Company History

A retrospect by Daniel Küng, co-owner and president of ARA Tours:

We need new, innovative destinations for our catalogue! This was the challenge I received from my former employer in Switzerland, a tour operator where I worked as a product manager. I immediately started reading accounts, statistics and reports and then came across Costa Rica, a country pretty much neglected by tour operators at the time but highly praised by backpackers.

In May 1993 I travelled to San José to get a better idea of the country and was instantly captured by the people, the nature, the climate and the vast variety of attractions – so much actually that without further ado, I decided to make Costa Rica my new home. A fellow Swiss expatriate and friend of mine suggested making an incoming agency of the travel agency ARA Tours he had recently started.

This sounded perfect!

With rather naive ideas, I packed my bags in January 1994 and moved to Costa Rica. In the meantime, a former schoolmate of mine, Roland Ayer, joined us during his travels through Latin America. He was given the task of turning a cardboard box full of invoices and receipts into decent accounting. Soon after, the former company founders bowed out of the project, so Roland and I set off together on the long journey towards success with ARA Tours.

While our Swiss mentality with its punctuality, organisation and quality was met with enthusiasm by the tour operators, our Costa Rican friends were not too keen on these virtues. It was quite some time until both cultures met half way. We had to learn that a liveable life can certainly be filled with other, simpler values than we are used to in Europe, and our service providers had to understand that the tourists cannot just leave their values in Zurich when visiting Costa Rica. All in all, the first years were an exciting opportunity to get to know the country in depth.

Roland’s excellent skills in finance, software programming and logistics as well as my touristic background with profound knowledge about the European travel industry perfectly complemented one another from the start. We focused on quality, individual tourism and efficient processes. The in-house development of the reservation software TSIP was a milestone and provided us with important benefits for efficiently dealing with bookings.

Until today we have invested much time and money in destination marketing since the tourism board’s budgets did not allow for advertising in Europe. I was a co-founder, board member and chairman of the development association FUTUROPA, a private initiative for destination marketing in Europe, with which we achieved a lot of publicity for Costa Rica.

In 1999, we founded the alliance Latinconnect Destination Management Group (www.latinconnect.com) with other agencies from the neighbouring countries. Together we used marketing synergies and were the first to offer cross-country travels with a centralised booking office. To this day, Latinconnect stands as an example for many tourism professionals, demonstrating how much one can achieve by cooperation and sharing common ground.

Until the turn of the millennium, we grew a little every year, but we were still a small company with about 10 employees. This changed with the bursting of the dot-com bubble, the 9/11 attacks and the introduction of the euro. The dollar lost value, making our destination area increasingly cheaper. New, more direct flight connections were introduced, and Costa Rica experienced quite a boom.

Thanks to a clear strategy and high quality, ARA Tours could participate in this boom above average. Today we have around 60 employees and have also secured quality leadership. Lately our focus has mainly been on the IT sector, and we also offer modern solutions for tour operators and travel agencies.

Now, 20 years later, I do not regret any of my decisions. Costa Rica has maintained its fascination and developed in a very positive way. ARA Tours is well-positioned and proud of its brilliant team – who I would like to thank at this point for the untiring commitment and the multicultural understanding.

Daniel Küng

Co-owner ARA Tours