What’s Next for AMResorts in the Caribbean?

Zoëtry Agua Punta Cana in the Dominican RepublicZoëtry Agua Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic
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By Alexander Britell

If you’ve been following the Caribbean hotel pipeline, you’ve probably seen one company’s name pop up quite a bit this year: AMResorts. Indeed, the company has been steadily expanding its reach in the Caribbean hotel sector, with new openings planned in both traditional markets and new islands like Aruba. So what’s next for the luxury all-inclusive brand? CJ talked to Javier Coll, executive vice president at parent company Apple Leisure Group, to find out more. 

AMResorts has been on a major expansion push in the Caribbean. What’s next?

Apple Leisure Group’s aggressive growth goes hand-in-hand with AMResorts’ record-breaking year.  By the end of 2018, our resorts arm will have more than 60 resorts in 26 destinations across eight countries. Continued entry into new, primary destinations is part of our strategy for success. For example, we just announced the addition of Sunscape Puerto Plata. We see great potential for this region of the Dominican Republic.

We have really become experts in the Caribbean. This is very important. Our ability to drive demand and meet travelers’ needs in new and existing destinations in the region are some of the key reasons owners look to us. In fact, we are now averaging one resort signing every two weeks. Never before has a single hotel chain managed to incorporate in the Caribbean and Central America 17 hotels in less than 12 months.

Apple Leisure Group brings two out of 10 North American travelers to the Caribbean each year. Clearly, the demand for Caribbean vacations is here to stay, presenting a wealth of opportunity. Easy-to-reach beach destinations where North American customers get to via nonstop flights within one to five hours will continue to be our main targets for entry and expansion. Part of our strategy is also to evaluate the opportunities presented by emerging markets like Haiti and Cuba while growing our footprint in tried and true destinations our customers love, like the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. Eventually, we plan to expand further, penetrating sought after markets in South America and Asia.

What’s the future for Cuba tourism? How does Cuba play into your future development plans?

While restrictions have loosened and allowed for more Americans to travel to the country, U.S. hotel companies cannot currently expand their brands into Cuba at this time.

We are definitely keeping an eye on Cuba. The size of the island and its rich culture will make the destination one of the largest markets in the Caribbean.  We are open to exploring opportunities that make sense for our customers, especially given the country’s beautiful beaches and proximity to the U.S.

As we did with Cancun and Jamaica many years ago, we look forward to take a leadership role in building the destination for leisure travel.

We’ve had some initial conversations and are excited for what the future brings.

What’s your outlook for the region’s tourism sector in 2016?

In general, the Caribbean will continue to be a hotspot for North American visitors. We expect to see an increase in foreign investments as U.S. companies integrate the Caribbean’s economic, social and political agendas. This will further stimulate the economy and overall growth of the region. Beautiful weather, pristine beaches and its geographic position gives the Caribbean the right tools needed for growth. With that said, it’s also imperative that local and state politicians focus on attracting foreign investment versus winning the next election. Having long-term vision is the key to success.

The opportunities coming into focus for Cuba’s travel sector are very real and will play an important role in overall tourism to the Caribbean in 2016. It will take time to get viable travel strategies off the ground, especially in the mid- to high-end markets catering to U.S. travelers if relations continue to thaw. For Cuba to fully compete with Mexico, the Dominican Republic and other major Caribbean destinations, the island will need to improve its tourism infrastructure.  Even smaller charters to the island will hinge on the development of new hotel and resort options – something that may not happen without the removal of the U.S. embargo.

The Zoëtry brand has been particularly prolific in its growth – why is that?

More travelers are seeking a premium, boutique experience, and Zoëtry Wellness & Spa Resorts offer the best of both worlds where everything is included in an intimate setting.

The brand’s signature Endless Privileges® vacation concept is definitely an important ingredient in the brand’s recipe for success.  Simply put, it has redefined the all-inclusive concept to offer above and beyond perks that not only add great value, but also elevate the experience.

Some of the amenities include no check-in or check-out times, 24-hour concierge service, international calls, daily laundry service, etc.

What are the areas of the Caribbean AMResorts is looking at as new markets?

Over the next few years, we plan to continue growing our footprint in existing destinations that have proved fruitful for us: the ever-popular Mexico and the Caribbean (specifically, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica). Additionally, if the opportunity presents itself, we’d like to expand our award-winning brands to Cuba, South America and Asia.

Do you ever see the French Caribbean as a potential development area?

Apple Leisure Group is open to the right opportunities in the French Caribbean, as long as it makes sense in terms of logistics, investment opportunities and for our customers.

While each Caribbean destination has unique attributes that attract travelers, the market is still highly-competitive (from an investment and vacationer standpoint). It is critical that Caribbean politicians provide investment incentives and favorable labor laws to successfully attract interest from foreign investors. Once investment is secured, banking, flights and suppliers will soon follow.

How has the all-inclusive sector changed in recent years?

AMResorts truly redefined the all-inclusive sector when it began taking the traditional resort model and making it appealing to North American travelers. We created our signature vacation concepts, Endless Privileges, Unlimited-Luxury and Unlimited-Fun, where everything is included, and did away with standards like wristbands and reservations at the restaurants.

We continue to build on these innovative concepts to adapt to changing traveler desires. Today’s travelers, for example, are seeking personalization and local experiences, and we’ve listened. On-property this can range from amenity customizations, including bedding or in-room food and beverage preferences to one-of-a-kind experiences that aim to not just create privacy and elevated luxury, but also a unique memory.  Off-site, immersive, hyper-local excursions continue to be popular. Whether it be culture, cuisine or philanthropic-centric activities, guests want to touch, see and taste our destinations.

A space where this is very evident is in food and beverage. Guests want a gourmet experience and healthier meals. Guests are asking for the organic, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options they enjoy at home.  Our boutique luxury brand Zoëtry Wellness & Spa Resorts, for example, is known for serving healthy, gourmet cuisine both in restaurants and in-room dining.

What is AMResorts’ biggest strength going forward?

AMResorts’ biggest strength is its role in Apple Leisure Group’s vertically integrated model, especially because ALG has powerful distribution channels which are a major benefit to owners. When an owner joins our portfolio, he or she knows we have the distribution to support that resort and position it in front of the right audiences.  There are many management companies and many brands but very few of them have solid distribution channels to offer hotel owners. Additionally, while Fidelity programs may be appropriate for urban hotels, they are not necessarily a fit for beach resorts. Hotel owners and investors should take all of these factors into consideration when choosing a partner to manage their properties.

AMResorts’ strength also lies in its ability to provide hotel owners with a variety of brands that cater to every travel segment. For example, Breathless Resorts & Spas provides an all-adult experience for sophisticated singles, couples and friends where as Sunscape Resorts & Spas is on the other end of the spectrum, providing families and friends with Unlimited-Fun® in an affordable, but relaxing atmosphere.

 

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