Apple Leisure Group Has Big Expansion Plans in the Caribbean
It’s the hottest thing in travel right now, particularly in the Caribbean: all-inclusive, the all-in-one food and beverage concept that’s become the most sought after demand for travelers.
And it’s also the hottest thing in hotel development, with more and more large brands entering the space, from Marriott to Hilton.
And then there’s Hyatt, which entered in a very smart way: by acquiring what is the fastest-growing all-inclusive company, not just in the Caribbean, but in the world.
Ask a hotel owner or developer whose building something new or looking to convert, and chances are a partnership with ALG is under high consideration.
That’s because the company’s unique, vertically integrated model, which covers every facet of the hotel and tourism business.
ALG isn’t like any other leisure travel company in the Caribbean, and it has its sights set on major expansion, beyond its strongest markets in Mexico and the Dominican Republic: and particularly in the English-speaking Caribbean.
To learn more about ALG, where the company is going, and why it’s so hot with owners and developers, CJI talked to Javier Coll, the company’s Group President for Global Business Development & Innovation.
Tell us about Apple Leisure Group and why it’s such a unique company.
It’s a combination of things in between the right and the unique business model. We’ve been doing that for many years in the leisure business, which is the one we’re focused on. And we have the right executive tea to execute it. I would say it’s the quality of our executives, but it’s also owner relationships, which, at the end of the day, is what matters to us.
So we’ve been doing this for more than half a century, and that makes us unique. Basically, we control every line of distribution needed to fill leisure hotels: the loyalty program and the B2B and the B2c and the vacation club, you have many ways to fill a leisure resort. Some companies have some of that, some have other parts of that, but we have everything. And when I say everything, I mean we have our own distribution, which is probably the most unique feature compared to any other company. That is a very important component when selling and filling a hotel.
How has the Hyatt acquisition changed the company?
One plus one equals three. That’s what it was. In this case, Hyatt provided ALG with brand recognition beyond the Caribbean, the World of Hyatt program, that we didn’t have. At the same time, World of Hyatt members now have access to some of the best resorts in the Caribbean, which are ours. This is giving us access to many geographies we didn’t have access to. We weren’t even dreaming of going to Asia, the Middle East, and now we have that opportunity. The whole process has been a blessing for us, and we contributed good things to Hyatt. So the beautify of all this is that it’s happening with a remarkable alignment in culture and care for our colleagues. That was something we both shared, and that we’re very focused on owners.
I don’t believe in focusing on brands to create a company like ours. I believe in focusing on owners, and the service you give to owners. Because this is a management company — it’s not a factory where we make a product. This is about service, so by taking care of that you take care of the company. And Hyatt had that same mentality.
How do you work with owners?
I personally like to say that we are truly the leading all-inclusive company in this part of the world. And of course, other companies say the same. But I believe it, and we’re rapidly expanding to other countries and continents. And I believe that we’re the leading company in terms of innovation, in terms of being the first ones tackling high-end all-inclusives.
We started this company 20 years ago, and we are younger than our competitors, but we were innovating in terms of tackling the high-end all-inclusive, and we’ve been learning a lot and innovating and trying to keep that edge.
This is what we offer to owners. We filter every decision to the owners — owners come first, and that means profitability and relationships and flexibility. We focus on the returns, that’s something that not every company does.
We want to make sure our deals are profitable for them so they get the attention they need. The properties are well maintained; by doing that the brand will be successful. No other company controls every side of the business to fill those resorts. We own traditional B2b, traditional B2c, now we have World of Hyatt, we also have a very successful vacation club program that acts as a loyalty program even though it’s not. But we also have direct channels. So all of those things benefit the owners, that are truly distinctive to other companies.
We can deliver the best results in every location to an owner, but with much lesss risk. Performance changes based on the country and the area, but performance adjusted to the place and the asset is almost ensured by working with us.
Some of our hotels will have 50 to 60 percent from internal channels. That’s a lot. That also ensures that when you have a crisis, you’re going to recover faster than the competitors. So if you as an owner are interested in lessening the risk, maximizing the returns, this is the unique platform to do that. That is what we do for owners.
What about rebrandings?
With rebrandings, we assist the owners with architecture, through the process, we meet with the architects, we are flexible and understand that every owner is different. Every owner has different needs, and we try to be flexible to adapt to owners’ needs throughout the process. That’s something that when you read it, it may not seem that important, but when you go through the process, it’s extremely important. The goal is to deliver those results, and everything is due to our unique business model and our focus on owners.
What are your upcoming openings in the Caribbean?
We have many openings in the Caribbean. We have planned to open almost 20 in Europe and the Caribbean. This year, we have opened two: Secrets Moxche, which is beautiful, one of the best hotels in the Caribbean; and the other is Dreams Cartagena, which was our entrance to South America, it’s a completely new concept in Cartagena. In the last 24 months, we have opened 13 properties in the Caribbean, in Mexico, St Martin, Dominican Republic, Curacao, Saint Lucia. We’re expanding to other places beyond the typical Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
What about Saint Lucia as a market?
Saint Lucia is a great destination. We look at destinations where there are direct flights from the United States. When there is a connecting flight or a connection it gets more complicated, especially when you’re talking about an average vacation of 5 days for Americans, who are our main customers.
We focus on direct flights. Of course, Saint Lucia has that, besides a lot of interest and production from Europe. That also attracted to us, and we now have Zoetry Marigot Bay and Secrets St James, both are in renovation. We expect to change the brand for Marigot Bay at the end of the year, and Secrets St James at the end of next year. The island is very attractive, and this is part of an expansion plan in the English-speaking Caribbean.
What attracts you to the English-speaking Caribbean?
One of the most important things we look at is direct flights. That’s what we need to maximize the time that the customer spends on property to make it worthwhile.
We’re already in Jamaica, one of the largest destinations in the Caribbean, and looking for more expansion. Elsewhere in the Caribbean, we’re in Curacao, in St Martin, we have a hotel [project] in Aruba.
There are many other islands like Barbados, Bermuda, Antigua, the Cayman Islands, even Nassau, where we want to be as well. That’s a lot of potential for us to grow in the Caribbean, and the idea would be to have every single brand in those places. Sometimes the size of the island or the size of the market, it’s not a good idea. But we will assess that, and our idea is to be in all of those islands.
Why do you think Curacao has seen so much all-inclusive growth?
Curacao is a similar case as St Lucia, but Dutch. The ABC islands are attractive: there are no hurricanes, that is very important. You also have traffic from Latin America and from Europe that makes it more attractive. Curacao is a great island, it has a great vibe. It’s different than other islands in the Caribbean. We have Zoëtry, where we’re adding a very innovative and new type of product called Spazio, a pre-fab that you can put on any piece of land, including right in front of the ocean. That is really new and there’s nothing like it in the Caribbean. These are the types of things we are doing to be ahead of our competitors. Once we stabilize those two projects, Dreams and Zoëtry (along with the existing Sunscape), hopefully we have more opportunities to keep growing.
Why do you think all-inclusive is so popular, and where do you see all-inclusive going in the years ahead?
I always say that all-inclusive is so convenient, and convenience is something that should be attached to leisure.
Sometimes you have to travel for work, and you don’t necessary look for convenience, you look for other things. But when you travel for leisure, and it’s your vacation or a family vacation, you need to make sure it’s convenient in every sense of the word: flights, transportation within the destination, at the location and access to services. It had to be convenient. And it’s not about price, because we have all kinds of prices in our brands, we have very affordable resorts and we have extremely expensive resorts. So that depends on your appetite to spend more or less. But all of them have a commonality, that they’re all-inclusive, because of that convenience aspect.
You don’t have to worry about anything, about your wallet, about prices or menus. So your kids are walking around the resort ordering whatever they want, and they don’t bother you with “give me 20 dollars.” Money is not the point. We have been trying to explain that and put that out there so more and more people try all-inclusive, which is what’s happening.
You can have a very high-end customer paying a very high rate and still be all-inclusive. We always use the example of Abercrombie and Kent and we say, okay, have you been to Africa? How was it? And the customer says, “well, I went with Abercrombie and Kent, it was very expensive and it was great.” And we ask, did you pay for anything during your stay? And they say, “no, it was all-inclusive.”
That’s the point. Changing that mindset, that old mindset. A lot of people have changed and adopted that.
It’s not a coincidence that every single company: Marriott and others, are being very aggressive in trying to get into this market, particularly in the Caribbean. It’s not a coincidence, it’s happening now and It’s my opinion that it’s not going to change. It’s here to stay for a long time.