Mutual Respect Supports Creation of Promising Private Conservation Reserve

Tranquilo Bay’s path to regeneration has been a winding trail with ups, downs, and spills. We didn’t start our business with a defined intention to set up our space within the vocabulary we find in regeneration now, and yet – we did.

Our approach has been more about being a permanent part of the community in which we live. We believe this colors all decisions one makes. When you begin with a permanence mindset and know you are in for a long haul, you make different decisions than if you expect to be around for a season of life.

Because we planned on making Bocas del Toro our home, we took steps to manage our relationships with our neighbors and our community from the beginning. When we completed the survey for the land we were purchasing, we walked the boundaries. We made sure the surveyor drew the survey lines correctly. We spoke to each of our neighbors to ensure we had the limits right. We confirmed that no one else had a stake in the land we were purchasing. We got to know our neighbors, and we began a relationship of mutual respect in these types of matters.

Conservation Reserve Infographic

Dr. Brené Brown tells us that “when we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.” We didn’t want to feel used or mistreated, nor did we want our neighbors to feel that way. So, we set appropriate boundaries and became contributing members of our community.

We applied our values of taking care of your immediate neighborhood to our new home. All our adjacent neighbors became our immediate neighborhood.

Laying this groundwork has been an essential part of the foundation for our business. Mutual respect rather than an assumption of privilege makes for a far better long-term relationship.

What does mutual respect look like? How do you know if it is present or if you are pursuing it?

For us, it meant making sure we knew where the boundaries lay. Then we knew where we stopped, and our neighbors started. It meant we were responsible for our side and not crossing onto their side.

It meant structuring land deals so that both parties had a long-term benefit and relationship. In Bocas del Toro, many people sold their land only to be without cash in a short time because the money came and went. If we were purchasing a piece of land from someone that wasn’t a part of their primary residence, we would buy it straight away because there was no concern about the community’s trajectory. However, whenever we purchased land that was a part of someone’s residence, we took a different path.

We structured a payment plan that worked best for that person and transaction. Structuring it this way gave each party a benefit. The party we were purchasing from had an extended source of regular income. We gave them a sufficient down payment to have a cash bump. They could do something like make significant improvements, buy a boat, or provide a dividend for each of their children. In return, we were able to pay for our investment over time.

Some of the payment plans were based on a set value for the property – those were paid out over a shorter period. Others were based upon a much longer payout where we guaranteed a half-salary for them for many years or until death. While we didn’t know the ultimate price for the land under this setup, we believed it was the right way to support our community.

Learn More About Bocas Eco Lodge’s Remarkable Economic Impact

During the pandemic pause, I studied the Economic Nutrition label that @shorefastfogoisland uses for its social enterprises. In an article entitled “5 Regenerative Solutions For A Positive Future Through Tourism” where @regenerativetravel summarized takeaways from its 2020 Regenerative Travel Summit, Zita Cobb from Shorefast championed radical transparency so that “we can avoid all of the greenwashing and the social washing and the marginalizing of local people, because it’s not dignified for local people, and it’s not dignified for the visitors.”⁣

Her stance, and our studies of our own business, caused us to review our own economic impact. What Shorefast has done and what companies such as Everlane are doing in a retail environment is give the consumer more information about where their money is going. We want to do the same.⁣

Thus we went back and looked at our impact for 2019 since it was a “normal” year. We hadn’t set up our accounting to manage the information as well as we could, but it gave us a baseline to begin from. In 2020 we updated our Chart of Accounts and our regular accounting to better provide information in the future.⁣

Economic Benefit Distribution is a measure of all expenditures made by Tranquilo Bay. Our instance includes Labor & Benefits, purchases from businesses and people within various distances from Tranquilo Bay within Panama, and then those expenses completed outside of Panama. ⁣

Once the number is calculated based on the data within each category, it is then formatted as a percentage of the total company expense.⁣


60% of our expenditures are made within the archipelago and province of Bocas del Toro. An incremental 24% is made within 100 KM of the lodge, so 84% of our expenditures are made within 100 KM of the lodge. We spend about 5% of our total expenditure within Panama but outside of this 100 KM radius which takes all of our spending within Panama to 89%.⁣

So we have 11% of the funds we spend paid to businesses and people outside of Panama itself. We haven’t drilled down into specific items as to whether or not they are made within Panama only from whom we purchase them. One area where we aspire for improvement would be determining where we stand with local goods purchased from grocery stores, etc. We updated our accounting for 2020 to incorporate more detail to calculate that information.⁣

Community Dollar Flow is a measure of all funds that flow into a community because of a particular company. Our instance includes Labor & Benefits, purchases from businesses and people within a 100 KM distance from Tranquilo Bay, gratuities left for staff, donations made within a 100 KM distance from Tranquilo Bay, and volunteer hours provided within 100 KM distance from Tranquilo Bay. Once the number is calculated based on the data within each category, it is then formatted as a percentage of the total company expense.

It is possible to exceed 100% of company expenses within the direct community because the inputs are broader. We are not there yet, but we can continue to aspire for improvement.

This is a graphic example of Community Dollar Flow. ⁣

  1. Labor and benefits paid to or on behalf of our staff.⁣
  2. Purchases from people and businesses within 100 KM of Tranquilo Bay. This includes both goods and services. A local tour, transportation, and food vendor would all be included within this category.⁣
  3. Gratuities left for our staff outside of our guides. Our guide tips tend to be direct, and we do not account entirely for these amounts.⁣ Beginning in 2022, we will also include the guide tips as appropriate.
  4. Donations, either in cash or in-kind, made by Tranquilo Bay or our guests within 100 KM of Tranquilo Bay.⁣
  5. Volunteer hours provided by lodge ownership, staff, or guests within 100 KM of Tranquilo Bay. These hours are accounted for at local labor or consulting levels as they are all provided in kind.⁣

    Taking the total of each of these categories into consideration, for 2019, 97% of our expense level flows directly into the community within 100 KM from Tranquilo Bay. This differs from the 89% of our direct expenses within Panama. We have also added categories three, four, and five, which are contributions to the community yet are not a direct expense.⁣

We now look at this information monthly to ensure things are staying in line and heading in the direction we want. We won’t update it annually until we have a full year of business, and we didn’t have that in 2020 or 2021. We are hopeful that in 2022 we will be open the entire year.⁣

Decommissioning and Commissioning a Communications Tower

communicationstowerHere at Tranquilo Bay we have two towers. One, that we commissioned in the summer of 2005, for our communications and a second one, that we commissioned in January 2013 for wildlife observation. Later this week, beginning on July 14, we will decommission the communications tower and replace it with a new one. We anticipate that the changeover will take us less than a week’s time.

We have learned a lot in the years since we installed the first tower. One of the things we have always tried to do is use the best materials we could afford so that our maintenance would be less expensive and time-consuming in the long run. At the time we purchased the communications tower in 2004 we had limited choices about materials, etc. here in Panama. So, we installed what was available at the time.

Thirteen years later the communications tower needs to be replaced. The tower we are replacing it with is made of better materials and will not need to be replaced for a longer time. Thus – it will be something the Tranquilo Bay children are responsible for when the time comes.

As such, we will be out of touch for about a week’s time. We will have radio communications via VHF and some cellular connection while the process is underway. We will also travel over to Isla Colon to check emails, phone calls, etc. every few days.

We believe that we will be without Internet and telephone communications other than on a delayed basis for up to a week through July 21, 2018.  Please understand that we will get back to you – but it may take longer than usual to do so.  Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Building a StoryBrand PodCast

StoryBrand is a great group of people who help business clarify their message. Donald Miller began the company some years ago as he learned how to simplify his own message.  I have been interested in his books and other products for some time.  I signed up for his newsletters, emails, etc. and watched as his company grew.

StoryBrand did grow and it offered a live workshop to help other companies clean up the information they offer to prospective clients.  Given our location, heading to Nashville for a live workshop wasn’t in the cards so I hoped they would offer an online workshop as they have done for other products.  They did.  Yet, I still didn’t discuss it directly with Jim and Jay.  I kept absorbing all the information the company put out publicly and incorporated it as best I could.

Fast forward to spring 2016.  It was time to update the website and I knew it really needed an overhaul.  StoryBrand offered the online workshop again so I talked to Jim and Jay about it.  We decided to make the investment.  As soon as I finished the school year with the kids I dug into the class.  Then I edited the website and edited it some more.  It was a challenging process, but absolutely worth every dollar and hour spent.

In December, J.J. Peterson gave me a call and we talked about how StoryBrand had made a difference for Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge.  Now, to be fair, the numbers we discussed with regard to growth of our business are so much more so than just changing our messaging.  This has helped immensely, but 12 years in business, trade shows, work with groups, and increasing our available units has also had a significant impact.  The increase in individual travelers rather than groups or people booking through travel professionals is the number that ties most closely to our work with StoryBrand.  And I must say that the investment in the StoryBrand workshop has paid off more so than any of the other marketing related tools (SEO assistance, business listings, etc.) we have used in the past.

The Building a StoryBrand Podcast is live now.  Its feature guest is John Lowry who discusses negotiation skills with Donald Miller.  I learned a few new things to consider that I didn’t learn in law school or years practicing law – always a nice bonus.  The phone call between J.J. and me is at the end of the podcast.  Take a listen.  Look out for a sloth and a little bit of Van Halen.

Goldilocks and the new logo

Tranquilo Bay Logo So, all of this began some time ago. I got the itch to change the logo. Our original logo was a great one to begin our business many years ago, but we have changed and grown over the years so I believed it was time to show that growth in the form of the logo.

I looked for logo templates across the Internet. I tried a few on for size. I felt like Goldilocks except that I couldn’t find one that was just right. So I enlisted a professional for help. This was a big deal. We try to do everything in-house so stepping out was nerve-wracking yet I knew I couldn’t do it.

I reached out to a woman, Erin Napier, whose blog I have read for many years now. She has a lovely stationary and graphic design business out of Laurel, Mississippi and is in the process of filming a television show with her husband for HGTV.  I gave her a list of my requirements and she came up with a several options. She did a hand-lettered logo that was beautiful, but Jim and Jay found it a bit hard to read. She also created a beautiful hand-drawn pineapple that we worked with as we continued to develop the logo. She and I went through many iterations and I felt like I was pushing the number of iterations she was willing to complete. She has the patience of a saint and was kind and helpful throughout the process. We ended with a version that was lovely. I tried it out at New Year’s to see what people would think. It received rave reviews from the public. Not so much from Jim and Jay.

Jim and Jay were largely okay with the meat of the logo, but each had different issues. Jim didn’t want a pineapple as our main icon in the logo. He knew I was using it as the international symbol of welcome, but as an eco lodge a pineapple isn’t the friendliest crop to the planet so the pineapple had to go. Jay wanted to make sure that people knew our offerings included both land and sea. We used what Erin had developed for us as our base as we progressed to what fit us just right.

So, what to use as an icon when you offer a number of excursions and do not want to exclude any one group in particular? One of the majestic trees of the rainforest is what we decided upon. The tree we ended up with is an interpretation of our favorite “broccoli” tree. That tree has been a favorite of ours from the beginning here at Tranquilo Bay so it is fitting that it ended up in our logo.

To me, a rainforest giant has strong roots, has grown for many years (and should have many more to go), and has had to make many compromises with the environment over its tenure to reach its spectacular height. This represents the relationship between the Kimball and Viola families. The tree in our logo has two main branches that have grown off of its strong base. Both of our families are united under Tranquilo Bay yet remain separate, which is exactly what I see in this tree.

Our original logo listed only Panama as the location. With this new logo we made it more specific with Isla Bastimentos, Panama to bring in the information about the sea or that we are located on an island.

Will this logo last for close to 11 years? Only time will tell. Eleven years from now I may not be the person in charge of moving these types of things along – at that point, even Patrick will be voting age.

PS.  The photo is one that MaryKathryn Briggs took when she visited us last year.  She brought the broccoli tree in as the focus in many of her photos without even knowing the importance of it.  Thanks MK.

Celebrating Ten Years this week…

When we were getting started in the travel and hospitality industry, people told us if you make it to ten years you will see a difference in how your reservations take off – we have definitely found this to be true.  At the start of this year we began to feel a change in how our business was growing.  Things are snowballing for us.  Many avenues such as the web, group travel, and word of mouth are merging together and increasing our bookings for 2015 and 2016.  We are so grateful for this.

We celebrate our tenth anniversary this week.  During this week in 2005 we accepted our first group of guests.  We practiced the Texas’ hospitality our parents taught us and meshed it with Panama’s warm and beautiful culture and country to create Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge.  We have learned a lot in the last ten years.  We will always learn from our employees, guests, competitors, suppliers and other travel professionals.  Our employees have been a part of our success to date and will continue to be so.   Our children have started to step in and help out in little ways, before we know it, they will be running this business.  We are fortunate to be the ones to steward this little piece of paradise with our children and employees.

It has been a joy to watch Tranquilo Bay grow as if it is one of our children.  We appreciate all you who have spent a portion of your hard-earned vacation with us over the last ten years.  We hope to see you again in the future!

Kirsten Hines’ Review of Tranquilo Bay

Eco Lodge Dock

Kirsten Hines, Jim Kushlan, and George Angehr visited us in April.  We were a stop on their seabird survey.  During their time in Panama, they covered some serious ground.  The next time we are in the city we will definitely be checking out the Biomuseum and George Angehr’s work.

Please take a look at Kirsten’s review of her trip and Tranquilo Bay specifically.  Tranquilo Bay was the last stop of their trip, so it is at the end of the trip review.

Thanks to Kirsten for taking the time to write up such a detailed review of her trip and her stay with us.  We appreciate it and we know how much it can help others who are making plans to travel to Panama.

Rough week that ends well

Birding PanamaI had a rough week last week – this Blue Dacnis and I were on the same page. Between rain, migraines and emergency dental work for our eight year old daughter (which included a quick day trip to Panama City), I also had amazing conversations, saw friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, got to know some new and very interesting people, see my daughter on a horse for the first time (not the reason for the emergency dental work), and watch both the children and our business grow. Steve Ingraham was here to check us out and take photographs. His photographs are a wonderful reminder of why we have chosen to make Bocas del Toro, Panama our home. God has been very kind to Bocas. The natural resources that exist here are beyond compare.   The fact that we have the gift and opportunity to do what we can to steward this small piece of the earth we call Tranquilo Bay is such a blessing.

I ended the week with a sore throat I caught somewhere along the way during a bumpy and exhausting ride. However, I have a new set of wall-to-wall bookshelves in our new classroom to store our very large collection of books and the kids’ schoolwork. Tranquilo Bay received four new excellent reviews on TripAdvisor, the promise of a future trip with Steve Ingraham, lots of laughs with our guests this week, and a reminder of just how lucky we are to call this piece of paradise home.

Bocas del Toro HotelPlease click-through to check out Steve’s photos from his time here in Bocas del Toro.   They are amazing in their own right, but they also give you a very good idea of the colors you might see here in Bocas – rain or shine.

Proud Moment

Yohany Miranda came to work at Tranquilo Bay in December 2005. She was around when we brought Boty home from the hospital. She had Boty speaking Spanish at age one.

 

After a period of a few years, Yohany decided she needed to try things out in the city. So she headed to Panama and got a job. With a commute of at least an hour and a half each direction, the job in Panama City wasn’t as fun as she thought it might be. So, she went back to Puerto Muelles to decide what to do.

We found out she was back at home without a job and asked her to come back to TB. She did.   After a period of time she confessed that she really wanted to go to university to get a degree. We told her to find an university that would allow her to take her classes online or to go on occasions to school rather than needed to attend in person each day. She found one.

We told her if she made an A or a B we would pay for the class. Needless to say she made only As and Bs.

Last Saturday Jim and I attended a graduation. Yohany graduated from college, with a degree in Tourism, in about four years. The entire time she was attending school she was working full-time for us. Jay, Jim and I along with the children and all of our staff could not be more proud of her. I cried at the graduation. I think I might have been the only person there that cried. We are so proud of her. She has worked so hard and developed into an amazing person over the eight plus years that we have known her.

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We joke that we have already paid for our first college education, but really we have. Spending the time to work with an employee and help her grow into a better version of herself has been so rewarding to us. We are so grateful for who she is and who she is becoming and because of her we look forward to finding ways to help other employees in one way or another.

Congratulations Yohany! Enjoy your vacation because we can’t wait for you to get back to work.

Accommodations Video

I have been spending some time on our YouTube channel recently and I decided to pull a few of the videos back out for some of you who might not have seen them previously.   While it is hard to get a good feel for what it is like to visit us here in paradise, this video does a pretty good job of presenting you with some of the sights you could encounter.