PUNTA DE MITA, Mexico — When Miguel Fluxa, executive chairman of Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, first surveyed the Riviera Nayarit region on Mexico's Pacific coast in 2006, he admitted that he was "very surprised."
"I knew there would be beautiful beaches, but the nature, the landscapes, the steady weather, the Indian culture and the cleanliness of the air surprised me," Fluxa said. "I knew that Iberostar had to be there."
He bought land and began construction in 2007.
Plans were put on hold when the world economy tanked in 2008.
Fluxa was willing to wait "for better times." When the markets had shown steady improvement for a period of time, he returned there last January and gave the order for full steam ahead.
In fact, he promised Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto that the flag of Spain-based Iberostar would fly on that coastline by the end of this year.
In a formal opening ceremony on Dec. 15, preceded the evening before with a blessing and cleansing ceremony performed by a Huichol Indian shaman, that flag was flying above the 452-room Iberostar Playa Mita, marking the company's 10th hotel in Mexico.
"This hotel will be the pillar of our development here in this region of Mexico," Fluxa said. "We are betting on this paradise."
The company invested more than $137 million in designing and building this resort, including spectacular architecture and decor inspired by the culture of the Huichol Indians of the region.
"There is air, land and sea connectivity here, although we could always use more; the region is secure, tranquil and beautiful," Fluxa said.
Iberostar first established its foothold in Mexico along the Caribbean coast, opening all-inclusive resorts in Cozumel and the Riviera Maya, followed by Cancun in 2012, a $100 million renovation of the former Hilton Cancun.
"The European clients came first, followed by the North Americans," Fluxa said. "They returned again and again, once they knew our brand and our offerings."
In fact, 42% of Iberostar's guests last year in Mexico were returnees.
The Riviera Nayarit, situated just north of Puerto Vallarta and served by its airport 45 minutes away, may be too long a flight and too great a distance for Europeans, especially the Russian travelers, but Fluxa is not worried.
"There is a rising middle class in Mexico that loves to travel and does," he said. "They will constitute a good portion of our business, as will loyal Iberostar travelers from the U.S. and Canada looking for a new destination."
The new Iberostar is a Premium Gold hotel, the middle tier of its three categories, which range from Premium to Grand (adults only).
"We don't pretend to be cheap," Fluxa said. "We promise quality and service, and we deliver both. This is what has made us successful."
With a staff of more than 550 and facilities including three pools, a Splash Park for kids, a spa, a theater, a disco, eight bars, a mile-long beach, water sports, meetings space and wedding venues, the hotel has all its bases covered.
Dining options include an all-day buffet restaurant plus four a la carte specialty restaurants: Mexican, Japanese, a steak house and the Pacific Express gourmet restaurant, which is designed like a fashionable dining car on an Orient Express-type train.
Fees for the adjacent 18-hole Litibu Golf Course are not covered, although guests get preferred tee times. Two other courses are nearby.
Spa charges, as well, are not included.
New to this property are 18 adults-only spa rooms that feature exclusive access to a private sanctuary with a relaxation garden and Jacuzzis.
Three weddings already are on the books, and the resort will hold only one wedding per day.
"This has been a good year for us; 2014 will be even better," Fluxa said.
Depending on how well his new Riviera Nayarit resort does in its first year, Fluxa plans to build a second property on the other side of the Litibu Golf Course.
"We will see how this first year does," he said.
Also in the offing for Mexico are plans for Iberostar hotels in Mexico City and Los Cabos in the near future.
Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.