With more than fifteen years of experience within the luxury hospitality industry, Cristina Jones, a 2016 Travvy Award winner for most innovative executive, is the CEO and founder of CJONES&CO, a Business Development, PR and Marketing firm based in Costa Rica. Jones is also the CEO of WE-R-CR, a Real Estate and Vacation Rentals company which focuses on Central America's prime properties.
EDGE Travel. however, is her baby and is vastly becoming the regions premier destination management company. Specializing in an alternative way to travel and how you plan for it, Cristina recently merged her brand with Overseas Travel International, a tailored FIT receptive network, headquartered in Miami, Florida that services 17,000 agents worldwide and has offered individual travelers and families the true pulse of all the destinations they operate for the last 20 years. Amongst her many tasks she also supports the brand's global market development and expansion while co-owns the Costa Rica based office.
Costa Rica is best known as a wildlife and outdoor destination and there are plenty of local tour companies catering to those strengths. What is EDGE Travel focusing on instead?
EDGE is embracing a more experiential travel segment, one that falls outside the beaten path and that furthermore looks for a more luxurious side to a country that has before since been mostly recognized for adventure and eco-tourism. We try to showcase the chic, sexy and more luxurious side not only of the destination itself but through our approach to its management. At EDGE the boutique side of our interactions themselves are our key differentiator as we aren't for the masses or by the masses either. As part of the Overseas Leisure Group we are "Doers" and are vastly being recognized as the James Bonds of the industry, as we are constantly breaking new ground and taking even our suppliers to new limits. Our key is innovation and pushing limits.
Because EDGE Travel is part of a vertically integrated company which also has a PR firm at its core, we are excellent supplier partners that offer more than sales, so therefore also reap the benefits of privileged access because of this resulting in overall high value for buyers and suppliers alike.
What is your ideal client like?
We are focused on high-end travelers, those who seek a mark-off to their bucket list. Those who want a twist to their travel that will leave a strong impression. Our ideal clients will take into account our own personal know-how and experience with the destination. They can also recognize and appreciate our more global and worldly vision on the experiences and how they should be led. We are a mostly a business to business company, so the experience that the end-user has is just as important to us as the agent and or planner's experience with the process. We do have a VIP direct client base too however that stands alone in the market now.
We are perfect for high end concierge companies, high profile VIP travelers, and booking agents of this sort of market. However, we cater to the aspirational segments just as well and really show them value that they would have not believed before.
I know your tourism industry beginning was in South Beach, Miami. Tell us about your start there.
I started bottoms up and that means more than growing through the latter. I ended up in Miami by vacational coincidence, only after leaving Costa Rica for an extended vacation did I realize I was going to make it my home. Within a couple weeks of being in the States, insurance-less, I got appendicitis and ended up with a few tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. So I decided to find a job to pay them off and pass some time, this at age 18, and it soon became a passion and driver of all the other things I did.
I’m an industry rat and brat no doubt! My way of thinking was forged by these beginnings as my first job was for the infamous Ian Schrager, who is credited with being a pioneer in the boutique hospitality industry and revolutionizing all normal schemes. He believed in hospitality based on the fundamentals of entertainment, and I still carry this with me in my actions and ways. This is a large part of why my company is called EDGE – its carries the double meaning of living on the EDGE and “Engaging Dynamic Genuine Experiences.”
Many foreigner business owners have come to Miami, loved it, then lamented that there's no match in their country in terms of design, service, or cuisine. How are things going in Costa Rica on that front and what are the standouts?
I think Costa Rica is without a doubt not Miami for the good and the bad. The hotel scene is much more of a "scene" on South beach and thats not to be topped, both my will and choice. However Costa Rica has a lot more to offer than the backpacker travel. There are new luxury hotels opening and breaking ground in the region which are offering new chic products that cater well to incentives as well as leisure. All however, with a twist. EL Mangroove is a contender that we are working with lots lately as is Rio Perdido which offers luxury on an experiential level in its activities. AltaGracia is also a hotel that has not only launched a new area in Costa Rica but also offered a whole new segment of luxury in its infrastructure now by Auberge Resorts.
If a couple or small group has plenty of time to explore in Central America, where would you recommend they go and stay?
For couples travel, surprisingly enough we have more villas for 2 people in Costa Rica than one would imagine and its such an excellent option for a getaway. Oxygen Jungle Villas for example offers private bungalows that are a stand out in Uvita, don't miss #12!. Tabacon in the Arenal area, although not among the newest, has recently renovated and still offers the best of the best in hot springs. Andaz in the Gulf of Papagayo also has great hip service and a luxury backsplash done right. For small groups and couples alike I continue to be most enamoured by Morgans Rock in Nicaragua, which we can pair well with a Costa Rica stop too and finally, Santa Teresa Beach and its magnitude of private villas are among our recent favorites, which are designed by artist Aimee Joaristi.
Any special, exclusive experiences you could set up if money is no object?
Many and all so exclusive that we keep them to ourselves and for the eyes and ears of only our VIP requests.
Thats another thing that highly differentiates my agency, we are well known for celebrity and high-profile arrangements for guests who like to be off the radar. We not only honor their privacy but know how to keep ours too. We are being talked about as the "doers" of high-end Central America travel.
Cristina was born in Costa Rica but has lived a multi-cultured life herself as an only child of s Spanish Mother and United States born father. She has lived most her traveling and developed her career in Miami during the Y2K era. She has opened multiple hotels between the States, the Caribbean, and Central America and her resumé encompasses prestigious entities such as Ian Schrager Hotels, Morgans Hotel Group, The Biltmore, Hilton Hotels, Gansevoort Hotel Group, The Versace Mansion, Barton G Enterprises, and Enjoy Group of Costa Rica.
Throughout her career she has focused her expertise on boutique hotels and restaurants and has managed to stay atop trends with ample knowledge in new openings and trend-setting brands. Frequently in charge of concept development, brand placement, market penetration and channel opening through creative marketing and publicity she has also managed to excel in customer service and is known for being a ground breaker. It is not a coincidence that she has become one of Central America's lead voices when it comes to travel and has managed to differentiate herself from other as a top travel advisor.
Interview conducted April 2016 by Timothy Scott.. Photos courtesy of Edge Travel, Timothy Scott (Alta Gracia), El Mangrove, and Tabacon.