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PerserVida! International Travel Navigates the Pandemic

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Jogn Rabenau, Costa Rica Escapes

We talked to John Rabenau, founder of Costa Rica Escapes, about travel and vacation events logistics and this is what he said about it.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

John Rabenau: Thankfully, we have all stayed healthy, but we have not seen much of our extended family for the past year. We relocated back to the US as we had originally planned. The transition to full-time living in the US, Park City, UT is going very well. My wife and business partner, Molly Alden was forced to return to teaching full-time in the classroom. While this was a challenging transition, it has proven to be a blessing in disguise. She took a position within the Dual Language Immersion program to be the Spanish teacher for 1st grade. Molly pulls long hours and still works part-time for Costa Rica Explorations & Escapes. She manages the accounting department. Since her primary realm of the business focuses on hosting students, she doesn’t have much day-to-day work because student groups aren’t traveling yet. 

Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Costa Rica Escapes.

John Rabenau: CRE was created as a lifestyle business based on our passion for travel thru Costa Rica, giving back through community service work, environmental education, cultural exchange, the Spanish language, and adventure. Since we were founded in 2006 as primarily an education-focused organization, we have expanded to offer adventure & leisure travel services to families and other travelers that want a unique and genuine travel experience in Costa Rica.

How does Costa Rica Escapes innovate?

John Rabenau: We are very focused on developing the personal relationship that we have with our clients. We seek meaningful interaction with our clients to ensure that we properly tailor and customize each travel experience to their goals for their trip. We want to innovate by bringing personal interaction back into the equation. We listen, recommend, and offer genuine advice and suggestions based on our local knowledge and expertise. We want to facilitate the accomplishment of our travelers’ goals.

How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances? 

John Rabenau: When the borders of Costa Rica closed all of our trips were postponed or canceled and we were left without any revenue for the foreseeable future. While we remained open, our business revenue was reduced to zero for almost 8 months until the borders were reopened and we started to see leads trickle in. Even with the borders open, we are working at about 15% of what we were as compared to in years past. The international travel and tourism industry has suffered significantly and we are hoping for signs of normalcy by December 2021.

Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned? 

John Rabenau: Yes, we endured a brutal exercise in entrepreneurial business management when we had to look at every single expense with nothing but uncertainty for the future as our forecast. We reduced our team in two phases – we went to 50% then 20%. We were clear and open with everyone and made sure that everyone was paid their severance packages and felt supported by us as this unforeseen circumstance unfolded.

How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient? 

John Rabenau: We evolved our social media outreach by creating virtual tours of cultural and nature videos. These kept some of our contractors involved and gave them hope while engaging our customers in a more passive manner. The last thing we wanted to do was force anyone to think about something as relatively trivial as international travel at a time like this. We had a lot of fun doing these tours and such with our partners and it gave us hope and kept us grounded and remembering what our passion was. 

Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat? 

John Rabenau: Yes, we did. The grant that we received subsidized a promotion that we were able to run that offered travelers significantly reduced itinerary pricing if they were willing and able to travel within an allocated timeframe. We also developed a PPC campaign with the grant which was interesting and fruitful.

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