Yumiko Sato speaks six languages (English, Japanese, French, Dutch, Spanish and Italian). She grew up (mostly) in Belgium but has travelled extensively throughout her career, and we’re now privileged to have her as our Costa Rica Country Manager (CM).
In April 2023, she was promoted from her role as Discova Costa Rica In-destination Experience (IDE) Leader to her current CM role. She brings with her an incredible wealth of knowledge (not limited to linguistics) and a willingness to learn and grow her team.
We spoke to her recently to give our partners closer insight into not only her role, but the exciting developments Discova Costa Rica has initiated this year.
A haven for biodiversity and mindful, conscious travel, find out what you can offer your travellers here as we expand our product portfolio and responsible travel initiatives in Costa Rica.
“I knew I didn’t want to remain an IDE Leader forever, it was something I had been doing since 2017, and I wanted to grow as a person. I wanted to learn. So when the opportunity came up to be Country Manager, I said, why not. Of course it’s still a transition, because you can’t learn everything in three months.
I think one of my main challenges is that all of my colleagues know the country much better than I do, which is of course normal because they are from here and grew up here. So sometimes I feel like “Gosh, I should know this”, but then I remind myself not to be so hard on myself. It’s a learning process.”
“But thanks to my diverse background and because I was moved around a lot at my previous job [Yumiko used to travel between destinations every six months or so at the company she worked for before joining Discova], I can adapt quite easily.
My team has been super supportive! Are there cultural differences? Of course! But the team has known me for about a year now, so they’ve gotten to understand my approach. They realised that I can be very straightforward sometimes, but they know that this is never intended to be rude or harsh.”
“It’s all about a group effort. DET [Discova Educational Travel] was one big challenge, and also really a success. In March we had Chi Ngo [DET Regional Project Team Leader] come over to Costa Rica to train us on all things educational travel and how to build this segment here, and how to set it all up in the best way possible.”
“We hired a new member [Laura Flaque] to be entirely responsible for DET in Costa Rica in June. And then at the beginning of July, we already had our first student group trip. We had four student groups from UK schools visiting in July in total.
So it all went really quickly. Of course, there were a few hiccups here and there, but everything went quite smoothly. And that for me is a success.
We also hear our country popping up in conversation more and more, and we’re getting increased interest for group series travel from various agents and tour providers, and that’s really encouraging.”
“We have a lot of interest coming through for ATV rides and ziplining, or a “5 in 1” combo tour, which combines five activities all in one experience, at the foot of a volcano. This includes ziplining, horseback riding, the thermal hot pools, and a huge waterslide in the middle of the jungle, and some hiking.”
at the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano in Guanacaste!
“Those particularly interested in nature like to go to Palo Verde, where we offer a boat tour along a nature reserve. You get to see loads of different types of birds, crocodiles, monkeys.
I temporarily had the chance to work as an IDE Host in 2022, and whenever I had guests in Guanacaste, I’d tell them that while this area is great, “go outside of the province and see what Costa Rica is really about, which is nature”. I really recommend our customisable round trips that cover various national parks. Twenty-five percent of the country’s land is protected, and we have 5% of the world’s estimated animal species here. The volcanoes here are also amazing.
And we’re growing more in the multi-day touring segment, which is great, because then travellers get to see more of the country.”
“There are two major reasons for me. The nature and the peaceful atmosphere and people. When you land and arrive, you’re not bombarded by the sight of tons of hotels and resorts. Tourism here is done very differently. There’s an immediate sense of peace when you land at the airport. People are incredibly friendly and warm.
And I always enjoy just seeing the scenery when we’re driving somewhere. Every 10 kilometres or so the climate and landscape can change completely, it’s incredible. One moment it’s raining, the next it’s clear skies and sunny. You won’t find that in many places in the world, and it’s really special that way.”
“Coming to Costa Rica is not your typical beach holiday, there’s so much to see here. It’s a really beautiful country. And what’s great is that “going local and buying local” is really strongly advocated, to support local entrepreneurs and the economy, and also to promote more sustainable practices.
When it comes to the wildlife here too, travellers can visit parks and sanctuaries knowing that animals are incredibly well taken care of. Costa Rica’s laws around nature protection and animal welfare are notoriously strict. We have no zoos. Any animal that you can see “caged” here has been saved and cannot be released into their natural habitat. There is only observation of wildlife, no touching. It’s very regulated.”
“Costa Rica has been a leader in responsible tourism for many years already. Operating responsibly here is automatically easy. For example, 99% of the electricity produced in the country is renewable.
There’s a big emphasis on regenerative farming, producing and buying local, ecotourism, and water safety [about 80% of the country has drinkable tap water, which means plastic bottle usage is a rarity here].
Some national parks have quota limits, so only a certain number of visitors are allowed in each day. And sometimes officials check your backpack, and if they find plastic of any kind in there, you can’t bring it into the park with you.”
“From our own end, we’re currently undergoing the process of getting our CST [Certification for Sustainable Tourism]* and Bandera Azul [Ecologic Blue Flag Program] certificate. These both fall under the ICT [Costa Rican Tourism Board] requirements for tourism businesses. This requires us to work on different projects on a social, economic and environmental level, and ensure that our offices meet the highest sustainability standards and practices. This involves anything from beach clean-ups, hospital donation drives, and improved office trash recycling, to providing advice to local entrepreneurs and new business owners during empowerment workshops.”
“Any time we want to work with a new supplier, our Contracting team does an audit. We have to make sure that suppliers go through health and safety checks, not just for animals [during wildlife excursions], but also for our clients. The same goes for the ziplining, ATVs, the hikes. We have to ensure that there is a safe way to transport clients in the rare case of an accident or emergency, and that the tour guides accompanying them are trained to provide basic medical assistance.
The great thing is that most of the adventure and active tour providers here have the ICT certification we’re currently applying for. So that already guarantees you a certain level of confidence. It’s very difficult to get these certifications so we know that suppliers aren’t simply buying their way into those and have worked hard for them. They already have a high standard of sustainability and animal welfare.”
“This is where our Product Development team comes in. Especially when it comes to multi-day tours. They’re very specific about understanding what our partners want and need for their clients.
We’ve recently designed tours for yoga retreats, and clients have been really happy with that. We now cater to educational travel of course, and Costa Rica is also definitely great for families. It’s safe and it’s fun. People can feel at ease when they come here, whether as a family, couple or solo traveller.”
“Part of our ICT certification process has also involved a course on making people aware and conscious on how women can travel alone and how we can make them feel safe.
Overall, we can easily customise tours to suit the needs of any traveller type.”
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