Insights on Travel from Costa Rica Expeditions’ Founder Michael Kaye and his Expert Friends.

Getting People To Do What They Are Absolutely Certain They Won’t.

In last week’s post and comments we looked at this topic from the point of view of the traveler.  I thought you might find it interesting to look at it from the other side of the fence.

One of our lodges, Tortuga Lodge has no road access.  Guests often arrive by boat and leave in light charter aircraft.

When we first started, we did not do a good enough job of communicating what we meant be “light charter aircraft.”  It quickly became apparent that what our guests imagined as light charter aircraft was perhaps a 20-passenger plane that looked something like this:

While the biggest aircraft in Costa Rica small enough for the short grass strip that we had at the time was a 5 passenger Cessna 206 that looks like this:

I was standing on the airstrip with outgoing guests who were demanding that I get a bigger plane when I first realized this.  I explained patiently that the strip was too small for bigger planes.  They demanded to go out by boat. No amount of patient reasoning would convince them to fly in that plane.

All my boats were in use doing tours, so I ended up having to rent a boat to take them out to the road head and find a bus to get them from the road head to wherever they were going next.

Clearly we needed to do everything possible to make sure that our guests who were going to be flying knew before hand literally what they were getting into, but in 1987 we had to contact our guests through the tour operator or travel agent who had booked the tour and communication was a lot more cumbersome than it is now. I was going to be facing this exact same  situation several times a week. I had to quickly come up with a way to get guests to fly in that little plane.

Trying to figure out how to do this kept me up nights.  I rehearsed all sorts of arguments in my head about why they should fly out and it was irrational for them to be afraid.

A week or so later when the next guests refused to fly, I was much more prepared than I had been the first time.  It is a good thing that I was also more prepared with a boat and bus, because they would not get on the plane.

After this happened several more times, I became resigned that once the guests said they were not getting on the plane, it was very unlikely that I would convince them otherwise.  So my problem had evolved from how to talk them into flying to how to prevent them from deciding not to fly in the first place.  I couldn’t give a little talk to all the guests on how fun and safe it is to fly in tiny little planes because I would risk scaring guests who would have flown had I kept my mouth shut.

Finally after several more failures, it popped into my head that the answer was a question.  From that moment on I never had anyone refused to get on the plane.  As soon as they saw the plane, before they had a chance to react, I asked a question that everyone who flies is used to answering before they get on the plane, “Window or aisle?”

Our guests responded in many different ways.  Many automatically told me their preference.  Many laughed.  Some frankly expressed how scared they were.  But they invariably climbed into a passenger cabin that looked like this.

An added reward was that on several occasions the people who were most scared of flying took the trouble to get back to me and tell me how glad they were they had.

Do you have more stories about getting people to do things or the rewards of getting out of your comfort zone?  Please share.

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Comments and Replies

  • At February 23, 2010
    10:12:43 am
    Judith Cook said:

    Six years ago when my Costa Rican students insisted their beautiful country was safe and friendly we found CRE online and booked. When we arrived early in the morning at the little airport and saw the 4 seat plane we just took pictures. OMG! The pilot and ground personnel were so friendly, I figured they were competent, tambien. The grass strip is a bit daunting from the air but so are the sad tracks of the turtles turned away from their egg laying journey. I think I viewed the boat with more suspicion. Then you are greeted with an incredible breakfast (gallo pinto, ummm) and the serenity of the Lodge. People who balk probably are not particularly well informed travelers. The second time we went to Tortuguero a larger plane seemed disappointing. But I did get to ride in the seat next to the pilot.

    • At February 22, 2010
      7:18:23 am
      Cheryl Shnider said:

      My one and only trip to Costa Rica was a 50th birthday gift to myself. I designed the trip as a way of snubbing my nose at the aging process and planned a number of “scary” activities. In addition to planning to travel solo, staying in a tent camp far removed from civilization, being hoisted up to a platform in the canopy of the rainforest and zip lining, one of my biggest accomplishments was flying in one of these planes – not once but twice!!! I knew in advance how small they were. I knew in advance that they had propellers. I knew in advance that the “runway” at Corcovado was an unpaved strip next to the beach. I acknowledged in advance that I was scared to death to fly in small planes, especially in bad weather.
      So there I am in Tortuguero, taking the boat across to the “airport” in the rain (and fog, no less). I was quaking in my boots but determined to do it. With lots of deep breathing and conscious relaxation, we took off. Not 5 minutes out of Tortuguero, the rain vanished, the sun came out and the most beautiful rainbow appeared. I took the rainbow as a sign and immediately calmed right down. I actually enjoyed the rest of that flight. Changing planes in San Jose, I found myself looking forward to the adventure of flying to Corcovado and was rewarded with the most beautiful views of Costa Rica and its coastline that I could ever imagine. That flight was one of the highlights of my trip.
      ps thanks for the referrals to the San Juan Island. I’ve sent an email.

      • @Cheryl Shnider: Great Cheryl, Your request gave me an excuse to call some old friends. Bill and Colleen Wright are owners of San Juan Safaris, a wonderful whale watching operation on San Juan Island. They do not provide all the services you are asking about, but they are very knowledgeable about the area and nature tourism in general. They are also wonderful folks to know. They’d be happy to steer you in the right (no pun intended) direction. They leave for Hawaii for a couple of weeks on March 8, so contact them before or after. Email: Tel: 800-450-6858
        Another good friend Marc Telio owner of Entrée Destinations, based in Vancouver BC specializes in Canada and Alaska, but may also be able to help. At the moment he is maxed out with the Winter Olympics. I’ll call him as soon as he has had a chance to recover.

        • At February 17, 2010
          3:47:22 pm
          Cheryl Shnider said:

          Hi Michael
          I am really enjoying your blog, “Vacation Time is Precious”. I was wondering if you know any tour operators like Costa Rica Expeditions in the Seattle/San Juan Islands/Olympic Peninsula area? I’m interested in hiking, kayaking, learning about the natural wonders there with a naturalist guide. Thanks so much

          • At February 16, 2010
            8:25:15 am
            Joanne Patriarche said:

            This story brought back wonderful memories as I am a VERY big chicken (just ask my kids!) and I actually loved the flight from Tortuga Lodge to Arenal that we took last March. With a husband and a son both over 6 feet (and the husband considerably heavier than the son!), our family of 4 literally squeezed into the plane (I should note that our safety was well established before we did so) for a very memorable flight. It was definitely a highlight of our trip and is at the top of my list as one of the things that I can’t believe I actually did! My kids are still talking about it!

            • At February 15, 2010
              11:32:39 pm
              Patty said:

              I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who took a big GULP upon seeing the size of the plane that picked us up at Nosara! But this was an instance where traveling with our 5 year old meant we had to be brave – she clung to her stuffed howler monkey the entire flight while Daddy and Mommy made jokes about Daddy being the co-pilot: “Don’t TOUCH ANYTHING DADDY!” and forced ourselves to look out the window and not act like wimps. It was an absolutely exhilarating experience, one I’m glad CRE opened the door to!

              • I had to laugh at this post, because my husband and I took your little plane to Tortuga Lodge just a couple years ago. I don’t remember being the least bit reluctant to get on the plane, so I went back and looked at my travelogue to see if I had expressed any doubts that I had conveniently forgotten. I found just a brief mention of taking a single-engine Cessna to Tortuga and I even shared a photo of the view of San Jose from the plane (

                I am a big chicken, and I am not about to do anything I think is dangerous, so I was very amused to read that you had people who wouldn’t get on the plane. I will happily exit my comfort zone if the reward is worth it, and in this case, it was more than worth it. Tortuga was beautiful and was also probably the most relaxing place I have ever been. I once hiked the Inca Trail with altitude sickness, and it was also more than worth it. Getting outside my comfort zone has almost always paid off, so I have no excuse not to do so. If a person refuses to do so, then there is never going to be a payoff. All you can do in that case is miss out on something that could be amazing.

                • Dear Michael , your amusing blog reminded me of the age old trick used by mothers to get the kids to eat or do something they dont want to , by just giving them two choices ,one of  which they cannot but accept . I think it is great that you made fliers out of all the non fliers !
                  Regards , Meena