabins are built from 90% recyclable materials.” These initiatives would lead to Drake Bay Getaway Resort being awarded the Platinum level GreenLeader by TripAdvisor, their highest environmental standards for commitment to environmental sustainability.

Yens and Patrick may be new to the sector but 95% of their hotel bookings come direct with only 5% from travel agents, a figure some UK hoteliers can only dream of. “We go against the local curve. Most of the hotels that we know receive 60% of their bookings from travel agencies, which require at least 15% commission.” Yens argues that they spend little to no money on marketing and instead use their search engine optimisation knowledge to ensure their website is an influential tool.

Business has exceeded their expectations as the hoteliers have had to tackle the challenges of being a remote property. The logistics of food means that it all arrives by boat which relies on weather conditions. However, so far the boat has never failed, which is just as well as Drake Bay’s only other option to get food is by dirt track roads and they are around three hours’ drive from the nearest town. “We ask all our guests their food preferences and tolerances in advance of their stay. This tackles any issue which may have otherwise come up during a stay. We never give anyone a food menu. Instead, we provide unique dishes every day of a stay based on the guest’s diet. It can be stressful when choosing a meal, so we have removed this option and surprise our guests with each meal. We also have unlimited speciality coffee and tropical fruit drinks which is a real hit.” It will be interesting to see if this trend is carried out by other hotels and restaurants to improve the experience for those with more sensitive diets.

It is clear to see why guests want to stay at Drake Bay Getaway Resort. Costa Rica is a wildlife paradise and each cabin overlooks the sapphire bay, beautiful beach and tree-topped jungle. Yens and Patrick have taken an ethical approach and are passionate for conserving, protecting and enjoying the surrounding environment. Matched with their personal hospitality and combining luxury with an eco-stay, they may be new to the game but these hoteliers are making real headway.