With misinformation and greenwashing rife in tourism, Behind The Green takes it back to BASICS. Back to storytelling and human connection. Hear from the visionaries and teams behind the world’s leading sustainable stays. As well as inspiring experts that help us to REIMAGINE, RESET, and REINVENT tourism.
Written by Rebecca Woolford
Renee, Co-owner of Tranquilo Bay in Panama, is best described as a creative problem solver. She is one of those characters who appear to have lived multiple lives.
A seasoned attorney, educator, and mentor, she has also served in volunteer board positions for local tourism chambers, sustainability organisations, destination management committees, and advisory board members for a worldwide hotel group.
When she isn’t managing Tranquilo Bay, she homes schools 4 children and shows no signs of slowing down. Whichever season or chapter of her life, Renee is committed and passionate about sustainable travel, supporting people and places around her to flourish!
Enjoy the interview!
Attorney turned eco-lodge owner. Where does the story of Tranquilo Bay begin?
“My husband and I met our now business partner Jay after graduating at University in Texas. When we learned Jay was interested in starting a lodge we knew this was aligned with our own vision. We embarked on the partnership with a much smaller project, we bought a boat and did it up, enjoying regular fishing trips together.
As this mini project was such a success we decided to look to a bigger project. Jay had been to Panama a no. of times, so it came up as an option. In October 1999 we went down to take a look, however, we didn’t find what we wanted. Jim my husband decided to quit his job in December 1999 and travel around to find the perfect spot. Back then I stayed at home bringing the money in as an attorney, whilst Jay and Jim started building the lodge, bringing our vision to reality.
Many years have passed since then and our initial piece of land has grown. We now own 5 pieces of land, which has significantly expanded the conservation area we actively protect. A jigsaw of pieces makes up 200 acres of pristine nature. If more land is sold in the area and we cannot take it on, we offer it to our guides to call their own.”
What is the latest positive change that’s happening at the lodge?
“We are looking into improving our processes which will help us to better educate people, such as new team members as we grow. We are beginning to document how we got to this point, as a timeline, the key learns, how to maintain the standards we have achieved. This is an essential part of what we need to do going forward”.
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What are you most proud of when you reflect on your sustainability journey so far?
“There are 2 things that immediately come to mind…
1) There is a large reserve adjacent to the marine national park which we helped to put in place, we worked with the community and local tribe to implement this. Back then, real estate was going crazy. There is no value in the construction industry for mangrove forests, however mangrove sites are hugely valuable to nature.
2) We get to see the differences in the lives of the communities that are touched by Tranquilo Bay. To hear one of our team explaining to a new member why we do what we do, for example with littering, it is a very proud moment for us. One story which will always stay with me is the 2 sisters we had in our team. Their mother was losing her sight, because of their work and the skills they developed they were able to put money aside to pay for the operation their mother so desperately needed.”
What is the biggest obstacle or challenge you have overcome to date?
“Our location. It is funny as this will continue to be our biggest asset and in parallel our biggest challenge. Location is an obstacle which we will continue to meet over and over again. It is a positive thing, as where we are positioned means we don’t have problems with neighbours. However, everything that comes here travels by boat. Things we take for granted like finding staff and suppliers are also much more complex due to our location.”
What is the biggest surprise or misconception guests have prior to arriving at Tranquilo Bay?
“A lot of people think it is hot here in summer. The truth is we pretty much have the same temperatures all year round, there are no defined seasons like in the UK for instance. We say we have rainy seasons and then rainier seasons, with 75% of our rain at night, that is how everything looks so lush and green. Our weather just means there is no bad time to visit!”
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Tell us about the local, traditional cuisine or homemade drinks that Tranquilo Lodge offers to guests…
“We serve a lot of fresh juices here which is a favourite amongst guests. Our delicious passion fruit pie is very popular, in fact, we grow passion fruit on-site at Tranquilo Bay.”
How do you encourage guests to engage in your mission and values?
“One of the ways is we love to show guests how chocolate is grown and made. People are usually unaware of just how labor-intensive it really is. So, when ethical brands ask for more money for their products, people who purchase and enjoy that chocolate can appreciate why this is.”
A question I always like to end with… What’s next for Tranquilo Bay?
“For us, it is a certification process. We want to implement this as it exposes us to thought leaders. We have a growing team here at Tranquilo Bay and we are working on how we can keep it personalised and retain the same feel our guests have come to love.”