Curio and Curio-ser: Botánika Osa Peninsula is Set to Break Ground

Curio and Curio-ser:  Botánika Osa Peninsula is Set to Break Ground

Paul Collar

Paul is a geologist and engineer and publishes this newspaper.  You may reach him at paul@osagroup.org

Last November Hilton™ made the anticipated announcement of the latest addition to its Curio suite of properties: The Botánika Osa Peninsula. The fanfare caps years of development plans by Crocodile Bay Resort, where the luxury development is scheduled to break ground, according to Director of Hotel Operations Cory Williams, in coming weeks. The luxury resort and hotel will consist of 104 condos ranging from studios to three bedroom units, distributed among four main buildings that are slated to occupy the property where Crocodile Bay Lodge has operated Central America’s largest sport fishing operation since 1999.

Hilton’s Curio collection comprises a suite of privately owned luxury hotels around the world, each remarkable for its own distinctive features and settings, the collection bound by the Hilton brand’s standards of luxury, elegance, and client expectations. Each of the 104 units of Curio’s Botánika Osa Peninsula is slated ultimately for private ownership in which each owner is able, as desired, to make his or her unit available for hotel lodging when the units are not occupied by the owners. The operation and management of the facility will not be undertaken by Hilton but by the Botánika ownership and management team. Williams reports that the estimated staffing demand of 160 personnel will be met with local talent, including all of the staff that presently supports Crocodile Bay Resort’s hotel operation, as well as new personnel to be sourced for the greater demand required to operate Botánika.

Beside the 104 units themselves, the facility will boast a conference center, a swimming pool and pool bar, exercise and training center, a technology lounge, spa, restaurant and bar, juice bar, concierge service, and other on-grounds features. Guests will enjoy the full range of tour opportunities for which the Osa is well known, including wildlife and jungle tours, bird-watching, Corcovado National Park outings, gold panning, whale and dolphin watching, canopy / zip-line tours, kayaking around the gulf and in the adjacent mangrove swamp, gulf motorboat tours, even sport fishing, in short everything that brings tourism to the peninsula.

 

As you know,” Beau Williams, Crocodile Bay Resort General Manager, points out, “our sport fishing operation is seasonal. Yet the Osa is full of ecotourism activities to enjoy all year round. We expect our Botánika clientele to capitalize on this and for our operational model to be year round and not so much seasonal.”

And how does the fabled Crocodile Bay Marina, the source of strong opinions pro and con during its fifteen years of planning and permitting, fit into this?

“Botánika is slated for a May 2018 opening,” Cory explains. “As soon as we have finished construction and start to operate the new residences, we’ll start focusing on the construction of the Marina project. We expect this phase of our development to take another two years to complete.”

“And Crocodile Bay Resort,” I ask, lifting my hands around me. “What becomes of all this?”

“It won’t exist anymore.” Cory says. He is seated at his desk, not around the conference table where I sit with Beau Williams at the end, David Belinko across from me.

“It’s not a remodel,” smiles Beau. “It’s a replacement.”

“What about your lodging, this office building?”

Cory waved it all away with a flick of his fingers.

“The pool?” I pleaded. “Surely you have your pool folded into the plan for the new digs.”

“Wait’ll you get a load of the new one,” Beau grins.

“Why Hilton? Why Marriot, Hyatt, Intercontinental or others? What does a brand like that give you?”

“Well,” chimes in David Belinko, leaning into the table, the fire in his eyes and smile anchored by the confidence in his lightly-accented baritone.

“A globally recognized brand accomplishes a few important objectives,” he states confidently and patiently, surely for the zillionth time. “First and foremost; the Hilton group of hotels has over 60 million Honors Loyalty Members of which 52% booked vacations last year alone. This represented over 140 million room nights. It is an obvious advantage to have such a devoted client list that we fully expect will want to visit Botánika frequently. Now combine that with the fact that an iconic global brand comes with an assurance of excellence and quality, which comes from extensive vetting from the Hilton brand itself, and this lends itself to a level of comfort to those who might not otherwise travel to such an exotic destination like the rain forest of Costa Rica.

“The Curio Suite is an upscale line with an aesthetic that is a natural fit for what the Osa Peninsula has to offer discerning travelers looking for the very best. But beyond the rolodex and vetting by an international icon, a global brand is its own imprimatur of quality and excellence, a guarantee of standards that discriminating clientele expect and reward with patronage.”

“So Crocodile Bay Resort is yesterday’s news, and Botánika Osa Peninsula this week’s headline?”

“Crocodile Bay will continue to operate during the build out period,” Cory explains. “Once completed, we will close our existing hotel, and future guests will be able to book their hotel stays and sport fishing trips directly through Botánika.”

I am thinking of the town hall meetings a couple years ago, the years of environmental permitting, the court challenges and law suits, all the hurdles this group has powered through, the loud and vocal shouts of a resolute environmental activist minority against broad popular sentiment that the project is good for the peninsula and will bring jobs and investment. “It’s been a long road,” I point out.

“A project of this caliber and scope in Costa Rica will always face some opposition and challenges,” Cory replies. “My hope and expectation is that once the hotel is built and operating, our efforts will be seen as net positives for not just the economy and local society but also for the environment and protection of sensitive ecosystems that our clientele expects as part of their experience.”

When I moved back to the Osa in the year 2000 Cory Williams was 20 years old and respectfully gathering into his arms a formidable nascent enterprise, the likes of which the Osa had never seen before. Together with Beau, the Williams brothers have now spent nearly half their lives in Puerto Jiménez and married and sired children here. The brain-child of their father, Robin Williams, Crocodile Bay Lodge revolutionized local tourism when it opened in 1999 and quickly grew into the largest sport fishing operation in all of Central America. Presently employing 85 staff and boasting a fleet of 40 boats and its own private pier, the contributions Crocodile Bay Resort has made to the economy and tourism reputation of the Osa is inestimable. Belinko’s backstory is altogether different. He reports being coaxed out of retirement for this swan’s song launch on the heels of a career in resort development around the world. His business card job title reads: “The Man behind the Man,” and I sense he has the chops to swing such moxie. His efforts toward the now finalized project plans include a number of sharp visuals, including stunning videos highlighting the Osa Peninsula and the town of Puerto Jiménez, and behind the scenes of course surely endless hours, weeks, months, and years of persuasion, advocacy, and wheeling and dealing.

“Our price range is from the $200s for a studio which sleeps 4 comfortably to approximately $700 thousand for a 3 bedroom fully equipped luxury suite which sleeps up to 10 people. We also have a presidential Penthouse Suite with a private landscaped rooftop terrace, featuring an 8 person Jacuzzi, and lounging and dining areas; as well we have a few ground floor villas which are fully landscaped with direct access to the pool and amenities. These unique homes will be priced in the $1 million range and more.”

“And how many remain available for purchase?”

“Within the next week or two we will be sending out offer-to-purchase contracts to all interested parties. Up until today we have not had the mechanics to actually pen any contracts. Not only were we missing offer to purchase contracts, but it has taken time to price the units and to itemize the various associated costs of ownership, such as HOA fees. But today we are completely structured to start selling. What is notable and most important though is the fact that we have enough deposits on hand to completely sell out the entire first phase of our offering; and it is for this reason that we have abandoned the concept of phasing our offering into 2 phases. Originally we had planned to release Phase I for a total of 52 units in February, and approximately a year later release phase II for an additional 52 residences. Instead, based on the critical mass of potential purchasers that we have already, we are releasing all 4 buildings for a total of 104 private branded Rainforest Residences all at once. We are confident to be completely sold out before construction ends.”

I turn back to Cory. “Is there anything in particular you would like our readership to take away from our little visit?”

“One of the arguments against our efforts, which I found particularly frustrating, not to mention . . . flat out wrong,” Cory replies, “is this inaccurate notion that our current employees, as well as the people of Puerto Jimenez, are not skilled enough to work at a luxury resort, and that for this reason all of the jobs would have to be filled by non-locals. I can tell you that nothing could be farther from the truth. Crocodile Bay’s success today, and the reason we have one of the highest guest return rates in the industry, is due to the incredible efforts and character of the staff we have. The same will be true for Botánika.
Every one of our current employees at Crocodile Bay will continue to work with Botánika. The guarantee of excellence in our branding partnership with Hilton will only mean more local jobs, access to higher paying jobs, and a wide range of training programs that will teach new talent sets and skills. We’re going to fill our staffing demands locally, from Puerto Jimenez and the whole canton of Golfito. Our employees will be boosted by world-class training and educational opportunities that will forever contribute to the excellence and improvement of personnel and staff not just here at Botánika but also for Puerto Jimenez and beyond. I am particularly proud of my team at Crocodile Bay and I have no doubt that they will all help make Botánika Osa Peninsula a great success as well.”

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