Michael Kaye
Photo: Natalie Angier, 2005
Costa Rica
Michael Kaye
  • Founder and CEO, Costa Rica Expeditions (Ecotourism)
Born New York City, United Sates, 1941.
“[C]loud forests are … extremely sensitive to small increases in temperature. So now it’s discernably, and demonstrably, a lot warmer. And so we’ve had to do a lot of creative things to try and change the hotel to be appropriate for a truly different climate.”

Summary

Michael Kaye, widely recognized as one of the entrepreneurial pioneers of eco-tourism in Costa Rica, describes how he came to found Costa Rica Expeditions, a whitewater rafting company, in 1978, and how his subsequently business grew to include tours and hotels. The New York-born Kaye had begun rafting in California in the early 1960s, and co-founded the rafting company Mother Lode in 1970. After selling this company to his partner, Kaye explains how he traveled to Central America and met a Salvadoran woman who became his wife. The couple were drawn to Costa Rica, and Kaye was impressed with its potential as a rafting destination. Using his expatriate status to his advantage, Kaye reveals how he focused on drawing small numbers of North American tourists to a little-known but highly promising destination, and providing them premium service. During the 1980s Kaye also began offering guided tours to country’s national parks, and he bought his first hotel in 1986. Eventually the company owned several other properties, including a hotel at Monteverde, which he built in 1991 to guarantee lodging at the popular destination. The interview is particularly revealing why and how expatriate entrepreneurs came to play such a prominent role in the flourishing eco-tourism industry in Costa Rica, now one of the largest in the world. It is equally revealing about the marketing challenges faced by such eco-tourist entrepreneurs, especially the problem of greenwashing by firms that wanted to free-ride on the green reputation of Costa Rica without seeking to be genuinely sustainable.

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Michael Kaye, widely recognized as one of the entrepreneurial pioneers of eco-tourism in Costa Rica, describes how he came to found Costa Rica Expeditions, a whitewater rafting company, in 1978, and how his subsequently business grew to include tours and hotels. The New York-born Kaye had begun rafting in California in the early 1960s, and co-founded the rafting company Mother Lode in 1970. After selling this company to his partner, Kaye explains how he traveled to Central America and met a Salvadoran woman who became his wife. The couple were drawn to Costa Rica, and Kaye was impressed with its potential as a rafting destination. Using his expatriate status to his advantage, Kaye reveals how he focused on drawing small numbers of North American tourists to a little-known but highly promising destination, and providing them premium service. During the 1980s Kaye also began offering guided tours to country’s national parks, and he bought his first hotel in 1986. Eventually the company owned several other properties, including a hotel at Monteverde, which he built in 1991 to guarantee lodging at the popular destination. The interview is particularly revealing why and how expatriate entrepreneurs came to play such a prominent role in the flourishing eco-tourism industry in Costa Rica, now one of the largest in the world. It is equally revealing about the marketing challenges faced by such eco-tourist entrepreneurs, especially the problem of greenwashing by firms that wanted to free-ride on the green reputation of Costa Rica without seeking to be genuinely sustainable.
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Additional Resources

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Interview Citation Format

"Interview with Michael Kaye, interviewed by Andrew Spadafora, June 5, 2014, Creating Emerging Markets Project, Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School, http://www.hbs.edu/creating-emerging-markets/."