Costa Rican Connections: How One Trip Inspired our Business Ethos

Costa Rican Connections:

How One Trip Inspired our Business Ethos

In our third installment of the interview with Julie about her time in Costa Rica, she tells us about how her experience there inpired the ethos behind Mountain Action Holidays.

In what ways has the experience in Costa Rica influenced your business?

I think a lot of people had a problem with sharing accomodation, especially after COVID, which is understandable. Then it was really, really hard to sell the fact that you're going to come and spend the holiday with people you don't know. When we went to Costa Rica, it was a bit like, it's okay, we don't have to have anything to do with the other people on the trip, and then suddenly you're really good friends with them. So it's influenced massively, and we try and encourage it. And I don't think we've ever had a group of saying, "I didn't or we didn't like that. We didn't like the people. We didn't like the experience." It's just great and we get such a buzz out of it. You can see that people are exchanging phone numbers and exchanging emails. We've had people that have left things behind, and we've had clients say, "Well, I'm going back to the UK, I don't mind posting it for them." They're become really good friends. Teenagers come on holiday with their parents in the first couple of days, it's very much like they sit there and they want to look at their phones and by the end of the end of the week, the parents are sat together at the end of the table chatting to the teenagers together. We had one family where the teenagers actually put an alarm on for seven in the morning to go in the hot tub together before breakfast. Our chalet host, Joe remembers turning and wondering, "Have they been to bed? Have they been up all night?" But no, it's just really nice and the families go away, the parents go away and the kids go away and it's just been great. We've met new friends, new experiences, and that all comes back from that feeling that I got when we were in Costa Rica. That's exactly what we want Mountain Action Holidays to feel like, without the murder hut (part 2 of Julie's Costa Rican interview) and we have electricity and hot water!

When did you have your lightbulb moment for creating Mountain Action Holidays?

So I moved to Chamonix, and I’d travelled quite a lot, and just like everyone else I came for a season, but 10 years later I’m still here. I was working for an agency that offered accommodation, just accommodation, a bit like a or an Airbnb or something like that, and it was a local agency, and a lot of people were asking me if I knew anyone who offered activities. I obviously had connections with certain guides here and I just thought nobody really offers the package, yeah there’s the big corporate ones that do it but then you’re in a bunk room with 15 people which was like the Costa Rica experience being in bunk beds and it doesn’t have to be like that. I started to do the research and I found we could do nice food, we can do nice accommodation, just because you do an activity holiday doesn’t mean you have to be in a bunk room with 9 people you don’t know. And that was it really. So I spoke to the local guides and said "Look, this is what I’m thinking of doing," they said "This was fantastic!". This was a really good idea. Instead of them having a 1 day whitewater rafting they would have constant work. But also you get to know the right guides. It was a bit of a gamble because no one was doing it in Chamonix at the time, but actually it's paid off.

Vibrant tropical fruit
Tropical fruit from Costa Rica

What part does your team play in influencing the mood of the group?

After Covid, people were very nervous about interacting, people had forgotten how to go on holiday, so our team, we love our job, there’s probably more to it than people see, that we don’t want people to see. But we talk about it as a team, for instance, this particular person is quite scared of doing a certain activity, and we talk as a team, we work hard to make sure the transition of the holiday is smooth. Because we’re locals we can also give them advice based on their level of experience, if you’re a novice, ok go there, you’re an expert, ok go there. We know the area, having local staff definitely helps and it puts people’s minds at rest. With the team that we have, it is a very important part, the first 2 or 3 days normally takes a little bit of time for people to settle in and then that's it, then we let go of their hands as such and then they get on. Then that’s great as you see the guests will support each other and we support them to start with and then it flicks round where the guests help each other. That’s where the bonding happens between them. We have fun with the clients, it’s a fun job, yes it can be hard work and it can be long hours but we love to hear when the clients have a great day, they’ve tried a new experience that they were so scared of trying and they’ve done it and they’re so pleased with themselves. We get so much joy out of that and when we see these moments of happiness from our clients we get as much out of it as they do.

Person kayaking in a river in Costa Rica
Kayaking in a river in Costa Rica

Does the size of the group influence the group dynamics?

In Costa Rica we were 10 and it might have gone up to 12 at one stage, and we found that the group did split, the nationalities stuck together. Us Brits stuck together, the Irish stuck together, and the Germans stuck together. So I thought right, I’d been on a holiday in the Pyrenees, and there were only 8 of us in a little cottage doing activities and it was perfect, nobody split, everyone stayed together. I just thought, that works and we have done it. This summer we had 14, one week, and we had 3 chalets running. I thought it was too many, but what we found was because everybody ate together, yes the group split but all the whitewater rafters spent the day together and the next day the group would split again in a different way and all the e-bikers went together. So they all came together at dinner, and then they talked about it. So we try and keep the group to 8, also because of transport because of the minibus and everything else. If we do go any bigger, we do try and mix it deliberately. If one family wants to do x activity and another family wants to do another. We try and get them to do it a the same time. So even though they do split, they do all come back together. Whereas in Costa Rica, I remember, even at dinner, if we went on a hike everybody would hike in their little groups and they’d sit all together in their little groups. I think our group was just a bit too big and then you realise on the bus everybody is sat together again so there wasn’t really that interaction. With Mountain Action Holidays we try and get everybody to interact because you never know where your new best mate is going to come from.

What's next for Mountain Action Holidays?

We’ve run out of destinations. We are looking to find new destinations because we’ve got clients who’ve been to all 4 of our destinations and want to know where Mountain Action Holidays is going next. Our clients know that wherever we go, they trust us enough for us to say ok this is going to happen, because they know what our holidays are like. They don't know who they're going to be with but they know it'll be with other nice people.