My work as the general manager of the Nakuti Resort in Playa Panama beach, Costa Rica ended in 2003.(See “My life in Costa Rica Part 4”).
I spent around 6 weeks in Atenas near San Jose, enjoying quality time with my children. They were leaving the house that we had bought in 1993. I received a phone call from my former employers, the Barceló Group who asked me to open a 220 rooms FIVE stars beachfront hotel located in Playa Blanca in Panama (THE COUNTRY!!). Of course I took the job. My marriage was over after 2 years of non-stop discussion and arguments so it was a perfect timing to go away and try to start a new life. I flew to Panama City to meet with the investors and to see the project along with Simon Barceló himself who flew from Dominic Republic to inspect what was going to be a new Barceló Hotel in Panama. The construction was 70% done, located at Playa Blanca, 1 hour from Panama City in front of a white sand beach with an open Blue Diamond ocean, MAGIC!!!
I was staying in the Decameron hotel right next to the future Barceló Playa Blanca Hotel where I was able to see how the 852 rooms all-inclusive 5 stars hotel was running business in Panama; kind of preparing myself with the opening of the Barceló hotel!
The Barceló Playa Blanca was my second grand Opening but this one was bigger and much more luxurious. I was extremely fortunate to be surrounded by a group of professional hotel operators who were coming from the top five stars Barceló hotels in Costa Rica and Uruguay. Before staying permanently on site, I spent a couple of months in Panama City near the corporate headquarters. Panama City is an amazing place with some similarity with Miami Beach; high rise towers, modern buildings, large boulevards and a very Americanized atmosphere; blended with Latino culture. Although my home and my heart was in Costa Rica I had to admit that Costa Rica should have a nice and modern downtown city like Panama; San Jose looks and feels much more like old fashioned Spanish Colonial. Panama “The country” except for his downtown, doesn´t have large secondary towns like in Costa Rica that offer more for expats and tourist than just one big city.
The hotel opened on the day of 100 year Independence Day; more than 35 rooms overbooked. I had to give the bad news to every family that was coming to enjoy their stay in this very luxurious resort. Thank God almost all the guest were native from Panama, very wealthy people that had other mansions or Fincas nearby so they still had somewhere to go spend their vacation! To calm down everyone that was involved with this very delicate situation I offered to double their stay for another time, so if a family had 4 nights booked I was given them 8 days any time they want; Problem solved!!!
After a few days, things were very smooth with the operation and I remember that the most impressive department was animation where we had more than 30 young employees taking care of the guest with so many attractions that kept the clients busy and happy. In the evenings we had a huge stage with different theme shows every nights. I have to admit that the production of my non-experimented animation team did an extraordinary job in the Barceló Playa Blanca resort.
Because this 5 stars hotel was all exclusive it was tremendously important that the Food & Beverages department offered outstanding cuisine and service which we were able to provide from the first day of operation. This is much more difficult than it sounds as all the providers and contractors at the time, were back in the big city, miles away.
I was very happy professionally and personally in Panama, managing over 6 months a very successful 5 stars hotel with more than 220 employees. However I was missing my children too much along with the Pura Vida lifestyle that you only get in Costa Rica so I took the crazy decision to go back home regardless of the achievements that I was able to pull out in Panama. Unfortunately I also had to say goodbye to my gorgeous Colombian girlfriend that I met when I first came in Panama city .
I was VERY lucky to get a new job is less than 2 weeks back in Costa Rica. I was in Playa Hermosa Guanacaste where it always has been my favorite beach place in Costa Rica. I was also glad that it was a small boutique hotel, the “Villa del Sueño”, with a lot less stress to manage as I was now almost 45 years old spending the last 12 years of my life managing large hotels with crazy hours and huge responsibility.
I spent 6 years in Villa del Sueño as a general manager. Because it was a very small hotel I had the privilege to also be the “Maitre d´hotel” at night in which was always my favorite department of the hotel business. The restaurant of Villa del Sueño along with the opening of an open air theater for special event was a very nice experience where I had more human contact with staff and clients than the big resort that I was used to in the past!
To be continue…