Selva Verde Lodge & Rainforest Reserve is not only a favorite eco-lodge in Costa Rica, it is a core part of Holbrook Travel. That’s why changing the general manager is a big undertaking. It was important to find the right fit in a new leader with both hospitality experience and a deep appreciation for the rainforest ecosystem. With the new general manager, Daniel Torres, just over a month into his new job, we sat down with him and Andrea Holbrook to discuss the transition and future plans.
Q: Andrea, how does Selva Verde play into the Holbrook Travel mission and the many educational and nature-focused programs?
Andrea: Selva Verde plays an integral role every day. When it was founded by my mother in the mid-1980s, it was her vision to protect the nature Costa Rica; the 500-acre reserve and adjoining lodge were a way of doing that. At Holbrook, we have many travelers with a very great interest in the rainforest including birders, photographers, nature lovers, students, families and many more. Selva Verde was created with the idea of being a gateway to the rainforest and allowing people to explore it, enjoy it, and get to know the people in the community of Sarapiquí in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a very important destination for Holbrook Travel, and Selva Verde is a place that really represents so much of what our work is. It was true when we started and it stays true today.
Q: Why did Selva Verde need a new general manager? What transpired to make this happen?
Andrea: Selva Verde has been privileged to have Graziano Marengo for the last 20 years as the general manager, but it is time for him to retire. He started as the food and beverage manager, then he moved into general manager, and he has provided great leadership at Selva Verde. We are so thankful to him and the team at Selva Verde for bringing us to where we are today. We wish him the very best in this new phase of his life. We began searching for a new general manager and we were very fortunate to find Daniel Torres.
Q: What leadership qualities were you looking for in the general manager role?
Andrea: We were looking for someone who combined an unusual skill set of appreciation for nature and a strong operational background. It is a large, complex operation with 57 rooms, two restaurants, a large reserve, and many staff, so the business and administrative background is key. Also, we were looking for someone who understands the importance of our role and mission and can really carry that forward. And with his conservation background, we're fortunate to have that in Daniel. That was a very important reason we decided to bring him into the Selva Verde family.
Q: Daniel, did your childhood in Costa Rica have any influence in your decision to work in ecotourism?
Daniel: I belong to a big family, four brothers and three sisters. We were a typical large Costa Rican family. I grew up in a small town surrounded by rainforests and beautiful rivers. I used to spend a lot of time walking in the woods, going to the river, and doing a lot of activities outside. So I think that's where I fell in love with nature and wildlife.
Q: Tell us about your recent work with Veragua Rainforest Eco-Adventure? What did you do there and what are you most proud of?
Daniel: I worked for 15 years at Veragua Rainforest Eco-Adventure, a 3,400-acre adventure theme park in Limón province. It’s a gateway to rainforest exploration with a canopy tram ride and many outdoor activities open to the general public. With the location near the Limón cruise ship port, we took care of 600 or more people a day. I handled the logistics for those groups. It was a challenge to manage all of that and to make everyone happy, as we only had a few hours to run the park with 600 people. I was also responsible for maintenance, the staff, and the financial area as well.
Q: Did your work at Veragua spark your interest in birdwatching?
Daniel: Yes. I started there at the very young age of 16 because I needed a job. I immediately fell in love with nature and especially with birds. That’s how I first became a birdwatcher and worked there as a guide. It helped me to teach people about the importance of preserving the rainforest. Then I got more into administration. I studied administration at the university and became the site manager. Along the way I also started organizing the Christmas Bird Count there and we got a new record for Costa Rica in 2006 — 403 species in one day! So I really enjoyed that too.
Q: What was it about Selva Verde that attracted you to this opportunity?
Daniel: I’d been to Selva Verde several times before getting this job and I have loved Selva Verde since the very first time I came. I love the nature, the reserve is beautiful, and the lodge itself is an amazing facility. I was looking for a change, so when I found out they were looking for a new manager, I thought that was my opportunity. I am very happy to be here and I love everything, it's wonderful.
Q: What are some of the projects that you're working on right now and over the next few months?
Daniel: There's a lot of things. One area I'm focusing on right now is increasing the bird activity. The area has such an abundance of birds, and I love to see the people sitting outside looking at the birds and taking pictures. I’m also working on protection of the reserve. We have staff that makes sure there are no hunters coming in and poaching wildlife. And of course I am working on site maintenance, so there's lots to do and something new every day.
Q: How are you aiming to maintain Selva Verde’s eco-friendly and sustainable reputation?
Daniel: Being eco-friendly is central to Selva Verde. We are immersed in the middle of the forest and people really love that. The rooms and the walkways are set up in a way that brings people so close to nature. So our impact has to be light and we need to maintain best practices with conservation methods. We also work with the local people to promote sustainability and buy as much as we can from the local producers.
Q: If you had to look into the future, what are the things that you would like to see? What would you hope we can either continue or strive for in the future?
Daniel: I’d like to see us take more advantage of our beautiful nature reserve by making it more accessible and more visited. People love the new bridge that takes you over the river to the reserve where there are practically infinite species of flora and fauna living in the rainforest. Getting our naturalist guides to take more visitors on walks would make their experience here even richer. This, along with ongoing upgrading of our facilities and rooms, will keep Selva Verde as a jewel in the rainforest.
Q: Andrea, how do you feel now that the search for the new general manager is complete and you have Daniel on board?
Andrea: Excitement and relief. Change is always hard, and we are so grateful to Graziano, who in many ways has passed his personal passion into the lodge and the wonderful restaurant downstairs there. But with Daniel in the role, it's special to have someone who has that personal appreciation for the biodiversity, and in particular the birds, which are such a strong attraction at Selva Verde. So it's nice to have a general manager that will be able to relate to the interests of so many of our clients, many of whom share the passion for birdwatching.