What’s in a name these days?
A lot, arguably, especially if you’re a tropical resort vying for success in a nervous marketplace marred by rising COVID-19 cases, travel warnings and heightened fears around health and security.
In the Dominican Republic, the all-inclusive Hilton La Romana, aside from being a recently-renovated, upscale, nature-wrapped utopia, has one unique advantage amid the pandemic: its connection to the Hilton name.
“Hilton is one of the most important hotel brands in the world,” said Carlos Fresco, the general manager at Hilton La Romana, where PAX stayed from Nov. 26-28 as part of a 24-day tour of the Dominican Republic. “The company [which operates more than 575 hotels across six continents] has a long history and they are very organized.”
What does this mean to pandemic-era travellers?
“Guests feel more comfortable because they recognize the brand,” Fresco said.
But with big brands come big responsibilities, and at Hilton La Romana, which is operated by Playa Hotels and Resorts, the Hilton name also translates into Hilton-level standards of service and safety.
Safety at the Hilton level
Hilton La Romana – a modern, twin property with one side for families (412 rooms) and another side for adults (356 rooms) – reopened on Nov. 15 following an eight-month-long shutdown due to the pandemic.
Since then, visitors to this lush and leafy resort have been subject to new and enhanced health and hygiene procedures, such as temperature checks, routine squirts of hand sanitizer and the request to wear masks in common areas.
These protocols are supported by Playa Safe Stay, a “modernized approach” to cleanliness, introduced in response to COVID-19, that is now standard at all of Playa’s 18 resorts in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Mexico. (Click here to learn more).
Playa properties come with social distancing markers on floors, barriers at check-in desks and buffets and the company uses QR codes to replace touch points like menus and pamphlets.
There are directives for staff to wear masks (and goggles, in some cases) at all times, disinfect luggage, clean surfaces regularly and seal sanitized rooms with a sticker to demonstrate that it has remained untouched before each guest arrives.
Room service is delivered in a pre-packaged takeout bag and left at the base of doors, on a stool, eliminating the need for staff to enter.
But as we learned in the Dominican Republic – and at Hilton La Romana, in particular – there’s not just one program safeguarding the vacation experience.
There’s three: Playa’s Safe Stay, Hilton’s own program, called “Clean Stay,” and protocols mandated by Dominican’s Ministry of Tourism.
“We had committees that analyzed each of them,” Fresco told us. “It’s a big effort with more supervision, tools and training to ensure that staff and guests are safe.”
Playa’s partnership with Hilton (and Hyatt, too) have allowed the company to adapt best practices in all of its hotels and gain access to key collaborations. (Hilton, for example, is partnered with RB, maker of Lysol and Dettol).
But this isn’t just about name dropping. At the resort level, the priority is to guarantee guests that safety protocols are working and being followed, said Fresco.
“Because the consequences can be very high,” he said. “There’s no space for improvisation.”
“Our attitude is that a [COVID-19 outbreak] can happen anytime, any minute, and we have to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
Capturing the "warmth of the Caribbean"
Still, while hand sanitizer, touchless thermometers and masks are important, they don’t interrupt the pure bliss that’s offered at Hilton La Romana, which is roughly 20 minutes from La Romana airport, 45 minutes from Punta Cana and 75 minutes from Santo Domingo.
The tranquil hotel, which is canopied by acres of green foliage, is still a relatively new product.
Located on the southeastern side of the Dominican Republic, the compound used to be a Dreams, until Playa and Hilton took over the property in 2018 and renovated it into two entities.
Hilton La Romana All-Inclusive Adult Resort opened first in August 2019, unveiling modernized rooms, a new lobby, premium lounge, restaurant and coffee shop.
The lobby, for one, is exclusive to adults and has earth-tone furnishings that reflect dozens of shades of tropical green with flower-power accents of fuchsia, crimson and cream.
This relaxing design was inspired by Jarabacoa, a Dominican city known for its abundance of orchids, eucalyptus trees, birds, butterflies and waterfalls, said Shirley Sánchez, sales director at Hilton La Romana.
The space “represents the warmth of the Caribbean,” she said.
Smartly-designed restaurants, indoors and out, serving Mediterranean, seafood, Dominican and Pan-Asian fare can be found in this neck of woods (for the freshest sushi ever, try Sakura).
As part of Hilton and Playa’s safe dining protocols, cutlery is now served in plastic wrap, seating is spaced out and tables are set as guests arrive, ensuring a sanitary experience.
Hilton La Romana All-Inclusive Family Resort opened in December 2019 and it, too, has its own lobby of bright colours and redesigned elements.
The main family pool, in the Dreams days, used to (unintentionally) be in shape of Mickey Mouse’s head, we were told. This pool has since been remodelled to offer better views of the ocean.
French, Italian, steak, pizza and seafood specialities can be found in the family restaurants.
There’s also a brand new splashtastic water park (the only one in the area) with four water slides, a splash pad for kids and a sprawling lazy river.
The vibe in each stylish section (all ages and adults) is laid back, luxurious and new. (There’s no wear and tear. Anywhere).
Both sides feature angular, low-rise buildings, swim-out suites and two pools (interior premium and ocean-facing) and adults can use the amenities on both sides.
Hilton La Romana is also home to the only convention centre in the region.
"Nature is one of our biggest assets"
The result of Playa and Hilton’s multimillion-dollar reno is a “bohemian, but modern hotel” that’s committed to protecting the biodiversity in its environment, said Fresco.
Have you ever seen a sanctuary for flamingos in the middle of a property? Hilton La Romana has one.
The municipality of La Romana is also a diverse nursey of unique plants and bright flowers.
“Nature is one of our biggest assets,” said Sánchez, noting the “picture perfect” gardens that blanket Hilton La Romana, which is a very romantic setting for oceanfront weddings.
The staff, supported by Playa’s “Service from the Heart” mantra, are also at the top of their game, remembering drink orders and the names of guests on cue.
But one of the most gush-worthy aspects about this hotel is its prime location on Bayahibe Beach, a peaceful stretch of soft sand and coconut trees that wraps around into a sparkling turquoise-blue bay.
Here, there’s only crystal-clear, placid ocean water (as if Mother Nature offered up her own natural swimming pool) with no seaweed and a Caribbean seafloor populated by starfish, cuttlefishes and coral reefs.
Is snorkeling gear included in your stay? You bet it is.
Really, this exclusive beach is a great option for families with small children as there’s not one potentially-hazardous wave in sight.
There’s even a boardwalk that stretches out into the bay where you can watch the most blazing sunsets that Dominican Republic has to offer.
While occupancy numbers were low during our stay (the hotel was, after all, only into its second week since reopening), the team is confident it can rebuild business, gradually, through 2021.
“We depend completely on what is happening worldwide with the vaccine,” Fresco said.
However: “We’ve reengineered our whole operation,” he added. “We’ve learned how to work with low occupancy. It is possible.”
Either way, with its multi-layer safety program, renovated amenities, pristine location and brand power, Hilton La Romana has put the right pieces in place to get back in the game.
It’s in a league of its own.
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