Costa Rican hotel owners started using keyword naming conventions long before SEO or the industry it represents existed.
If you don’t make your living in advertizing then SEO may be the most important acronym you’ve never heard.
SEO is Search Engine Optimization which at the time the term was invented simply meant using good descriptions, keywords and labels on a website so that search engines like Yahoo! and Google could figure out what the pages were really about.
It’s grown into a catchphrase for an interaction between marketers, the platforms (like search engines, social media, the nightly news) and the audience (anyone with money to spend) which controls the presentation of nearly everything you see and hear. It’s more powerful than politics or religion.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
World domination is discussed elsewhere. This post is about the names of hotels in Costa Rica and how the “Arenal Volcano Hot Springs Resort and Spa Rainforest Eco-Lodge” came to be.
Costa Rica has a long tradition of reducing, re-using and recycling when it comes to names. There are at least 50 places named San José depending on how detailed your map is.
Since this is obviously hopelessly confusing the individual place names are appended with the names of their larger neighbors, the canton (county), the province or the region until it’s specific to one place. So you end up with San José de Buenos Aires de San Isidro de El General.
The local name may be completely different than the one used by the Instituto Geográfico Nacional for government documents which may be completely different than the name used by the highway department.
To add to the confusion due to the futility of attempting to use real names places often acquire nicknames. That’s how the capital of the country became El Chepe which appropriately enough is completely meaningless, just a word made up as a nickname for José – people or places.
Hotel Names as Keywords
When ecological tourism began to take off in the mid-seventies there was an Arenal Lodge, a Hotel Fortuna, and the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Within twenty years there were over a fifty accommodations in the region and another twenty years later it’s approaching a hundred.
And they all want their name to tell their story. So after “Arenal Lodge” came “Arenal Volcano Lodge” followed by “Arenal Volcano View Lodge.” Someone realized that was starting to get silly so instead of continuing down that path they started branching by replacing “View” with “Vista,” “Overlook,” and “Mirador.” When those ran out they looked around for the next most important designator and decided it was either “paradise” or “hot springs” so there are a few variations on those as well.
Now Add Internet SEO
When the internet took over as the only way anyone ever finds anything the SEO professionals added another layer. “No one searches for ‘hotel’ when they’re going on vacation in the rainforest. ‘eco-lodge’ is a much more popular long tail keyword association. You need to change the name.”
Complicated enough for you yet?
Making Things Tough on Travelers
Costa Rica has another long tradition and that’s “never take down a perfectly good sign.” I’ve memorized dozens of places around the country where I don’t slow down one bit even though a series of signs warn “Danger,” “One Lane Road Ahead,” and even “Yield to Oncoming Traffic.” I don’t slow down because I know from experience that they rebuilt the road three years ago and it’s not only back to two lanes it’s got big shoulders and a real drain culvert under it.
So a hotel that evolved from hotel, to lodge, to eco-lodge as they planted more trees in the pasture out back might have signs along the road, out front and over the reception desk that all have different names and of course on the internet you can call yourself anything you want just by typing it in.
“So what?” you may say, “sounds quaint and charming.” It is but it also leads to some real problems.
Reviews and Recommendations
When you’re looking for hotels on the internet to plan your trip you’d probably like to know which reviews and rates go with which actual hotel and it can be confusing.
When looking at TripAdvisor we sometimes have to pull a property’s phone number and GPS longitude and latitude from our database to compare with the ones on the review to be sure we’ve found the right listing.
An even bigger problem arises when the travelers writing the reviews get the name wrong and review one hotel under the listing for another. Having been to most of the hotels in Costa Rica it’s easy for us to look at the photos included with the review or read the details of the visitor’s complaint and figure out if they’re actually talking about the right hotel. If you’ve never been and are trying to do research it’s not so obvious.
Sometimes hotel and lodge owners try to have the reviews corrected but TripAdvisor is notoriously unresponsive and if the proprietor responds on the review they’re often shouted down as being dishonest and self promoting.
Once you figure out for sure that you’re reading the right reviews make sure Expedia/Travelocity/Priceline etc. are reserving the right hotel for you. If you find a $99 room rate it’s probably not actually at “The Springs” super luxury resort because we have the net and rack rate sheet from the hotel including all specials and there’s nothing on it for less than half that price. It’s possible that it’s a pretty good price for some other hotel and hot springs but if you’ve been browsing the photos at The Springs you’re going to be disappointed if you accidentally reserve somewhere else through an online booking site.
The biggest complaint we hear from people using GPS navigation is “it took me to the wrong place.” It didn’t take them to the wrong place. It took them precisely to the place they requested; they simply requested the wrong place.
Zoom out or get a map, or do both so you have an overview of where you’re headed. Blindly following the little blue arrow and “turn right in 100 feet” may lead to unwanted adventures. Make sure your GPS has the same destination in mind as you do.
Remember it’s not just getting the hotel name right (and hoping that the GPS mappers got it right too) but you need to get the geographical place name right as well. With dozens of La Fortunas, San Idiros and Buena Vistas to chose from mixed together with dozens of Hotel Paradises you can easily end up 200 km from where you wanted to go if you blindly follow the turn by turn navigation without looking at the big picture.
Don’t laugh, we’ve actually gotten calls on our emergency contact line from travelers who’ve done it.
One of Our Favorites
Hotel Arenal Rabfer. We’re no linguists but we’ve got pretty good vocabularies and Rabfer didn’t sound familiar in any language. When we asked they explained that there were too many Ecos, Springs, and Views out there already so they used a family name. Four of them actually. The initials of their children – Randy, Brayan, Felipe and Roberto.
Not only is it an unforgettable name that stands out from the crowd but it’s a great little place to stay in La Fortuna. Spotless and relatively modern rooms surround a swimming pool on a quiet side street an easy walk from the central park and all of the restaurants, bars and souvenir shops downtown. Recommended.