🍍 "My fellow workers are treating me like royalty!"

How the Cayuga Collection develops an exceptional culture through staff stays

My friend Hans Pfister oversees Cayuga Collection - a group of 5-star sustainable luxury hotels in Costa Rica, Panama & Nicaragua. He sent me something today that provides a glimpse into how he has been able to provide exceptional hospitality for decades at a range of property types through all sorts of market conditions. While this newsletter typically focuses on bit-sized ideas, I thought sharing his whole story might inspire you to do something similar with your team.

I’ll let Hans take it away….

At the Cayuga Collection, we believe that a big part of providing extraordinary service is understanding the experience that our guests live through during their stays. This is why once a year, all of our staff members have the chance to stay with their families at our hotels as guests (all meals and services included).

However, that is not the only reason. We found that this program, which was first implemented about 20 years ago, has multiple benefits. There is no better way to understand the success of this program than to let some of our team members share their stories and experiences themselves.

Yuliana Madrigal works at the front desk at Arenas del Mar. She was born and raised in a small town near the hotel and has been living in Manuel Antonio with her three-year-old daughter since she completed her bachelor’s degree in hospitality.

Yuliana invited her grandmother and her daughter to join her during her complimentary stay at Arenas del Mar. Most of the employee stays happen during the low season (between September and November).

Seeing her daughter jump up and down on the plush bed in the room and playing with the waves at Playitas beach was a highlight for Yuliana during her stay. What most impressed her was the level of professionalism, impeccable service, and attention to detail she received from her colleagues during her stay.

“My grandma is amazed that everyone knows her name and at the room, she is staying in,” says Yuliana with a big smile on her face. “For quite some time, I’d wanted to work for Cayuga. I had friends that told me about the company’s culture and work environment and these kinds of details bring that culture to life”, mentioned Yuliana.

Maria Esther Vega is the Head of the Housekeeping at Arenas del Mar. One of eleven siblings., María Esther decided to invite Enrique, her 60-year-old brother, and his family. A beekeeper by trade, he had never stayed at a hotel in his life.

“I thought it would be the perfect birthday gift to treat him to this shared experience. I was sure he would love the natural setting of the hotel”, says Maria Esther.

“It is not the same to work in the rooms every day than to actually experience sleeping and relaxing in them”. She always wondered what the sunrise would look like from the hotel. It was 5 am when Maria Esther got out of bed and walked straight to the balcony to look at the sunrise. “It was such a peaceful and serene experience. The highlight of my stay”.

For David Leiva, who works in accounting, the highlight was to see his five-year-old son play at the pool. David was amazed how his colleagues treated him, his wife, and his child as if they were royalty. To this day, his son continues to ask when they will go back to ‘dad’s pool’.

“It was a nice experience to show my family where I work. My wife now has a better understanding of what I do and who my colleagues are. It keeps our dinner conversations interesting”, mentioned David.

Derian Jiménez has held various management positions at Cayuga Collection Hotels and Lodges for several years. But he says it never gets old to be treated by his colleagues with the same level of service and care as any other guest.

The employee stayover program strengthens interdepartmental relationships. Derian points out that he enjoys getting to know the families of his co-workers and he also has a chance to interact with colleagues from other departments. Such as Guido, a long-time gardener at Arenas del Mar, “It’s a very gratifying experience”.

Patricia Mejias, General Manager at Isla Palenque in Panama: “building empathy is far from easy. No matter how many books there are on emotional intelligence, the fastest way to understand how an experience might feel is to live through it. At the employee stayover, employees learn by doing. They go through the experience of being a guest. This journey, allows them to understand the value behind their work and creates a space of empathy between them and the guests.”

Alfonso Santamaria, the General Manager at Hotel Aguas Claras in Puerto Viejo finds that this program “provides a sense of gratitude and motivation. Strengthening an employee’s loyalty towards the company and retaining talent in a high turnover rate industry.”

Yovanka Guerra has held several positions with Cayuga and currently works as the Operations Manager at Kurá in Uvita. She points out that “this experience allows our employees to get a 360-degree view of their work and the value behind it. It gives them a broader view of the cause and effect of their actions.”

Allan Gamboa, who has been able to live this experience with his family at three Cayuga Collection hotels finds it “quite heartwarming to see my family enjoy the hotels so much”. Before he worked with Cayuga, he and his family were never able to stay in hotels rooms like at Senda, Aguas Claras, or Arenas del Mar. Let alone have such incredible dining experiences.

“On my first employee stayover, upon arrival, I noticed I was quite nervous. I was coming as a guest to a luxury hotel! I remember that feeling went away when my family and I were welcomed so warmly by my colleagues.” Alex, Concierge.

There is a sense of admiration from the employee’s families to the employee when they get the chance to experience the value behind the employee’s work. Employees and their families act as ambassadors for the community. This consolidates the company’s reputation within the community and attracts local talent.

“I’m forever grateful. I’ve worked in several places and this is the only company that has this benefit. This motivates me a lot.” Laura Murillo, Massage Therapist.

On average, we are able to provide the stayover experience to about 75% of our staff members each year. This program was recently mentioned in an article in Condé Nast Traveler. See link here.

One of the most commented highlights of an employee’s stay is their amazement towards the quality service they receive from their colleagues. It is an unexpected surprise for them to be treated just like any other guest.

You can learn more about the Cayuga Collection here, and connect with Hans on LinkedIn here. You may enjoy these other blog posts from him: