Two downtown hotels prosper by rejecting sex tourism

The Gran Hotel Costa Rica is in the heart of the city with a patio that gives guests a chance to see the real Costa Rica in action. Tour bus of young people usually can be seen arriving or leaving. A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson

For some people embracing the Pura Vida lifestyle means indulging in guilty pleasures that start in bars and casinos and end in pricey one-night stands with prostitutes.

Gran Hotel Costa Rica and Hotel Don Carlos are two historic places located in the heart of San José that have refused to allow these adult activities onto their premises.

“While in San José there are an amount of hotels dedicated to sex tourism, night life, casinos — pure entertainment, we decided to eliminate that image and make a complete transformation,” said Eric Gutiérrez, owner of Gran Hotel Costa Rica. “For example, not allowing prostitutes into the hotel, and shutting down the casino machines in the lobby.”

Staffers at Hotel Don Carlos expressed that their desire is to maintain a family-conscious environment.

“We have a lot of families and a lot of students from the United States, and we receive a lot of clients from Europe who bring their families. This one is a . . . family hotel, so we don’t allow prostitutes,” said Mauricio Espinoza, Hotel Don Carlos reservation manager.

Graced with personalities such as presidents Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter and John F. Kennedy as well as many famous actors and actresses, the Gran Hotel has a rich history. Built in 1930, this hotel holds the claim as being the only hotel in Costa Rica established by law and the first in the city.

A.M. Costa Rica/Kayla Pearson The Hotel Don Carlos in Barrio Amón

Gutiérrez, a man with a big voice of passion for culture and history, took over the hotel in 2010 after serving as the hotel lawyer for more than 20 years and then transferring to a hotel partner 10 years ago. The hotel has only passed through the hands of only two others, Luis Paulino Jiménez Ortiz, and Los Angeles native David Brewer.

“Since the moment I took charge of the hotel, I decided to make major fundamental changes. I converted the hotel into an icon of cultural and historic tourism.” Gutiérrez said.

The hotel even made an advertising change challenging tourist to “visit an historically restored hotel where tourism was created.” The outside patio became an elegant place where people could hear live classical music from trained pianist and relax while viewing the culture of the city through the plaza and surrounding buildings such as the Teatro Nacional across the street.

According to Gutiérrez, the hotel has seen a positive reaction to all the changes from guest and city of San José. It was declared in 2005 an historic and architectural landmark.

Not far away, in San José’s first residential area called Barrio Amón, The Don Carlos Hotel also shares a deep historical background. The hotel’s namesake, Carlos Balser was an archeologist and artist who came to Costa Rica to help construct and manage The Gran Hotel. In 1947, Balser started his own hotel named Pension Canado that was the stomping ground for many famous scientist. It was later renamed in his honor.

The charm of Hotel Don Carlos greets guest at the door. The 33-room hotel is three houses in one, filled with Balser’s discoveries, unique art, gardens, fountains and sculptures. The presidential house used to be the home of former Costa Rican president Tomas Guardia. Also in the neighborhood was local doctor legends Ricardo Morena Cañas and Carlos Echandi Lahmann.

Receptionist recount the time when a man was running through the street outside the hotel with a bullet in his chest and another in his elbow. Morena rushed to assist his neighbor, performing the first open heart surgery in Costa Rica.

“This was long ago, but it is our history,” said one receptionist.

In his old age Don Carlos sold the company to his son-in-law and American educator and anthropologist Lee Weiler. It is the Weilers’ children who now mange the hotel. Being a family-operated business, they manage the hotel with a standard of class and uphold the value of a personal experience.

“We are called a petite hotel because you can speak with all the staff. In big hotels you don’t have the same treat,” said Espinoza.

Some hotels in San José have 75 to 85 percent of their customers as single male tourists. The Gran Hotel Costa Rica and the Don Carlos are two hotels that have lost business by not allowing guest to bring in a nightly companion.

“When people call our toll-free number, they ask questions about girls, and we advise them that we are not that type of hotel, and they choose to stay in another hotel,” said Espinoza.

However, both places report that staying family-oriented keeps them busy with guests.

“We’ve been receiving frequent clients. They know how we handle the hotel, they know the place and that it’s family and friends first. For us its very easy,” said Espinoza.

Most of the guest who stay in the Gran Hotel are foreign individual travelers and families coming from the United States, Canada, England, Spain, Germany, France, and Netherlands. Corporate travelers also frequent the place. The 107-room hotel has an occupancy rate of 60 to 70 percent all year.

“I can not say we have a high or low season because we have a balance all over the year,” said Álvaro Salas, Gran Hotel operations manager.

This is not to say that neither hotel has night entertainment for the guest. The Gran Hotel owns a casino with a separate entrance, and Hotel Don Carlos has a restaurant and bar.

This entry was posted in Costa Rica News. Bookmark the permalink.