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Breaking Travel News interview: Rob Harper, director of business development, Namu Travel Group

Breaking Travel News interview: Rob Harper, director of business development, Namu Travel Group

Leading Central American travel company Namu Travel Group specialises in personalised, boutique vacations to Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua.

The Namu family, which now employs 60 full time professionals in three countries, consisting of Costa Rican Vacations, Costa Rica Fishing Pros, Panama Vacations and Nicaragua Vacations, was founded in 1999 with a simple blog, Costa Rica Pages.

Here we catch up with Rob Harper, the company’s director of business development to discuss the group’s growth, recent re-brand and to take a look ahead.

BTN: What was the thinking behind the name Namu?

Rob Harper: Our name, Namu, is Bribri for “jaguar”, one of Costa Rica’s (and Latin America’s) most sacred animals.

The Bribri are today one of the nation’s largest indigenous tribes, residing in the Talamanca Mountains near Puerto Viejo and Cahuita.

The stunning JW Marriott in Panama

BTN: What can travellers expect from the Namu Travel experience?

RH: A highly customised, customer service-centric experience.

The Namu experience begins with a detailed telephone interview with one of our in-country Vacation Specialists offering Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua.

Our certified specialists are fully trained on-site in Latin America and most continue to reside here full time. 

They understand the local product better than anyone—frequently staying in partner hotels, participating in tours and exploring every corner of our destination offerings.

This ‘boots on the ground’ approach allows our guests complete access to detailed, local and insider information. 

Planning an amazing vacation is not simply selecting the right hotel or tour. 

Vacation design, rather, includes knowledge of the best restaurants and cafes, the most personable guides and picturesque locales. 

Our Specialists have the local experience needed to share that knowledge. 

The end result is a highly customised vacation that has been hand-crafted to fit the specific interests of your family or group. 

BTN: What is unique about the Namu travel experience?

RH: Our ‘Local-ness’: We live full time in Central America and have a presence in every country that we book. 

Two main advantages come to mind here; firstly, unmatched knowledge. 

No organisation matches the knowledge and expertise of our sales and customer experience teams. 

With almost 30 full time Vacation Planners, they have over a combined 100 years of experience living in Central America. 

The spectacular Puna Caracol Aqua Lodge in Panama

Second is our 24/7 customer service. 

Clients are often pleasantly surprised when they realize that we’re available at any time they need us for whatever reason. 

Given that we’re local and that we’ve been in business for almost 15 years, not only do we know most of the owners and managers of our core hotel partners, they are close friends.

That puts is in an extremely unique position to be able to focus on the client experience, whether that be special amenities or free upgrades prior to arrival or immediate resolution of any problems or issues that may arise during your trip. 

Rarely do we encounter a problem that can’t be fixed within the hour to the client’s satisfaction. 

As well, we encourage clients to reach out to us not just with issues but with routine questions. 

We’re happy to provide restaurant recommendations, hotspots for evenings out etc…

BTN: What are some of the unique services you offer?

RH: We offer a 100 per cent Satisfaction Guarantee, an Expedited Customs and Immigration Service which we affectionately refer to this as our ‘Airport Meet n’ Greet as well as customised Itineraries.

We don’t offer ‘cookie cutter’ trips. 

Anything that is seen on our website can be mixed and matched with one another - we simply illustrate there both what we know to be popular combinations of trips and to give clients an idea of what we do. 

BTN: Can you comment on the recent re-brand? What was the thinking behind it?

RB: We currently operate in three countries: Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua.

In each country, we operate as a very specific brand (Costa Rican Vacations, Panama Luxury Vacations and Nicaragua Vacations). 

We’re really focusing hard on our existing client base rather than constantly finding new customers - meaning, we are trying to create more of a network of repeat and referral clients. 

We were finding that these clients didn’t even really know that these three smaller brands were all part of the same organisation. 

We want to have more long-term relationships with clients. 

So, step one was to bring it ‘all together under one roof.’ 

Finca Nosara, Nicoya in Costa Rica for something a little different

BTN: In what ways are you using technology to streamline the travel experience for users?

RH: Great Question. The software that we use in our office is proprietary - we built it, we own it and we customize it to our needs. 

Our neat name for it is ‘FrogLog.’ 

It does just about everything for us (reservations, finance payments, manage our partner contract data etc…). One other really cool thing that it does is email electronic itineraries to our clients. 

For our main hotel partners, we have made our own videos, which are embedded in these electronic itineraries. 

BTN: Do you have any new destinations in the pipeline?

RH: Nothing definite, but we are looking with a lot of interest at adding vacations to Belize towards the end of this year.

BTN: Which ‘vacations’ have been popular in 2013/14?

RH: I would say that these below are often the most popular: Costa Rica package, Family package, and Insiders Panama.

BTN: Are you seeing any signs of increased demand for particular destinations this year?

RH: Nicaragua. We’re definitely seeing more and more demand for this ‘hot’ country at the moment. 

In particular Mukul Resort has been popular.

Buena Vista Villas, Manuel Antonio

BTN: Can you comment on any travel trends that we are seeing?

RH: We’re seeing a big increase in family travel.

BTN: What are your main priorities for the rest of 2014?

RH: Main priorities are interacting more with our existing client base by setting up our Loyalty Program and also creating a network of good, quality travel agencies that will consistently refer business to us. 

We’re great at creating stories for a lifetime and want to help others do the same.

BTN: What are the biggest challenges ahead for Namu Travel Group?

RH: Boy, that is a tough one, you’ll have to let me think about that!