By Ellen Zoe Golden .Photos courtesy: Wolfgang Gollas
Hotel Tamarindo Diria is located on the main road and beach. It is buffeted by its own condos, restaurants and commercial centers all own by Wolfgang Gollas, a German businessman who came to town with a vision to be a part of Tamarindo’s tourism market.
THE Tamarindo News talked with Gollas in order to learn about one of the town’s most powerful men.
THE Tamarindo News: How long have you been in Tamarindo and why did you choose this area to settle?
Wolfgang Gollas: In January ’91, I visited Costa Rica for the first time as a tourist and spent a few hours in Tamarindo. In October `92, myself, along with my friend and business partner, Edmund Weber, who unfortunately passed away 12 years ago, purchased Hotel Tamarindo Diria. Back than it was owned and by Luis Medaglia and the Alfaro Family. We loved the location and beach and had a vision on how to develop the hotel and the area.
TTN: Was it always your plan to develop tourist businesses?
WG: Mr. Weber was the owner of a large accounting firm in Germany and I was the main shareholder and CEO of a clothing company, which was originally founded by my father. The company was well known and successful within Germany and Europe with many branches in and outside of Germany. We also had 50% of shares in a Parisian Haute Couture brand. Furthermore, I was involved in many different businesses with shares in hotels, nursing homes, travel agencies and offices for IATA airlines as well as several real estate development projects within Germany and Europe, such as vacation homes in Spain, etc. All these activities required a lot of travel. It was never my intention to build a hotel, but due to the involvement in a large hotel project and in numerous travel agencies I knew the potential of tourism and was able to understand how the market works.
At the age of 50, I decided to voluntarily resign from the clothing company with the full intention to use the new freedom for new and different business activities and adventures. One of those was to get more actively involved in our investments in Tamarindo.
With the help of well recognized Costa Rican experts and also from Europe, we were able to come up with ideas and concepts of how Tamarindo could look like in 20 years. We had a vision of Costa Rica’s potential in general but also Tamarindo in particular. We started to purchase a lot of land in the Tamarindo area, which was not always positively received by everyone. It was however, the basis for touristic and urban development within Tamarindo. Our focus always was on the Tamarindo area only, in order to have a wholesome approach and to keep our interests centralized. Over the years we increased the hotel`s initial room capacity of 70 rooms to 183 rooms due to new construction. In 2012, we purchased the neighboring hotel Tropicana and fully integrated it into our Resort, after completely renovating the rooms and hotel installations.
This addition brought our total room capacity up to 240 rooms. In addition to the hotel rooms we built several condominium units. In 2000, we developed the Diria Condominium with its 12 units and added and amazing scenic pool area across the street from the original hotel. This was to be followed in 2007 by the construction of the Matapalo Condominium with its 36 units, which is one of the best rental properties in the area. Two years ago, Grupo Diria purchased the neighboring hotel Jardin del Eden and after it underwent a complete renovation it is now operated as a fully independent brand for the high-end boutique hotel segment.
As our hotel and the Diria Shops lay along both sides of Tamarindo`s main street, we felt that the area needed an inviting atmosphere, which was created by a variety of good restaurants, which are mainly run by the hotel, and several high-end businesses with a variety of merchandise.
This led to the creation of Diria Grand Boulevard. This concept is well-liked and recognized and is of utmost importance for Tamarindo as it offers an inviting entrance and a guidance for future development standards in Tamarindo.
TTN: In these times, corporate social responsibility is a mandatory requirement of major international companies, adding a necessary element of competitiveness in the marketplace, while allowing sustaining relationships with the communities where they are located. What are the community projects you participate in?
WG: Market leadership always brings an enormous amount of responsibility with it. Our business does not lie in the middle of nowhere, but, rather is located within the center of a town and a community and this brings advantages, but also some disadvantages. Our business` success is highly dependable on Tamarindo`s reputation.
We can and do influence this reputation, but we are only a part of it. We are excited about every new business, every new restaurant and every new attraction that makes Tamarindo more interesting and reputable, but only if the rules and guidelines are followed.
Tamarindo would not be what it is today without Grupo Diria and we would not be what we are today without Tamarindo. In the true sense of community we live in a symbiosis, based on the principal of ‘giving and taking’ What do we give? Tamarindo, as a town of expats never has had a good lobby in San Jose. It is not marked by national investment or economic interest by local companies and political entities.
Tamarindo suffers because of this tremendously. We, therefore, built strong and important connections with politicians and government, which led to: • Tamarindo has a strong presence of the Fuerza Pública, whose forces and staff are housed within our property. • We have come a long way in our ongoing communication with the Municipality and the Ministry of Security as we are planning to donate an area of 5,000² with market value of $750.000 at the entrance to Tamarindo in order to be able to build a large police and Red Cross station. • We are providing a complementary OIJ office within our airport terminal in order to enable 24-hour service. • Three years ago we donated one of our water wells with a 5-7 ltr./sec., located within Finca Rancho Tamarindo to AyA, to improve Tamarindo`s water supply. • Since last winter we are granting AyA up to 5ltr./sec, which is about 432 cubic meters per day of water from one of our other wells. This enables AyA to almost entirely close the gap of 7ltr./sec within Tamarindo`s total water supply. This produces a $500,000 annual income for AyA. • For years we kept and are still keeping the expensive operation of Tamarindo airport going, which is simply for the reputation and convenience of our community. Very few of our hotel guests arrive at the local Tamarindo Airport. • We are putting a lot of our efforts into getting Tamarindo declared as an urban area. This would finally clarify the circumstances and misunderstandings regarding Parque Nacional de las Baulas, Ley Zona Marítimo Terreste and would finally lead to legal reassurance that the development of Tamarindo won`t be slowed down in the future, or even totally paralyzed again as has happened in the past. This is part of what we are currently “giving” to Tamarindo and could add to this list. I would like to say a few words regarding ADI.
After more than negative experiences with the former Asociacion Pro Mejoras, we were full of expectation and hope for the new ADI. At the beginning, I myself attended several meetings, which all focused on wonderful goals and ideas. One idea was to promote Tamarindo as a tourist destination, financed by all businesses together, and each financial contribution according to business size. Unfortunately, nothing resulted out of those great intentions. We are missing a strong and independent leader who is able to bring all parties` interests to the table and move them forward. We do appreciate and continue to support the efforts of ADI, however, at this point we question the efficiency. ADI would be able to achieve much more if the general structure of the organization would be change and and we certainly would be on board!
TTN: How would you answer those who say that Hotel Tamarindo Diria does not respect the law of the Maritime Zone with obstacles that limit public access to the 50-meter public area?
WG: This question demonstrates two facts: 1) that a news agency like yours doesn`t do its proper research 2) that rumors, partially to fact number one, are resilient. The topic of ZMT is a very big one and therefore I would like to only focus on the results of the lawsuit: The hotel was completely freed from accusations about the 50-meter zone two years ago. This means that all of our buildings are legal and this includes the famous “wall,” as it was built before the law was established, legally, and had permitted reconstruction after suffering severe damage due to the destroying effects of 1998’s El Niño. The legal process also showed mistakes by IGN regarding the general applicable boarder line, which resulted in our favor. Furthermore, there has been a contract in place for almost 20 years,between the hotel and the Municipality of Santa Cruz, which ensures that the 50 meters in front of our hotel are under our administration. This has been in place not only for the hotel and its guests’ advantages, but for all of Tamarindo`s residents. You are welcome at any time to have a look and the documents.
TTN: Is the black water that runs adjacent to the Diria coming from your properties?
WG: This is another favorite rumor, which I believe is kept alive by people who are, for whatever reason, against Tamarindo Diria. In 1992, after we purchased the hotel, the first investment we made was the construction of a large water recycling facility. Back at that time, that was something completely non-existent in Tamarindo. With the growth of our resort, this facility was continuously enlarged and updated.
Ever since then NO black water produced by Tamarindo Diria Resort has flown into our ocean! Quite to the contrary, our facility underlies regular laboratory tests and the treated and cleaned water is only used for the irrigation of our extensive tropical gardens. Below our hotel two large tubes lead to the beach and those, unfortunately, collect rain from the road and the surrounding areas. Just one question to ask yourself: Would a business owner who invested millions of dollars into a hotel resort be so ignorant and endanger his properties worth by flooding black water right on that same beach? Especially considering that the cost of black water treatment is relatively small. Ecological awareness is a very common subject in German business and it comes natural to me.
Did you know that Tamarindo Diria is the only large resort in all of Costa Rica with a solar hot water system? For its inauguration two 2 years ago we even had the president visit our resort and town. In order to put it in perspective, this saves 20,000 large trees. At this point, we are working on the introduction of photovaltacis (a method of converting solar energy into direct current electricity) that, unfortunately, so far, is little known in Costa Rica.
TTN: How have you changed since you arrived here?
WG: I have definitely grown older, and a little bit more patient, because my German pace is not compatible with the Guanacasteco one. But I am proud of not having lost my personality in a foreign and sometimes more-than-difficult culture. I do feel rather like I gained a second home and it made me grow personally. Last but not least being happily living with a Costa Rican wife.
TTN: In your opinion what is missing in Tamarindo?
WG: Mostly I feel like we have been missing structure and planning. Tamarindo has grown in a rather chaotic manner. I am hoping that the leadership in the Municipality together with other entities, as well as ADI, and the Tamarindo neighbors, can achieve more in the following areas: • Guarantee the water supply, not by the usage of water distillation plants (which are extremely expensive and bad for the environment), but rather through the connection of our region with the large water supply present in the Arenal and Corobici areas. Only 6% of Costa Rica`s current water supplies are being exploited. • My wish would be to finally find a solution for a water treatment concept for all of Tamarindo. • Roads are another big area. I would like to see Los Jobos paved as well as the roads in town, preferably with sidewalks and bike paths. More parking spaces need to be created. At this point, the infrastructure does not reflect Tamarindo`s importance as a tourist destination and, most of all, tax producer. Why don`t we push harder, led by ADI, for the government to reinvest the money in our community that we deserve as a large tax generator? In my opinion we as a community are not active enough demanding what we deserve. • I would like to see legal security and firmer regulations through a new regulatory plan.
TTN: Do you plan more business investment in the area?
WG: Yes, of course. The empty spaces at the Diria Grand Boulevard will be filled by approximately 20 new shops.
For almost all of them we already have renters who expressed strong interest. In addition to the hotel business, Grupo Diria is very active in the real estate business. We are still Tamarindo`s largest landowner and we are planning on moving forward with our projects in Playa Langosta, Montana Torre ICE, and, most importantly, Rancho Tamarindo, surrounding the Tamarindo airport.
We will continue to use the well known architects Abraham Valenzuela and Richard Műler as we have in the past on our other structures. The demand for high-end vacation apartments and houses is growing again and we are quickly moving forward in our plans and the permitting process.
TTN: You are very important to Tamarindo, how do you see your place in the community?
WG: I believe that I personally had and have impacted Tamarindo`s development a lot over the last 25 years. This does give me a sense of accomplishment and also fills me with pride. This, however, does not at all mean that I am an arrogant tycoon. Without the amazing work of many smaller and medium-sized businesses, we would not be where we are now. With all our imperfections and weaknesses we are still Costa Rica`s most popular beach. I honestly believe that if we focused a little bit more on working with each other, rather than against each other, we would be unbeatable.