Island life, as you can imagine, is fun. All the stresses that exist in more developed parts of the world are non-existent.
When we visited Bocas, it felt like the world was put into slow motion. We started exploring, meeting locals, and hearing about running a business out there. The need for instant gratification, fast food, quick responses, became a non-factor.
When we talked to the island’s business owners, they made us aware of some of the stresses that are associated with having an island vacation rental property. To be honest, hearing them talk about taking their boat for supplies, adventure guest tours, or repairing their employees’ homes, sounded better than most high-paying jobs.
Though there’s stress involved, the reward for the output of owning an island rental seems more gratifying than collecting a bi-weekly check. The intrinsic reward that owners like Danny Alamo obtain by managing his property and helping his guests, surpasses anything that money can buy.
Danny, the owner of Hotelito Del Mar, found out about Bocas by accident. A friend brought him to the island and from that point on he knew that he could make something out of one of the properties.
I’m sure that this is the story for most vacation rental owners on islands. They find a beautiful part of the world, and if they have the resources, they invest in a business.
Danny had to overcome hardships to obtain the funds to buy Hotelito. But when he was able to get it, he made sure to go all-in and have fun with this project. One of the things that I found fascinating was how he proves that entrepreneurs and rental business owners don’t fit a particular mold.
Danny is a tri-state area kind of guy. He grew up in Brooklyn and made it to New Jersey. His background is in construction, and it was put to show a couple of times throughout our trip. His blue-collar work ethic and team-first attitude exudes when starting a new “handyman” project.
He could’ve easily retired and spent time with his kids. But Danny knew that there was more to life than sitting around and doing nothing. If you ever get the opportunity to meet him, you’ll see that his exuberant personality wouldn’t allow him to sit for more than 10 minutes.
Danny made sure to take us out to meet other vacation rental owners. Don, who owns a hotel across the street from Hotelito has been in the vacation rental space for quite some time. Though he’s already at the tail end of his entrepreneurship days, he provided us with a lot of insight into the industry and some rental owner problems.
We also met a business owner named Martin, who coincidentally, attended the same university as me. Martin encountered some of the problems that we mention on our previous post, about managing an island property.
Some of us got to chat with Sally, the owner who Danny bought Hotelito’s land from. Sally and Danny gave us insights about how to deal with the local government, travel boards, and things to be wary of when dealing with realtors and landowners.
Their insights, partnered with Futurestay users’ feedback, attests to this. There’s a lot of stress associated with having a business on an island. However, these owners do say it’s a wonderful way to live life.
Even in paradise, there’s still stress. It’s just a bit sunnier.
Before continuing, it’s worth noting that I would’ve thought that having a business on an island would be fairly easy. It’s not all soaking in the sun rays and going fishing.
As we saw firsthand, there’s a lot of boots-on-the-ground kind of work that needs to be done. If you want to keep building and adding amenities, you can expect there to be more work. Here are the inevitable truths about being a vacation rental owner in a small island.
You have to deal with the stress and anxiety of down seasons. You’ll have maintenance issues. Things won’t get done as fast as it would in a more developed part of the world.
It’s only natural to experience these anxieties, though you never want to have a business operating in the red. Just know that there will be months where it may happen. Continue to be resilient.
Every little thing will require work or an investment of time and money. As we were told, it’s difficult to get supplies and materials onto the island of Bocas. Not just that, but making sure that you have talented individuals to handle the workload is another task to itself.
Owning a rental business makes you the CEO, business developer, website creator, logistics, and project manager. At the end of the day, you’ll be making the decisions that influence where you take your business next.
Just know that it’s not easy and that it probably won’t be for quite some time.
One of the things that we loved about Danny and that we later talked about with Matt Landau, is that creating and helping the community is big.
There’s a keen understanding amongst all the business owners, at least in Bocas, that they need each other to thrive. There’d be times where a couple of backpackers would look for rooms to rent at Hotelito, but Danny would direct them to a hostel that fits their price range.
If someone needs help with finding activities, the employees of Hotelito will direct them to the best stores, restaurants, and beaches.
This reciprocal decision to ensure the guest’s had the best travel experience was with the hope that long-term, it would bring travelers back to the island. Rental owners hoped that travelers would at least talk about Bocas and mention the places that they enjoyed.
Running a business is a daunting task. But the mix of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards from a successful rental goes beyond what can be attained in a traditional industry.
We capped our trip by talking to Matt Landau and learning more about his experience in the hospitality, or vacation rental business. Check out our insights in Panama Series Part 4.