Reverse osmosis: Cultural sensitivity training in the Costa Rican luxury ecolodge setting
This case study portrays a real situation and account of staff training designed to improve staff morale and bridge their intercultural understanding of international visitors, encountered during a 2-month fieldwork at Latitude 10 Exclusive Beach Resort, Costa Rica, in the fall of 2011. The training approach employed by Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality described in this case takes the reader through steps designed to reach common understanding, first among the employees and management of Latitude 10, and then between staff and visitors. Andrea Bonilla who is the co-owner and VP Operations of Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality, visits Latitude 10 with the mission to improve quality of service and staff morale. She facilitates several hands-on experiential workshops and staff team-building exercises over several days of her visit. The emphasis of each exercise is on understanding each person on the team, improving team communication, and understanding the perspective of visitors. Throughout this process, it becomes very clear that management needs to focus on strengthening the team, and only then the collective can reach the goal of exceptional service. Within the mission of strengthening the team lies complex socio-cultural dynamics between local and city employees, those between staff and management, and finally between the staff and international visitors. In addition to the cultural clash of tourist expectations and performance by local staff, the case also connects other intertwined issues of poor employment opportunities in the remote beach destination of Santa Teresa, the question of social and economic sustainability that the management must face, and the continuous relationship-building between tourists and local staff to facilitate meaningful and enriching travel experience.