In this series I am catching up with hotel GMs, owners and suppliers. This time I sit down with Veronika Sicher de Cubero, co-owner of Costa Rican incoming agency Bella Aventura, a specialist in organising anything from a single adventure to bespoke trips and packages.
Veronika, you are originally from Austria, quite a long way from Costa Rica. How did you end up in San Jose?
I first came to Costa Rica about 12 ago years for a practical training semester during university. I immediately fell in love with this beautiful country and – why should I deny it – with Esteban, who today is my husband. After finishing my studies I traveled and worked in the cruise line industry for a while before finally settling down in Costa Rica for good in 2006.
What do you like most about Costa Rica?
What I like most about this small country is its big diversity: within a couple of hours driving you can find everything from cool cloud forests to tropical rain forests or pristine beaches, not to mention the amazing variety of plants and animals. And I just love the fact that you can get all these wonderful fruits and vegetables all year round. Every Saturday morning I go to our local farmers’ market, the taste of a fresh sweet pineapple or papaya is just priceless!
What motivated you to open your own agency, Bella Aventura?
After I settled in Costa Rica I was working for a big incoming tour operator for the first three years. This is where I noticed an increasing demand for personalised vacation packages for clients willing to spend a little extra in return for a truly individual tour. I felt that this could be a great opportunity for business: a local tour operator specialised in tour packages for individual travellers seeking unique travel experiences! Opening Bella Aventura with Esteban was just a natural next step.
How does Bella Aventura differentiate itself from other players on the market?
Esteban is from Costa Rica and we both live and love it here. We plan our journeys extremely thoughtfully and know most of the hotels, lodges and providers personally. All our travel programs are tailored to our clients’ individual preferences. We also aim to meet our customers in person and most of the time Esteban will welcome them at the airport. Also, our prices are fair. Of course, the first-class service we offer has its price, but we believe the best doesn’t always have to be the most expensive. We pay a lot of attention to fulfilling our customers’ wishes and expectations while meeting their budgets. Last but not least, we are fast! Most of the time you will have our reply in your inbox within 24 hours and it can actually be quite fun planning a trip with Bella Aventura because we have a good sense of humour and love our job! But seriously, our vision is to be among the leading incoming tour operators in Costa Rica and grow steadily by continuously improving our services. ‘Be open for change and do not fear the unknown’, that’s my personal key to success!
What are the biggest challenges you face?
As in every business, the beginning is though. It takes time to establish your business on the market, find the best distribution channels and of course business capital is an issue, especially for a small family. Our budget for promotion and marketing is limited; therefore our main marketing tool during the first years was and still is receiving new clients through recommendations by other satisfied clients who already travelled with us. A happy client is the best publicity we can have!
And what do you enjoy most about your job?
I love creating unique travel experiences! When we start working on a program, I try to get as much information as possible from our clients first: what are they looking for? Fun and adventure or rather luxury accommodations and relaxation? What is the reason for their trip to Costa Rica? A special celebration, their honeymoon, a family vacation? While we work on the design of a vacation package with our clients, I try to establish a great relationship and people really appreciate our personal approach! I have already had several clients telling me that it was a pity the planning of their vacation was over as they will miss receiving our nice e-mails from Costa Rica. It’s this kind of feedback we really love most about our job!
What’s the most unusual request you have received so far and were you able to fulfil it?
The biggest challenge we had was to come up with a unique 55-day honeymoon package for a young couple from Germany. It took us some time to create this almost 2-month itinerary but we were successful! Our clients loved their time in Costa Rica and when we met them at the end of their stay and spent a lovely evening together they were full of great stories about their rather unusual honeymoon. And by the way, they are still married, so I guess we did a pretty good job…
You mentioned Costa Rica’s diversity, from mountainous forests to pristine beaches. Which do you prefer and and how do you spend your free time?
I like both actually. The cool cloud forest in Monteverde or at the Cerro de la Muerte actually reminds me of my home in the Austrian Alps. But at the end of the day I guess I prefer the sun and the beaches! There is nothing better than spending a weekend at one of Costa Rica’s beautiful beaches with my husband and the kids to recharge our batteries! Unfortunately during the high season from November to April we don’t get to travel as much as we’d like to, but during the low season we try to escape from the office as often as we can, traveling around the country and exploring new destinations and ideas for our clients.
What would say is an absolute must-see or must-do in Costa Rica, the one thing to do to make the trip complete?
This is a difficult question as there is so much to do and see and explore but I guess a must-do is to have breakfast at a soda (nb. a small local restaurant) and try some Gallo Pinto, fried rice and beans with spices, served with scrambled eggs, fried plantains and handmade tortillas and of course a big cup of delicious Costa Rican coffee. To me that’s the best way to start an exciting day here! Also, try to include some destinations off the beaten track, like a little known beach in the South or a small village in the cloud forest where chances are high you will spot the beautiful Quetzal, the national bird of the Mayas. Just ask us and we’ll tell you all about it! And of course do interact with locals – at the end it’s always the people and their stories that make a country so very special.
When would you say is the best time to visit?
Always and now! Tropical Costa Rica has two seasons: dry and rainy. The dry season starts in December and lasts until April; the rainy season is from May to November with July and August being generally drier. During the rainy season heavy rain showers should be expected in the afternoons but the early morning hours are usually sunny and dry. Either way, we will make sure you have an unforgettable trip and look forward to seeing you in Costa Rica! Pura Vida!
All photos courtesy of Bella Aventura. Contact Bella Aventura and let them arrange your trip to Costa Rica here.
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