Pelland Blog

It’s All About Customer Service

December 11th, 2016

Returning from a recent vacation in Ecuador, I had time to pause and reflect upon the extraordinary customer service that my wife and I consistently experienced in our travels in a country that is doing everything imaginable to brand itself as the next major tourism destination. Far from being random instances where we were lucky enough to encounter that rare employee who cared, we found that customer service that extended far beyond all reasonable expectations was the rule rather than the exception. Let me outline a few specific examples. Then ask yourself if you and your staff are doing everything possible to make your guests feel special. It is my belief that the businesses that we encountered in Ecuador represent the new standard that will separate the winners from the losers in the hospitality industry. It is no longer about price. I believe that your next wave of guests will make their decisions based upon the customer service extended.

Casa Divina Lodge

During one leg of our trip, we rented an SUV and drove from the coastal city of Guayaquil through the Andes Mountains to the capital city of Quito. Along the way, one of our stays was at Casa Divina Lodge, high in the cloud forest of Mindo. On our way, we had the misfortune to find ourselves in a very awkward situation with the Transito police near Santa Domingo, thanks to an expired registration certificate on the vehicle that we rented from Thrifty Car Rental. The police did not speak English, we did not speak Spanish, and they were demanding a bribe. We called Casa Divina Lodge, and the manager intervened on our behalf, reducing the bribe that we were forced to pay and allowing us to continue our journey.

Upon our arrival in Mindo, Efrain Toapanta, the owner of Casa Divina met us in the center of town and escorted us to the eco-resort that he had built himself. Otherwise impossible to find, the resort is hidden in the forest some 5 kilometers from the center, and its owner trucked our suitcases in a wheelbarrow from the parking area to our second-level lodging. Meals were catered to our special dietary needs, and Efrain arranged for a local ornithologist to take us out for a lengthy session of birding where, with his assistance, we identified 74 species of birds in one day.

Molino San Juan

Our next stay was at Molino San Juan, in the shadow of Cayambe Volcano and on the outskirts of the city of Cayambe. The hospitality that was extended to us here, part of the family owned and operated Hacienda La Copañia, was truly remarkable. During our off-season stay, we were the only guests at what is considered the “hotel” of the hacienda, but Jaime Pallares, its owner/manager (who had previously worked with Hilton Hotels) gave us more undivided attention that one might expect to be afforded to a full house. For example, during the first night of our stay, just in case we needed anything, he slept in an upstairs guestroom rather than going home for the night!

Heated living spaces are not the norm in Ecuador, and our desire for greater warmth in our room was met with additional blankets, a space heater in our room, and hot water bottles in our bed. As part of our visit, we were given a personal tour of the Hacienda’s rose showroom. (The region is the world’s third largest producers of roses.) Displaying dozens of artistic arrangements, the roses are replaced every three days, ensuring that the blossoms are always nothing less than perfect – even if they are only to be seen by two guests. In addition to our personal tour of the hacienda grounds, museum, historic Jesuit chapel, and rose showroom, Jaime researched and arranged the finest possible guide service for our visit to Cayambe Volcano.


The Carlota is a new boutique hotel in the historic district of Quito. From the moment that we arrived, we were greeted by name and made to feel right at home. Operations Manager Nydia Vargas did everything possible to ensure that we enjoyed our stay, even modifying her work schedule so she could be on desk when we might require her assistance. When we were unfamiliar with the area and needed to visit a nearby ATM, she had an employee escort us. When the weather was rainy, she reserved two umbrellas for our use. When we had two large bags of clothing to be laundered, she negotiated a significant discount with the hotel’s laundry service provider.

When we were checking out, we asked if the hotel could provide us with water in plastic bottles that we could take to the airport. (Their usual water is served in glass bottles.) Without hesitation, Nydia asked the waiter to get us two bottles of water (after first asking us if we needed more than two.) It was not until he reappeared a minute or two later that we realized that he had been sent to a nearby store to purchase the water bottles on our behalf. Are you beginning to get a feeling for the exceptional level of service at this hotel? The Carlota was once the home of a former President of Ecuador, and we were made to feel presidential!

What Is Your Park Doing that Makes It Special?

I have far more stories that I could relate, if space allowed, not the least of which would be our experience spending a week on a the M/Y Grace, a small yacht in the Galapagos Islands, where a dozen passengers were outnumbered by thirteen crew members. I think I have made my point, and I have already related my experiences in TripAdvisor reviews, where I now have 110,000 readers. Ask yourself what you can do that goes the extra mile for your guests, offering a service that would never be made available by your contemporaries. Standards and expectations in the world have changed, as baby boomers and subsequent generations finds themselves with disposable incomes but limited amounts of leisure time. Travel yourself, if necessary, and I think you will soon recognize that customer service has become mission-critical to your park’s success.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Tourism in a Small World

November 4th, 2016

My wife and I recently returned from a vacation in Ecuador, a country that is aggressively attempting to position itself as an international tourism destination. It has much going in its favor, not the least of which are the country’s distinctive natural beauty, its remarkably friendly people, the U.S dollar as its official currency, and the fact that a non-stop flight from Miami to Guayaquil takes only 4 hours and 20 minutes and costs only about $500.00.

The country’s major economic strengths are oil (currently in a depressed market), agriculture (it is the world’s largest producer of bananas, but is also a major producer of cocoa, corn, sugar cane and coffee, among other crops), flowers (it is the world’s third largest producer of cut flowers and poised to become the world’s largest producer of roses), and eco-tourism (from the Galapagos Islands to the Amazon Basin.)

Over the course of nearly three weeks, we spent time visiting several of the country’s national parks, exploring the coastal region (still recovering from the deadly earthquake of April 2016), driving through the Andes Mountains to the capital city of Quito, visiting the cloud forest near Mindo, reaching 15,000 ft. elevations in the volcanic region around Cayambe, gaining an appreciation for the cultural heritage of Quito itself, and spending a “Bucket List” week communing with endemic and endangered species in the Galapagos Islands.

The Ecuadorian cloud forest at Mindo.


Wherever we roamed, everybody seemed to be searching for that magic bullet that would turn Ecuador into one of the world’s leading tourism destinations. What everyone also seemed to recognize was that the country was caught in a Catch-22 scenario, where it needed tourism dollars to help to develop its infrastructure (in fact, there is currently a 2% national sales tax surcharge that is designated toward earthquake recovery efforts) but it also needed to have an improved infrastructure in place in order to attract international tourists. Not coincidentally, I saw my first television commercial to promote tourism in Ecuador on CNN just last week, following up on the $3.8 million that it spent to advertise in the Super Bowl back in 2015.

What I consistently witnessed were grassroots groups of local businesses, banding together to formulate plans where there is strength in numbers and where “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” I could not help but think of the strengths within campground associations, tourism offices and chambers of commerce that are all too often taken for granted by both their members and those who choose not to be involved.

The infrastructural challenges in Ecuador are significant to say the least. Tourism-related businesses need to embrace the English language at a faster pace, and the highway system, GPS navigation, and driving are all absolute nightmares. (Ask me to tell you our story about being stopped at a police roadblock and being forced to pay a bribe in order to proceed!) Over the course of driving some 1,000 kilometers, it is no surprise that we did not encounter a single RV or a single campground, although we easily encountered 1,000 speed bumps. On the other hand, what campground owner, RV dealer, or camper here in the United States would not be ecstatic to see a government-regulated price of regular gasoline at $1.480 per gallon? (Yes, per gallon, not per liter!)

Countries like Ecuador are on the rise in the growth of their tourism industries, and tourism should always be viewed in a small world perspective, lest we find ourselves resting on our laurels and suddenly left behind in the dust. It is a fact that fully half of the country’s tourism dollars are currently spent in the Galapagos Islands; however, the rest of the country is actively seeking growth in its regional market shares, where there is nowhere to go but up. Perhaps the single greatest strength is the dedication and resourcefulness of its people, and the extraordinary efforts that they are willing to put into customer service.

In the end, it is those differences in customer service that will separate business winners from losers, both locally and on an international scale.

This post was written by Peter Pelland