Here’s the problem with Costa Rica vacation planning these days. Tourism in this country is growing faster than most businesses can keep up with, which has resulted in an influx of businesses scrambling for their piece of the pie (I use the term “business” lightly, as many “companies” are simply street corner salesman with a website). While I am all about fair competition (especially within the industry – may the best man win, and if you don’t believe us, feel free to read our lengthy statement on the subject in our related blog post: Tourism Competition In Costa Rica: The Haters Gonna Hate, Hate, Hate… But We’re Gonna Shake It Off), the ridiculous number of times I have seen travellers get taken advantage of financially by travel agents/agencies (both street corner salesmen and large operating companies alike) is excessive and unnecessary. What’s worse is that most travellers have no idea when and how it happens.
Whenever I stumble across a competitor’s website, I always take a minute to read their philosophy, mandate, or mission statement. A lot of big words and phrases are used time and time again, and I wonder what actions are being taken to fulfill the promises. While I am not suggesting that such actions are not being taken, I do question the degree to which companies practice what they preach, which, within the Costa Rican travel and tourism sector, means getting out and experiencing firsthand the various vacation items that are being recommended to clients. I mean, a company might have the correct paperwork, great employee and/or service reviews, and a long list of accreditation, but if it lacks a complete knowledge of its own business product, how can a traveller truly trust its word?
I suppose travellers are drawn to the larger corporations for the security they provide (although strangely enough, it is usually with the larger corporations that clients struggle the most with payment, cancellation, and/or refund issues). Unfortunately, such security is not always guaranteed. In many cases, larger corporations will not offer clients a breakdown of the specific pricing for each hotel, tour, service, etc. included with their vacation package. This provides them with an opportunity to charge an extra $20, $50, $100, or more on top of the actual vacation package cost, without the client’s knowledge. At Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated, and by no means am I trying to suggest that we are “better” than any other company (we simply operate in a significantly different manner), we always provide clients with a complete list of each vacation item’s cost. This way, travellers can see where our discounts have been applied, as well as how we have calculated their vacation package total. If reserving your package with someone other than us, I advise you to request the same from the travel organization you have selected. If they are unable or unwilling to do so, treat this as a red flag (we touch on this, and a number of other cautions in our related blog post: 5 Red Flags To Look Out For When Buying A Costa Rica Vacation Package). Otherwise, if they provide you with such a list, compare each price with that offered on hotel and tour operator websites to ensure that you are not being overcharged for certain items.
Perhaps I am old-fashioned, traditional, or still foolishly believe in the good in people, but whatever happened to honest business? On some days (when travellers write to us in need after finding themselves in a negative situation with another operator), I swear greed has swallowed whole some companies’ genuine desire for helping people. I remember how difficult it is to do business in this industry, but that only inspires me to work harder to stand out among the crowd – even if it means remaining a mom-n’-pop-shop business in and among the hungry franchises. Hey, I’d take faithful and true over impersonal, oblivious, and cookie-cutter any day.
In my mind it’s simple. If you say you offer good prices, don’t overcharge. If you say you offer great tours and services, experience these firsthand to know whether they are as great as you claim they are. And, if you think you are one of the best companies out there that do what you do, then offer something more rich and valuable to your clients’ overall experience than pure size, assets, and anything else material that I can only hope is transparent in the eyes of travellers who are looking for vacation assistance of the utmost worth.
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you had a negative experience with a Costa Rican company? Share your experience (no names please!). Have you had a positive experience with a Costa Rican company? We would love to hear these stories too!