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The Best Surprise Is No Surprise

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Written by Matt   
Monday, 01 September 2008 12:24
Sereia do Mar Panama HotelThe boutique hotel has long characterized Costa Rica as a unique tourism destination, find defying the old-school slogan that, in the hotel industry, standardization was king. While today's Costa Rica is indeed dotted with some of the world's most glamorous hotel chain names, at the heart of Central America's largest tourism thrust was always a smaller, more intimate allure and now, certain spots in neighboring Panama are following suit. In Panama's rural village of Pedasi, a small handful of new boutique hotels are drawing the same forerunning travelers that once made Costa Rica what it is today.

"Boutique Hotels - romance, mystery, something different. The hospitality industry reinvents itself again. Or does it? Small is better. Know your guest. High standards of personal service and attention to the guest's needs and wants. This is not new stuff, but is being packaged in a new way." -Guy Baker of Boutique Hotels Magazine

Boutique hotels are often defined as small establishments, usually under fifty rooms which, focused around a particular theme, offer visitors a kind of personal service not otherwise found in the tourism industry. They have been a way of combating the standardization of the hotel industry and have been linked heavily with the future of new consumer movements.

In Costa Rica, it was the boutique hotel's attention to detail and overall inimitability that catapulted the nation onto the world travel stage. Beach and mountain regions such as Manuel Antonio and Arenal, over the past years, have been a virtual breeding ground for the boutique (and most often luxury) hotel, attracting the adventurous and experience-seeking tourist perhaps more so than any other country in the hemisphere.

Costa Rica's neighbor to the south, Panama, has shown promise in the tourism sector as well, but until recently much of the nation's growth was focused around large generic resorts. Panama's Pacific beaches, just an hour outside the city, are home to both Playa Blanca and Decameron resorts: monstrous hotels regularly criticized for their lack of intimacy and excessiveness in almost every other sense.

Panama's rural regions though, the ones not in the immediate (and some may say greed-laden) limelight of a national real estate boom, give new meaning to the concept of imitation as a form of flattery. Pocket communities such as Boca Chica in David Province, El Valle in Cocle Province, and most recently Pedasi in Los Santos Province are budding as boutique hotel hotbeds which, not unlike Costa Rica in it's early years of development, are seeing great success in attracting the right kind of crowd.

One prime example in Los Santos is Sereia do Mar, a tiny oceanfront hotel in El Ciruelo (just south of Pedasi) which brings off-the-beaten-path travelers, surfers, and nature enthusiasts into their little piece of heaven. And while one might expect amenities to be overlooked in such a small, ahead-of-the-trend project, guests at Sereia do Mar are pleasantly surprised.

Beach in El Ciruelo, PanamaFor starters, every guest has unobstructed ocean views: try telling that to the deskman at an all-inclusive. The hotel sits on a cliff, at the base of a private bay which, if you look closely, affords views of boats (way off in the distance) meandering towards the Panama Canal. Besides being owned and built by one of Panama's top surfing professionals, Sereia do Mar encompasses the boutique hotel in that not only does the staff know your name, but they anticipate requests: from private fishing tours, to surfing lessons, to sunset horseback rides on the beach...the Barcelo has nothing on this level of service. Oh and did we forget to mention? A night runs around fifty bucks!

Like Sereia do Mar, the small handful of boutique hotels in Panama are aimed at a thriving niche market of young, enthusiastic and cultured travelers looking for something other than the normal overpriced room service routine. Such businesses, with unique identities and personalities are able to reflect the lifestyle of their market segment: a feat Panama's tourism board IPAT has long preached, yet hardly had a hand in delivering. It is the entrepreneurs running these establishments who are breaking ground.

The death of "the logo" (meaning the decline of brand-name hotels) in favor of more designer-based niches is certainly a proven movement in Costa Rica, and while Panama's government offers few legal or compensatory incentives to jump on this wagon, it seems that locals and foreigners alike love Panama so much, that it's becoming a natural and organic trend all on its own.

Bonus points to anyone who knows where the title of this article, "The Best Surprise is No Surprise" was used as a slogan for years...use the comment section to place your guess.
Comments (1)Add Comment
written by KimHo , September 03, 2008
The slogan is from Holiday Inn.

On a side note, Panama is not located south of Costa Rica; technically it is south-east, as the border between Panama and Costa Rica runs north/south. But I am sure most people have a gist of what you are implying.
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Last Updated on Monday, 01 September 2008 14:04