Competition is a diversely understood word. For some, it can spark friendship, such as for a group of University friends who partake in a game of flag football or frisbee golf after class. It can also act as a source of motivation, both pushing people to succeed and encouraging them to get back up again after they have failed. But, just as competition can be a beacon of light encouraging us to participate, have fun, and do our best in multiple arenas in life, to others it echoes like darkness in a cold and empty room.
We are no strangers to competition within the Costa Rica tourism industry. To be completely honest, we expected it from day #1. We knew when we created our business backed by a philosophy of helping travellers first and making money second that we would attract unwanted attention from industry competitors simply because not all of them can say that they did same (to those of you who are not familiar with our business operation you can learn more about us and how we offer part of our earnings back to travellers in the form of discounts and cash back savings here). We do not fault others for their company models, business operations, or corporate choices, but we would be lying if we said that we weren’t at first surprised (and hurt) by some other companies’ blatant disapproval of ours. Especially when we learned that accusatory and downright defamatory comments were being made about us on popular online travel forums by individuals who lacked interest in reaching out to us, having an adult and professional conversation, and (if so be it, in the end), merely agreeing to disagree. That is, until we realized that such comments were not being offered by doubtful travellers, rather by representatives of competing tourism companies who felt threatened by our business’ traveller-centered and non-monetary purpose; a rarity in the pool of corporate sharks where it quickly became apparent to us that for some, competition is cutthroat.
Just as the book-smart brunette wants to be popular like the blonde next door, and the blonde wants to earn a scholarship like the ones her neighbor seems to collect like candy, it seems everyone wants what they don’t have. Furthermore, some believe that whatever it is they don’t have is central to their own success. Would we love to be as big as some of Costa Rica’s most prominent tourism companies? Not really, to be honest, as we like our small, corner store type of organization, but the added respect from some of our industry colleagues that could be gained through business expansion would be welcomed. On the flip side, would larger (or at least more well-known) companies prefer to be small like us? Probably not, but there are elements of genuineness and trust that fade in the shadow of capitalism that we can only hope some companies would want to get back. The key to success then, if we define “success” not in terms of business growth, client size, or monetary income, but as the arrival at the end goal we each set for ourselves and our operations as business owners, is to stay focused on why we chose the work in the first place and not be offset by the dissimilarities of our neighbors; aligning our actions with our original vision, exemplifying our personal values throughout, and, in the spirit of competition as perceived by eternal optimists like us, doing the best darn job we can. Win or lose.
Sure, the world is full of pessimists, and moreover, bullies, as we have come to meet in some of our industry colleagues who employ intimidation in an attempt to mask their fear of competition. We can only guess that their anger stems from a lack of confidence in their own abilities or business practices that they feel they must single out someone (or more than one) for providing something that they choose not to offer. To be clear, here we are not referring to those who merely maintain differences in opinion from ours (or perform business operations differently than ours), as we welcome criticism when it can be backed by sound evidence or a noteworthy point. But, beyond fair competition, it seems that for a select few there is vindictiveness. For about 6 years now we have seen a handful of our competitors comment online on this, that, and the moon about us (perhaps he or she who speaks the loudest truly does have the least to say), and sadly, we are sure that from time to time some unquestioning travellers have hung on their every word (who can blame such travellers, if they haven’t been told or taught any different?). Fortunately, we walk with confidence down the high road, holding our heads up and knowing that in time, all of the pokes, jabs, and digs aimed at us will only sour the image of he or she who has little else to do but dish it out. Alternatively, if we took the easy road, it would only lead us on a spiteful journey toward supposed vengeance, calling on us to bully our bullies via the same tactless and uneducated means as those our oppressors have chosen in an attempt to inflict harm on us. We know that if we followed that path, the real defeat would be over the war we lost with ourselves. How could we sleep at night knowing that we reduced ourselves to a level far lower than one we could ever be proud of, and one we only know exists because of the grasps we feel at our ankles when others try to pull us down?
Fortunately, roughly 99% of our Costa Rica tourism industry colleagues coexist with us in a pleasant, friendly, familiar “pura vida” bubble. We not only get along with most, but we refer to many as our friends. When we send in reservation requests, we ask how the baby they had a few months back is doing (we know about him or her, because the mom took a short time off from work and we missed her while she was gone) or how their studies are going (because we know they are only working part-time as they complete their university education). We correspond with emoticons (those little smiley faces that you tack on to the end of a sentence if you want to make your email recipient smile, or at least inform them that you were smiling when you sent your message their way), and we send a quick “thanks” or “awesome, you’re the best!” after they have helped us with something to show our appreciation. Most of our business partners (aka. our Costa Rica hotel, tour operator, and transportation service provider friends) are downright amazing and they know they can rely on us just as we rely on them. We have gushed about our valuable friends and business relationships elsewhere on our blog, for those who are interested in further reading (click here).
Supporters and non-partisans aside, every now and again we come across a bad apple who, despite their bitterness, we refuse to let spoil the bushel. We weren’t always this resilient, however. From as far back as we can remember, there has been a small group (we can count its members on two hands) who has gone out of its way to try to weaken our spirit and business development via online/email bashing (for lack of a better term). We have watched as they attacked our belief in being Costa Rican (short of publishing Ricky’s passport and cedula ID copies online for all of the internet to obtain, how else did they expect us to prove that he was born and raised in the country?), our travel experience (as if the hundreds of firsthand Costa Rica travel accounts, supporting photographs, and insider tips that we have published on our travel blog could have possibly been fabricated), our level of customer service (a far cry, as we have been the proud recipients of a Costa Rica tourism award for exercising valued service, an award based significantly on travellers’ responses given in tour evaluations, as well as winners of multiple website and blog recognitions/awards/honors for our trip planning help), and arguably worst of all, our ethicality. Ouch! For a couple who operates a philanthropy project alongside their business and blog, earned a 4-year honors law degree in addition to a 3-year masters’ degree in education (whose graduate thesis–not that it is any of our competitors’ business–advocated for justice and fairness throughout the process of education), and who literally has the words humility (and its Spanish counterpart: humilidad) permanently tattooed on their body as a constant reminder to live life to a high moral standard, that was a hard pill to swallow. We can only hope that travellers are wise enough to identify for themselves just how far off that loose hammer swing is from the nail. Desperate times call for desperate measures we suppose, but we can’t help but wonder (especially given the growth of our business in spite of these setbacks), why some people keep on swinging.
If we could take back the time we wasted floating around in the shark pool as a bobbing target, silently following such comments and letting them toy with our mindsets over the years, we would. Fortunately, once we realized that every minute spent feeling frustrated was one minute less that could be spent helping travellers, the haters were easy to shake off and we kept focused on our work: bettering our websites, our correspondence, our travel experience, and ourselves to ultimately help each and every traveller have a better trip.
As of today’s date writing this post, we have 26,580 “words of awesomeness” (aka. past traveller testimonials) posted on our website to offer a sample of the Costa Rica experiences travellers have had as a result of our business and assistance (and that doesn’t take into account the 1,500+ individual comments currently posted to our blog nor the thoughts of the nearly 800,000 travellers who have relied on our blog for some kind of assistance to date). We work morning, afternoon, and evening, 7 days per week, 52 weeks per year, and we love it. We are a husband and wife team (in life and in business!), and although we handle the majority of traveller correspondence ourselves (we are the only English-fluent members of our business team, so you can imagine how busy we are as we receive requests from new travellers every single day), additional individuals help us with the in’s and out’s of our routine business operations. On a personal note, we are two of the friendliest and most humble people you will ever meet (feel free to read our corporate statement regarding humble business or our related blog post The Art Of Good Business: Practice What You Preach). We live our lives as open books and we pride ourselves on operating a transparent business that provides positive and helpful customer service. We speak honestly about the industry (feel free to read our corporate statement regarding honesty assurance) pointing out what we perceive to be red flags whenever and wherever we spot them. When we describe a day tour on our business website we provide the name of the tour operator as to not lead travellers to believe that we run the activity directly. When we write about a hotel or an activity on our blog we write about our firsthand experience as travellers (not as business partners) because we know this is the real and authentic advice that most readers are in need of (not the diluted “travel guide” text that is widespread online and in print). And, once travellers have scoured our business website for savings and learned how to best plan their trip as a result of our blog recommendations, if they opt to book any of their desired Costa Rica trip items elsewhere (direct with hotels, tour operators, or transportation service providers, or through other third-party companies), we support their decision 100%. As past traveller testimonials support, we are not (nor have we ever been) an all or nothing type of company. Instead, we aim to be a valuable and free resource for all travellers to access, as much or as little as they want and need.
To those of you who are currently working with us or have done so in the past, travellers and industry friends alike, we thank you for your interest in us and our business. At some point you heard about us, did your research, and came to your own conclusions regarding the type of people we are and the kind of company we run. Somewhere along the line our mantra aligned with yours and the homely bond we established between us grew strong enough to withstand any westerly winds that blew our way.
To those of you who simply dislike us or our business for whatever reason, we thank you too. Like our spinning world, this industry would be dull and easy without diversity and challenge, and given that there is plenty of space for all of us in this tourism sandbox that we collectively play in, we can all be the kings and queens of our own sandcastles (who says competition must end in a cruel conquest?). To coexist peacefully in the face of our differences is nothing to complain about; it is admirable. We would be hypocrites if we spoke poorly about any of you simply because you believe, think, feel, act, or operate differently than us, so we respect you for who you are. But, we would also be fools if we assumed that each and every one of you were mature enough (let alone professional enough) to come to the same conclusion on your own. We are supporters of the right to freedom of speech, so we would never expect the select few of you who have taken it upon yourselves to criticize us publicly over the years–some with the hope of furthering your own personal agendas–to cease doing so (nor would we be naive enough to assume that you would), just as we would never expect all travellers who stumble upon your posted comments to swiftly assume there is validity to all of your claims. We know that no one is liked by everyone, and thankfully this impossible task was never one we set out to achieve. Facing adversity with class, pride, and a continued focus on what is most important to us, including our personal and professional community of family, friends, and travellers, is and always has been our priority. Adversity (ironically, like our outlook on competition) only strengthens our foundation in the face of those who would rather see it crack. And to those, we offer a philosophical (or dare we say, ethical) tip:
He who commits injustice is ever made more wretched than he who suffers it. – Plato