Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
“Travel agents mean everything to us,” said Kevin Froemming, executive vice president and chief commercial officer at Playa Hotels & Resorts. “We have the upmost respect for them.”
And with that sentiment in mind, Playa Hotels and Resorts kicked off their fourth annual Spotlight Awards - titled "The Greatest Show" - last night (Jan. 9) in the Dominican Republic.
“The Spotlight Awards recognizes our best and most powerful agents in the industry,” Froemming told PAX, which is covering the event, on location, in Cap Cana, an exclusive high-end gated community located along the eastern white sandy beach shores of the D.R.
This year’s 2020 festivities, held from Jan. 9-12, invited just over 100 travel agents from both Canada and the United States, as well as Playa’s enthusiastic team of business development managers.
It’s literally the Oscars of Playa Hotels and Resorts, which has shown exponential growth recently, having gone from seven hotels to an eye-popping twenty in just five years.
But the talk of this year’s Spotlight Awards is not just the hardworking travel advisors who have supported the Playa brand over time (travel pros whose sales, really, have helped Playa get to the level it’s at today, with properties in Mexico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic)
This year, all eyes are also on the venue: the brand-new Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara Cap Cana, a luxury, all-inclusive, twin-resort property for both families and adults that opened its doors in November 2019.
“I can’t wait to experience this property,” said TravelOnly’s Ian Elliot, who was spotted in the mix at a welcome reception held in a funky gala space located in the centre of the Ziva and Zilara sections.
Big, bold and beautiful
The Hyatt Ziva (which is kid-friendly, geared towards families) and Hyatt Zilara (for adults only) is, arguably, one of Playa’s most ambitious projects to date after the company bought the land in Cap Cana (which was previously a field of mangroves) and developed it into a mirroring, oceanfront-facing, U-shaped property, from the ground up.
It was bold, it was ambitious. It was a first.
“Building this property from the ground-up really gave us the opportunity to bring to light things we never couldn’t have done with a takeover hotel,” Rose Cosentino, vice-president of sales for Canada at Playa Hotels and Resorts, told PAX Thursday night.
Both Ziva and Zilara (each of which boast 375 spacious suites – oceanfront with some swim-ups) offer a range of innovative, functional (and, frankly, downright cool) amenities that will, undoubtedly, generate a loud and sounding buzz amongst guests and industry pundits.
Among them (as PAX can attest after touring both sections extensively) includes an Indian restaurant called Journeys in the Zilara section that features a built-in train car (that guests can dine in) modelled after The Maharajas' Express.
The spectacular installation could honestly pass as a film set for a big-budget Bollywood film.
But Journeys is just the beginning. Many of the all-included dining and bar venues, at both Ziva and Zilara – 17 total – break the mould in creativity and modern design.
The One Eyed Cat, a bar also at Zilara, is a sexy and exotic martini bar that was inspired by the hangouts and likeness of James Bond 007.
Another Zilara landing point we loved was Brandos, a black and white, illusion-teasing space with larger-than-life lamps and white upside-down umbrella chandeliers that serves French Cuisine prepared with a Polynesian flair.
Ziva, the family-friendly side, features the same level of high-end design as Zilara. However, one will notice more curves and whimsical elements in this kid-friendly section (whereas Zilara plays more into mature lines, shapes and clean corners).
By the way, in case you can’t remember which section caters to families and which one to adults, there’s a simple trick to remembering:
“The names have the same number of letters as the type of guest,” said Marta, a wedding coordinator for the property, who led our site inspection.
Meaning, kids (four letters) stay at the four-lettered Ziva while adults (five letters) stay at the five-lettered Zilara.
And, oh, the dining spaces at Ziva (which adult guests at Zilara also have access to), are equally eye-catching.
There’s a wickedly cool Italian restaurant called Noodle & Thread that’s reminiscent of an old-school tailor’s shop complete with sewing machines and vintage clothing.
And, of course, we were obsessed with Chinola – a beachfront eatery that specializes in clean eating, with meals that cater to today’s diets, form keto to vegan to gluten-free.
"...letting our architects & designers go crazy”
“Building something from the ground up was like having a blank sheet of paper and letting our architects and designers go crazy,” Kevin Froemming told PAX, noting the resort’s soon-to-open spa, Larimar, a 22,750 sq. ft. cavernous chamber with a hydrotherapy circuit, 14 treatment rooms and an outdoor oasis lagoon.
“We’ve built an underground cavern,” Froemming said of the spa, which opens next week. “You literally walk into a cave.”
Family-friendly Ziva is also home to a wild waterpark – located at the front of the building, so it doesn’t compromise the ocean view – which boasts a lazy river with grotto cascade, water cannons and seven slides.
And at the centre of both Ziva and Zilara – which, really, are only a 3-4 minute walk apart, depending on where you’re coming from – is the biggest, most comprehensive fitness centre we have ever seen at a resort. No joke.
Coming in at a whopping 14,000 sq. ft., the gym has two cardio areas, spaces for Zumba, spinning and Pilates, a sprawling weight room, punching bags in the lofty hallways and even a space for cross-fit.
“It’s a beast, to say the least,” Rose Cosentino quipped. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Even if you don’t work out, you gotta walk through it.”
Where in the world was Freddie Marsh?
Playa’s much-loved BDMs for Canada are representing at this year’s Spotlight Awards, in both human and cardboard form.
Freddie Marsh, Playa’s BDM for Western Canada, unfortunately, couldn’t make it to this year’s awards for reasons beyond his control.
(It’s nothing dramatic – the awards were simply rescheduled to a week that Freddie had previously booked off for a cruise).
Still, that didn’t stop his BDM counterparts in Ontario (Amanda Morris) and Quebec/Atlantic Canada (Christian Roussin) from including Freddie in the fun.
Spotted lugging a life-sized cut-out of Freddie Marsh around the property was Morris, who, despite her long-time rivalry with Marsh, admitted that she was “really sad” that her colleague in Western Canada couldn’t join the team, and their agents, in Cap Cana.
“We decided to bring him here in another way,” Morris told PAX, gesturing to a life-like (and oddly hypnotizing) cardboard prop, made to scale from a recent glamour shot of Marsh. “Really, if we could actually clone him, that would be amazing.”
Morris went on to win an award for “Highest Growth” for a Playa BDM at Thursday night’s cocktail sesh, where a handful of awards were announced (the rest will be unveiled at a gala Friday night).
Marsh, who obviously wishes he could have attended this week, provided the following statement to PAX:
“I would like to congratulate all of the fabulous travel agent partners from Western Canada who qualified for this year’s Spotlight Awards. It is a major accomplishment in terms of sales just to qualify to attend this incredible event,” Marsh wrote in an email. “Thank-you for all of your hard work and your commitment to Playa Resorts. Western Canada once again exceeded sales goals and I have you to thank. You are the best of the best, and I really wish I was there with you to help celebrate your success. Cheers to you!!”
Stay tuned as PAX brings you more on-location coverage from Playa’s 2020 Spotlight Awards in the Dominican Republic!
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