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Technology Powers a Surfer’s Paradise

Kalon Surf, an all-inclusive resort located in Costa Rica, has found unique ways to improve the guest and staff experience with technology’s help.
Kalon Surf Pool
Image Credit: Kalon Surf Luxury Resort
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Unlike many independent hotel owners, Kjeld Schigt wasn’t born into the hospitality industry, and he didnt go to school for hospitality. Instead, his background is in marketing and branding (with a heavy emphasis on data use). At the beginning of his career, he was employed by multinational companies such as BP, Heineken and Unilever. But then one day, while he was working for BP, he sat down for coffee with a vice president at the company and was asked: What drives you?” At first, Schigt wasnt sure, but after taking some time to really meditate on it he realized that it was making people happy, having an impact on those around him, and being creative.

Once he realized this, Schigt quit his job and began looking for one that would satisfy these desires. But after interviewing at many companies, nothing quite felt right. While talking to his mentor, he mentioned that he wanted to take some time to recharge at a surf camp in Brazil – one he had attended many times before.

However, I mentioned to my mentor that the last few times I had gone, it wasnt as good as it used to be and that led to a conversation of what I would do differently if I owned and ran that business,” Schigt explained. That really made me think about the possibility of owning and operating my own surf resort.”

In January 2012, Schigt arrived in Costa Rica and began building a surf resort that caters to highly skilled professionals (lawyers, doctors, advertising executives, etc.) and teaches them how to surf in a very luxurious setting. The resort not only teaches its guests how to surf, it also offers them coffee tastings, cooking classes, spa services, and gourmet food that is served family style in the dining room to help guests meet and interact with each other.

Technology to Improve Operations

As Schigts surf resort became a popular vacation destination, technology became incredibly important.

Before I implement any technology, I always ask myself: Will this help improve the guest experience or the staff experience?” he notes.

For instance, the hotel uses Flight Aware to monitor guest arrival times at the local airport. Flight Aware sends emails detailing if a flight is on time, delayed, cancelled, etc. Instead of paying someone to monitor those emails, Schigt uses Zapier to extract the data from those emails and automatically send it to the brands logistics chat – in Telegram – for the hotels drivers to monitor. Once the driver has picked up the guests, the hotel uses two GPS technologies to track their car service(Followmee and Life360). This helps on-site staff knows exactly which guest is arriving and when.

Kalon Surf has also found a way to use technology for maintenance requests.

Many software programs that are meant to help hoteliers report and track maintenance requests are cumbersome to use and slow down our staff,” Schigt notes. For us, it makes more sense to report those maintenance requests in Telegram. Then – with the help of Zapier, a business automation tool – a bot will share that information with the correct people who need to fix it, and it immediately goes on a to-do list that we can then monitor. This has helped us act faster and prevents us from ignoring or forgetting about specific requests.”

As an added benefit, this data from Telegram is also fed into a program called Airtable where Schigt can keep track of how many things are breaking, what type of things are breaking, who are breaking them, and how often theyre breaking. Plus, his team can monitor how long it takes maintenance requests to be seen, fixed and marked as completed.

Built Just the Way You Like It

When it comes to build versus buy, Schigt leans heavily into the argument that its better to build your own software. Most of the brands internal systems, from the reservation and booking system, to the payment system, to the PMS were all built in-house. The company also recently added a spa scheduling module and an inventory management system as well.

Companies outside the U.S. are more innovative because most systems dont really work for us. Weve tried to partner with many tech companies. But many software companies want to lock you in and dont have the flexibility to accommodate small independent hotels such as ours. Not only that, youre often paying a lot and it might not actually be helping the customer experience. It might be making it more cumbersome,” he explains.

Additionally, Schigt made the choice not to integrate with any booking channels and instead built a proprietary booking system that sells directly to customers. For this reason, the company has access to an enormous amount of data including: Where did the customer come from (Instagram, Facebook, the website, etc.?), Which ads are working the best? Who are my key customers? What is the current booking lead time? and more. This data is also fed into Airtable where Schigt can review it and learn from it.

In the end, the question of when to build and when to partner with technology vendors really comes down to the guest experience. Schigt emphasizes that the reason hes in this business is because he wants to help his guests create amazing memories that will last a lifetime.

Thats what this business is all about.”


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