Life in a Costa Rica Travel Agency During COVID-19

As the global travel industry comes to terms with the new normal of zero or restricted travel, Justin deBoom from Costa Rica travel agency Namu Travel talks about what his company is doing to survive.

I work for Costa Rican Vacations, part of the Namu Travel Group and one of Costa Rica’s largest travel agencies. I also own a charter boat in Quepos called Caribsea.

If we’d talked on March 14 2020, I would have told you business was great and that we hadn’t seen much impact from the coronavirus crisis. We’d had some concerned clients calling us, but for the most part, life was moving along well.

The very next day life hit a brick wall. That was the day Costa Rica announced it was closing its borders to all foreign travel effective March 18.

It was the day my phone went from ringing with clients ready to plan their trips to an endless cycle of cancellations and pure panic. Everything from clients scheduled to arrive to in-country clients worried about getting out. It was a wild ride.

If there’s a silver lining to this at all, I guess it’s how quickly I realized I worked for one of the best travel agencies in the world.

The employees of the Namu Travel Group are the best in the business. Even during this critical time, where none of us knew for sure whether we’d have a job tomorrow or not, we did everything we could to help our clients and protect them while the world screeched to a halt.

Fast forward a few more weeks and here we are today.

The borders are still closed but we’re still here. The panicked weeks after the closure are still fresh in our minds. We’ve lost valued staff, our office, and our source of income. It’s been incredibly difficult. But we’re still here. Battered, bruised, and humbled. And we have something else, too. Or at least I do… a sense of overwhelming pride.

I’ve my colleagues rally to overcome incredible obstacles under incredible stress. The industry partners who we rely on (and who rely on us) have started to come together. The good faith displayed by staff, hotels, tour operators, drivers, and everyone in the tourism industry has been overwhelming.

Not to mention the support of our loyal customer base. Our dedication to them is stronger than ever.

Right now it’s all about adapting and reinventing ourselves as we prepare for whatever is going to be the new normal.                                                                                                                                                                  

We’re getting used to the idea of a fully-remote office. We’re learning to multitask a lot more than we used to. Any form whatsoever of complacency and entitlement has gone out the window, hopefully for good. 

I’ve been focusing on a loyalty program. As an agency, about twenty percent of our annual business came from repeat clients and referals clients. We’ve always valued these clients and without them, we wouldn’t have been as successful over the years. Now I’m asking them what they want to see from us going forward, post-pandemic. Who better to ask about the future than someone who already knows and loves our product?

Apart from consulting with and learning from our clients, we’ve been trying to innovate in other ways.

We feel a responsibility to the tourism industry in Costa Rica that’s been so good to us, so we’re looking at ways of giving back and helping the thousands of people who’ve lost their jobs. We want to promote the notion of tourism being the main foundation of so many lives here. If we all stick together as an industry, we believe that fewer of us will go under and more of us might come out into the new normal stronger. We’re feeling our way here to help create nothing less than a Tourism 2.0 in Costa Rica.                                                            

Also, we have to re-invent ourselves and learn from our clients. Find out from them what the future might look like. We need to come up with new ideas and incentives, new ways to encourage encourage people to dare to dream about the future. It’s lucky we’re in Costa Rica, which I believe will be a leader in post-COVID tourism. We have to share that also address the legitimate travel concerns people will have on the other side of this pandemic.

For my charter boat it was pretty much the same.                                                                                          

Watching how Namu navigated the uncertain times was the backbone for our approach on the Caribsea.

Do the very best we could and help as many people as we can… that was the strategy. Our crew is still with us (shortened hours and sacrifices made), but their dedication to the industry and our future customers is unwavering.

We too are looking to the future and asking our past clients how and what we can do to help them revisit this amazing country.

Justin DeBoom lives with his wife Lucia in Jaco, Costa Rica where they run Caribsea Sportfishing. Justin also works as a travel consultant and fishing specialist at Namu Travel, where he helps people plan trips to Costa Rica and Panama. He can be contacted at justindeboom@namutravel.com.