When it comes to identifying the things that make an all-inclusive resort successful in the year 2020, Kevin Froemming narrows it down to a straight-forward checklist.
“To be successful, it starts with service,” the executive vice president and chief commercial officer for Playa Hotels and Resorts tells PAX. “You have to have the best staff.”
After that, a prime location, a spectacular beach, and exceptional food comes next, he says – standard amenities that, in today’s age, seem pretty obvious for all-inclusive getaways, wouldn’t ya think?
Not so fast.
Finding a resort that knocks service, location, beach and food out of the park, so to speak, isn’t as common as one may think, the executive claims.
“It’s so rare that you have a property that hits on all the issues,” says Froemming. “You could have this great resort, but it could be 2.5 hours from the airport. Or maybe the beach has problems.”
It was out of this realization “of what an all-inclusive resort should be” that Froemming and the Playa team set out to build the ultimate property that would not only check all the boxes, but also aim to redefine what it means to offer an all-included, five-star experience.
And with that, the Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara Cap Cana was born.
A twin-resort paradise located in a gated community in the Dominican Republic, the mirroring, U-shaped properties (Ziva for all ages, Zilara for adults) opened in November 2019 following a two-and-a-half-year construction schedule.
With 750 spacious, ocean-facing suites (375 in each section, including some swim-ups), the property is the newest member of Playa’s family of brands, which includes Hyatt Ziva/Zilara, Hilton, Sanctuary, Turquoize, Jewel Grande/Jewel Resorts, and Panama Jack, collectively.
It’s also the first resort Playa has ever built from scratch.
“I’ve been in this industry for 20-something years and this may be one of my proudest moments,” Froemming says, speaking with PAX one-on-one at Playa’s recent Spotlight Awards (an event that honours travel agents that was, fittingly, held at the new Ziva and Zilara Cap Cana). “It’s rare that you get the chance to build a property from the ground up.”
Location, location, location
Playa’s new Hyatt Ziva and Zilara Cap Cana is a swift 10 to 15-minute drive from Punta Cana airport.
Cap Cana is an exclusive gated community on the eastern shores of the Dominican Republic. It's sometimes referred to as the "The Beverley Hills of the Dominican” in trade circles.
The modernly-chic, oceanfront, waterpark-enabled resort sits on a half-a-mile-long, 100-yard-wide beach that’s blanketed with powdery-white sand and postcard-pretty palm trees.
Good location? Check. Good beach? Check.
Froemming says he started eyeing this prized location back in 2014 when the lot was nothing but a field of mangroves
“The mission was to design something unique and special, but it started with the land,” Froemming says. “It’s very difficult to get permission to build in Cap Cana.”
Once Playa got their permits in order, “it was a slam dunk,” he says.
Being a gated community (two gates if you count the guards you have to pass to enter the Ziva/Zilara grounds), Cap Cana revolves around convenience and privacy.
“You can bring your kids and not have to worry about transfers that are one-two hours long,” Froemming says. “And it’s very safe. People go jogging in the streets.”
Service from the heart
But what’s a resort in a prime location worth without exceptional staff to run it?
Froemming says some 10,000 people applied to work at the new Hyatt Ziva and Zilara Cap Cana – an application pool that was narrowed down to just more than 1,000 employees.
“We attract the best talent, locally, which translates into great service for our customers,” he says.
Workers were hired based on how well they fit into Playa’s culture of offering service from the heart.
For example, staff will – and PAX can confirm this – routinely greet guests with a friendly hand-on-the-heart gesture and bow, and if you ask for directions on property, employees will likely walk you there (instead of simply pointing).
Good service? Check.
“Anyone can build a magical place like this if you have enough money,” Froemming says. “But to make it run efficiently in a country like the Dominican Republic, that’s very unique.”
"...a big opportunity for us.”
Delivering top-notch service is key to Playa’s expansion strategy, especially when it comes to winning-over new customers who may not have an accurate sense of what a modern-day, all-inclusive luxury resort entails.
Thanks to Playa’s partnership with Hyatt and Hilton, these type of customers have never been more accessible.
“Between Hyatt and Hilton, they have 130 to 135 million loyalty customers, and when we polled those loyalty bases, less than seven per cent of them had an accurate understanding of what an all-inclusive was,” Froemming says.
To that end, Froemming says Playa’s properties have become the number one redemption choice among loyalty customers within the Hyatt/Hilton system, which goes a long way in tapping into new and uncharted markets.
“Once you’re hooked on points, you’re going to stay within that brand,” says Froemming, who’s convinced that once customers experience a Playa resort, they’ll want to return. “It’s a big opportunity for us.”
“Travel agents were very much involved”
Does the new Hyatt Ziva and Zilara Cap Cana have what it takes to get people hooked? Quite possibly.
The design-savvy dining and bar venues on site – 17 total – break the mould in creativity and fresh-thinking cuisine.
PAX visited many restaurants during a recent stay, with some of our favourites being:
- Journeys: serving Indian in the Zilara section, featuring a built-in train car that guests can dine in, modelled after The Maharajas' Express. (The butter chicken is mind-blowing).
- The One Eyed Cat: a sexy martini bar also at Zilara with décor/drinks inspired by James Bond 007.
- Brandos: a black and white-coloured space in Zilara with larger-than-life lamps and white upside-down umbrella chandeliers, serving French Cuisine prepared with Polynesian flair.
- Noodle & Thread: serving Italian at Ziva, with décor reminiscent of an old-school tailor’s shop complete with sewing machines and vintage clothing.
- Chinola: a beachfront eatery at Ziva specializing in clean eating, serving meals that cater to keto, vegan, paleo and gluten-free diets.
Many of the dining venues at this Ziva/Zilara offer healthy options that legitimately taste good (a rare quality in the all-inclusive world).
Good food? Check.
“Travel agents were very much involved with this,” says Froemming, explaining how the feedback Playa receives from travel advisors has an influence on how decisions are made at properties.
Ensuring guests have health-conscious options in both their food and day-to-day activities has never been more important in today’s all-inclusive world, Froemming adds.
It’s no wonder, then, why Hyatt Ziva and Zilara Cap Cana also features what could arguably be the most impressive fitness facilities to ever be built at an all-inclusive resort: a 14,000 sq. ft. gym with two cardio areas, spaces for Zumba, spinning and Pilates, a sprawling weight room, punching bags in the hallways and even a space for cross-fit.
“It’s all about allowing people to do the things they want without being forced into what’s offered,” Froemming says.
The property’s soon-to-open spa, Larimar, a 22,750 sq. ft. chamber with a hydrotherapy circuit, 14 treatment rooms and an outdoor oasis lagoon, also aims to impress.
“We’ve built an underground cavern,” Froemming says, giving us a hint. “You literally walk into a cave.”
The new Hyatt Ziva and Zilara Cap Cana is expected to have an influence on Playa’s current and future resorts.
Plans are already place to convert restaurants at other Playa properties into healthy-eating venues over the next 12 to 24 months, Froemming says.
Playa currently operates 21 properties in Mexico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, and shows no signs of slowing down either.
“You’ll see us continue to expand in Jamaica,” Froemming says. “We own some really great land next to the Hilton [there] that we want to build on.”
Aruba, St. Lucia and Antigua top the list of future destinations that Playa is looking to expand into. “Barbados would be interesting as well,” Froemming adds.
The company’s hopes and dreams aren’t limited to the Caribbean either. The Hyatt brand, says Froemming, has “exceptional strength and awareness” in the far east, too.
“We’ve had some very significant discussions with our partners at Hyatt about building a Hyatt Ziva-Zilara in places like Phuket, Bali and Bora Bora,” Froemming says.
Whatever happens, you can bet Canada’s travel trade will have a seat at the table.
“Travel agents have been on the forefront of everything we do. They’ve gotten us to where we are today,” Froemming says. “If we can help them solidify and grow their customer base, and make sure their customers keep coming back because we give them great service, we’re going to be great partners together.”
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