Located on a secluded beach 20 miles from international surfing hotspot of Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, the Gecko Rock Resort provides a quiet oasis for those looking to relax and enjoy amazing home cooked Mexican meals. The founder of the resort, Mike Airhart, was able to tell us about the challenges and joys of owning a boutique hotel in Mexico. To learn more about the Gecko Rock Resort, please visit their Facebook page by clicking Gecko Rock Resort.
What made you decide to open your business?
We did it almost entirely for the lifestyle. My wife and I are both avid travelers and after we grew tired of teaching English in Asia we wanted to start our own business in tourism somewhere in the tropics. We wanted a business that allowed us to live where people go on vacation and we liked the idea of a seasonal business that would allow us to close down for part of the year (summer/rainy season).
What has been the biggest challenge about doing business in Mexico?
Honestly, the biggest challenge has nothing to do with being in Mexico. The biggest challenge has been finding affordable marketing channels to get our name out there. We’re a small boutique property so we don’t have the money for a wide-spread advertising campaign. But in terms of Mexico-related challenges, probably just figuring out how all of the different administrative tasks fit together, from immigration to accounting, banking, business licenses, bienes comunales…none of these places are hard to deal with one-on-one but figuring out how it all ties together and relates to the system you are accustomed to can be a challenge.
What advice would you give other expat entrepreneurs who are considering opening a business in Mexico?
You have to find the right balance between going with the flow and doing things the Mexican way and saying “no, we’re going to do this my way.” In particular during construction we learned that there are times to trust the locals’ specialist knowledge and times that you need to override them and say, “I’m sorry, but this is my business and so we’re going to change how we do this.”
You can’t do everything the local way because so many of their systems/methodologies are inefficient but you can’t expect to run your business exactly as you would at home, either.
The same goes for employees…you have to strike a delicate balance between treating them similarly to what they are accustomed to and adding your own flavor of managerial style.Do you speak Spanish? What’s your view on the importance of learning Spanish as far as running a business in Mexico goes?
Yes, I do. It’s hard for me to gauge how it would be without being able to speak Spanish but it probably depends greatly on where you are located and what the nature of your business is. Face it, it also depends on how much capital you have in the budget to hire someone to help you with language related issues. If you’re a small fry then you’ll need to speak the language more than someone coming with several million dollars or more to invest.
What is your typical work day like?
When we have guests it’s pretty non-stop but when we don’t it’s pretty chill. This is part of what we wanted, a life where we work hard in spurts and then have more time off.
How did you get your first customer (in your case hotel guest)?
Just a random Google search. They were a gay couple from Mexico City looking for gay friendly lodging in Puerto Escondido. We are not a gay specific property but make it very clear that we are gay friendly.
Knowing what you know now, if you could go back to when you started your business, what (if anything) would you have done differently?
Nothing too major. With construction there are always things you would go back and tinker with but in overall terms we’re happy with how it is all going.