Monday,  August 8, 2022  6:38 pm

On Location: “Safer than my local grocery store." Agents experience The Grand at Moon Palace

On Location: “Safer than my local grocery store." Agents experience The Grand at Moon Palace
Top left, clockwise: Tamara Postma (TTAND); Laura Middleton (Vision Travel Solutions); Reza Salkhordeh (Heat Wave Travel); Pauline Blacoe (Shine Travel/TravelOnly.
Michael Pihach

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 Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

“Cancun is the heartbeat of Palace Resorts,” said Diana Winters, business development manager for Ontario at Palace Resorts and Le Blanc Spa Resort. “It's the mothership.”

Palace opened its first property, Beach Palace, in Cancun in 1985, so when Winters had the opportunity to return to the popular Mexican beach town, and bring 30 Canadian travel agents with her, it was a true homecoming.

But this year’s Palace Megafam – a fun and informative trip that the Palace Canadian team hosts every year that has become so popular with agents there’s a waiting list – had a slightly different tone.

Unfolding in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FAM, held from Nov. 14-21, gave advisors an opportunity to see just how Palace Resorts is responding to the safety needs of guests through Purely Palace, a health and hygiene program the company introduced in May. (Click here to learn more).

“It was incredibly important for me to have agents experience the properties and our Purely Palace protocols in an environment that is realistic in terms of occupancy levels,” said Winters of the trip, which was hosted at The Grand at Moon Palace.

(Hotel occupancy in Mexico’s Quintana Roo region, notably, is currently capped at 60 per cent).

It was also the first time that many agents had travelled, internationally, since the pandemic first hit. 

Palace held its annual Megafam for agents in Cancun from Nov. 14-21. (Supplied)

“We turned it into a week-long ‘Parking Lot Party,'" said Winters, referring to the agent meet-ups she held in parking lots across Ontario over the summer. “We laughed, we cried and we shared in this historic journey. We needed this.”

Diana Winters, business development manager for Ontario at Palace Resorts and Le Blanc Spa Resort. (Supplied)

“I truly believe that it was necessary for us to feel good, and begin the healing, so that we are ready to answer the call to the countless people that will travel when the 14-day quarantine is lifted.”

Travel agents experience The Grand at Moon Palace. (Supplied)

Returning to The Grand

The Grand at Moon Palace opened in Cancun three years ago with 1,316 spacious, marble-laden rooms – all of which come equipped with a balcony and double whirlpool jacuzzi tub.

“The moment you set foot into the lobby and see the opulent chandelier in the lobby bar…It does something to me every time,” Winters told PAX.

The Grand is an extension of Moon Palace Cancun, which is known for its Sunrise, Nizuc and Jack Nicklaus-approved golf sections.

Inside the Family Deluxe suite at The Grand at Moon Palace. Photo: Palace Resorts

The resort is “as if Le Blanc and Moon Palace had a baby,” as Winters told us at last year’s event.

There are 11 restaurants, serving everything from Italian to Asian to Steak to Mexican to even Lebanese cuisine, nine pools – including an adults-only sections called Unique Day Club – a glowing-green arcade called Wired and a waterslide park. 

Palace, notably, operates its own food distribution centre, CEDIS, where workers prepare all food from scratch using high-tech equipment and premium ingredients, for all of its nearby resorts.

The Grand at Moon Palace offers 34 swim-up suites. Photo: Palace Resorts

The Grand even has a Secret Library” – a wall of books that opens, like a secret passageway, and leads to a hoppin’ Speakeasy Bar.

“It’s a complete sensory experience,” Winters says of the Palace brand in general. “When you come here, you’re going to feel pampered and appreciated.”

Palace is a "complete sensory experience,” says Diana Winters, BDM, Ontario, Palace Resorts. (Supplied)

But what did the travel advisors participating in this year’s Megafam think?

Here, we catch up with four advisors that experienced it all. 

Tamara Postma, The Travel Agent Next Door

Tamara Postma of The Travel Agent Next Door. (Supplied)

First impressions of the resort experience?

The protocols that Palace has in place are fantastic! I felt a sense of normalcy on this trip. I know it’s crazy to say when travelling during a pandemic, but I had full confidence in Palace when they re-opened their resorts. I knew they would make the health and safety of staff and guests a top priority.

What stood out when you arrived in destination?

Besides everyone wearing masks at the airport, I didn't notice anything different compared to previous times in Cancun. At the resort, it's mandatory for all staff to wear masks. It’s not mandatory for guests to wear masks (although the majority of us did as we are used to it in Canada). Hands are sanitized upon arrival, there is a shoe sanitization mat at the entrance; your temperature is taken. There are plexiglass partitions throughout reception area and physical distancing signage displayed on the floor.

At what point did you feel safe?

From the time I entered Toronto Pearson airport. I have always felt safe while in Mexico, pre-COVID and during. I have no issues travelling, as I know everyone in tourism is taking this pandemic seriously, putting protocols in place to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Rooms come with a care package containing hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes; social distancing markers on the floors. (Supplied)

What are some misconceptions about travelling during the pandemic?

I believe clients are hesitant to travel because they think the protocols in destination may not be as good as they are back home. I would disagree and say they are much better! It was devastating for resorts to have to close due to COVID-19. Everyone suffered and are still suffering. Hoteliers will do everything in their power to not have to close again.

What has changed at The Grand at Moon Palace?

When guests enter their room, they will notice a seal on their door. The room has been completely sanitized prior to the arrival. There are hand sanitizers throughout the resort. All restaurant menus can now be downloaded to an electronic device.

What hasn’t changed?

The room set up, the amenities in the room upon arrival. The exceptional staff, excellent customer service, and fabulous food. When I send clients to a Palace resort, I'm sending them to their second home.

Laura MiddletonVision Travel Solutions

Laura Middleton of Vision Travel Solutions. (Supplied)

First impressions of the resort experience?

I never thought my shoes would be sanitized upon getting to the resort! The staff are on top of their game when it comes to keeping things clean. I never had an empty plate in front of me longer than a couple of minutes. Every staff member is wearing a mask, inside or outside. I felt safer than at my local Costco!

What stood out when you arrived in destination?

I was expecting the property to be at 30 per cent capacity but it was actually at 53.7 per cent capacity. It was nice to see how many people were travelling. With The Grand always being booked at full capacity, it is a good time for clients to take advantage of this so they can experience the whole complex and activities without any wait times.

At what point did you feel safe?

I have never felt more unnerved to travel than this trip! I travel quite a bit, but this was my first trip since March. I felt safe and satisfied at the airport with all the safety measures that are in place. When we arrived at the resort and the bellboy said “welcome home,” reality finally kicked in for me. Was this really happening? Am I finally here? It was the best feeling and the worries disappeared. I was at my home away from home!

What are some misconceptions about travelling during the pandemic?

I have received many messages from people, asking me if they can travel. Some people are surprised to learn that they can fly and leave the country. I believe that our job, as travel agents, is to advise clients of all their options. This is why I chose to experience this first hand. I can go back and comfortably sell with confidence.

Unique Day Club at night. (Laura Middleton)

What has changed at The Grand at Moon Palace?

Shoes and luggage disinfected upon arrival, there’s temperature checks, masks are worn; the room door and minibar are stickered shut before a new client comes in. Every room has a package with hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and other items. Capacity is capped in the clubs, spa, wired lounge and playroom. Palace is also renovating and touching up certain elements – paint and tiles, for example, are being replaced in pools.

What hasn’t changed?

Palace has continued to deliver the highest quality of service, food and cleanliness, despite the pandemic. It was nice having an escape from the chaos that is happening back home.

Reza Salkhordeh, Heat Wave Travel

Reza Salkhordeh of Heat Wave Travel. (Supplied)

First impressions of the resort experience?

Detailed and meticulous COVID-19 protocols are in place without compromising the service and quality of the guest experience. An absolutely fantastic experience, as always.

What stood out when you arrived in destination?

COVID protocols are in full swing, from the moment we arrived at the airport to the point of getting to our transportation, hotel lobby and the rooms. Hand sanitizers and social distancing signs are everywhere. Every room has been cleaned and disinfected from top to bottom.

At what point did you feel safe?

It felt safer than my local grocery store as soon as I arrived at the airport. That feeling continued throughout the stay as well. I was more worried about returning home.

What are some misconceptions about travelling during the pandemic?

That the resorts are not clean or safe enough or that no one follows safety protocols. That resorts are overloaded with guests and that we have a higher chance of getting sick. That it is impossible to have a great experience with safety protocols. That the service must not be up to par due to all of these issues.

What has changed at The Grand at Moon Palace?

Staff are wearing masks all the time, offering hand sanitizer everywhere you go. Whatever you touch will be sanitized after you leave. Staff keep a distance and enforce social distancing as much as possible.

What hasn’t changed? 

The excellent quality of experiences and dining and activities remain the same. It is absolutely jaw dropping, as always, regardless of COVID. The pandemic has had no effect on the quality of service, food, activities and overall experience.

Pauline Blacoe, Shine Travel (TravelOnly)

Pauline Blacoe of Shine Travel, TravelOnly. (Supplied)

First impressions of the resort experience?

The resort was awesome. So open, so clean. Upon arrival, we were given a cold towel and welcome cocktail and then escorted to check in for temperature checks and the retrieval of wrist bands (which were also keys to the rooms). We proceeded to the lobby bar, where we could remove our masks and have a cocktail. Our rooms were sealed for our protection.

What stood out when you arrived in destination?

I was aware of the protocols for travelling. They aren’t in your face, so I didn’t feel frightened by the new processes. Everyone was wearing masks and ensuring your hands were sanitized, which is awkward sometimes as your hands always seem to be full with passports, paperwork, a welcome cocktail, a towel.  

At what point did you feel safe?

When we boarded the plane. It felt like the same comfort level as felt on previous travels.

What are some misconceptions about travelling during the pandemic?

It really felt like the same experience as it was pre-COVID, except for some occasions where you should/need to wear a mask.

Beachside at The Grand at Moon Palace. (Laura Middleton)

What has changed at The Grand at Moon Palace?

All staff wore masks. I also appreciated those staff members who opened the doors for you when you were going to à la carte restaurants, so no touch points there. I assumed those in the pools were gathering in the same bubbles. The theatre attracted lots of people but everyone was wearing masks, and staff left two, three seats of space in between groups. Staff were very receptive to feedback and suggestions about improving health and safety protocols.

What hasn't changed?

There’s absolutely no difference in the room set up and room service delivery (except staff had masks on).  Pools and pool bars had the same service, except staff wore masks. The trip, overall, was a great opportunity to get caught up with colleagues and network with other agents.

“People that are travelling get it”

Winters, who has now travelled twice during the pandemic, said it's understandable how some people might feel uneasy about travelling given what is going on in the world.

From left: Zaray Casillas, sales manager, Beach Palace; Diana Winters, BDM, Ontario, Palace Resorts. (Supplied)

However: “Travelling has actually been the most least stressful thing I have done during this pandemic,” said Winters. “People that are travelling get it. They are respecting social distancing, they are masked, they are sanitizing and they are following the rules.”

“I truly have not felt any worry or anxiety at all.”

She said Palace remains committed to the safety and wellbeing of guests and staff.

“This has always been the case, whether there was a pandemic or not,” she said.

“What I found just as refreshing is that while we have these incredible protocols in place, we want to ensure that guests have an exceptional experience. This is exactly what is happening.”

“Responsible travel is possible and I, along with 30 travel agents, can prove that.”

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