“More beds for heads” is an oft-heard plea by tourism officials in the Caribbean and Mexico, because increased room inventory is one indicator that hotel developers, investors and owners are confident that the tourism landscape is improving.
The region should be pleased with the year drawing to a close; 2013 saw the debut of new brands at reflagged properties and the tweaking of existing properties for a fresher, more modern look; swim-up bars; expanded guestrooms; and restaurants with redesigned menus and creative chefs. And there are no signs of a let-up in 2014.
Sun-and-fun resorts always have been reliable standbys for ocean views and uncrowded beaches. Now, more chic hotels are bringing new luxury to the region.
Relentless investment and expansion this year marked several brands in particular.
Sandals Resorts International will re-brand and transform its Grand Pineapple Beach Resort on Long Bay in Antigua into a Beaches resort, the fourth Beaches resort in the portfolio.
A fifth, Beaches Barbados, is set to break ground in mid-2014, joining Beaches Turks & Caicos and the new $120 million Key West Village, which opened in May, and Beaches Ocho Rios and Beaches Negril, both in Jamaica.
The 225-room Sandals LaSource Grenada, set to open Dec. 21, is a transformation and expansion of the former La Source resort. Sandals Barbados opened Nov. 6 on the site of the former Couples Barbados.
In Aruba, Ritz-Carlton cut the ribbon last month on its 320-room newbuild hotel on Palm Beach. With Aruba, Ritz-Carlton now has five properties in the Caribbean (the others being one each in St. Thomas and the Cayman Islands and two in Puerto Rico), and plans are afoot to restart the stalled Molasses Reef project in Turks and Caicos.
Also on the drawing board in Mexico is the Ritz-Carlton Los Cabos in 2014 and, in 2015, the JW Marriott Los Cabos.
Bahamas’ buzz centers on Baha Mar, the $3.5 billion megacomplex set to open in Nassau in December 2014 with five hotels totaling more than 2,900 rooms.
Four of the five are newbuilds: the Mondrian, the Rosewood, the Grand Hyatt and the Baha Mar Casino & Hotel, the centerpiece of the resort complex.
The Melia at Baha Mar, the first all-inclusive in the complex, will be a conversion of the former Sheraton Nassau Beach Hotel and the first in the English-speaking Caribbean for the Spanish chain, which has five resorts in the Dominican Republic and one in Puerto Rico as well as nine in Mexico.
Melia recently announced the Melia Jamaica, opening next November following conversion of the former Braco Village Hotel & Spa in Trelawny, east of Montego Bay.
Hyatt Hotels & Resorts also made inroads this year in the region, inking an agreement with Playa Hotels & Resorts to acquire a 20% stake in Playa and agreed to rebrand select properties in Mexico and the Caribbean under Hyatt’s new all-inclusive brands: Hyatt Zilara adults-only resorts and Hyatt Ziva family resorts.
Playa owns 13 resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean, six of which are being rebranded as Hyatts, including the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos, formerly the Barcelo Los Cabos, which opened on Nov. 7, and the Hyatt Zilara Cancun, formerly the Royal Cancun, which opened Nov. 20.
The Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall in Jamaica, the former Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall, is slated to open in late 2014.
Riu Hotels & Resorts raised its flag on the newbuild Riu Palace Jamaica on Dec. 5, its fifth property on the island and the first to target the adults-only market. In Mexico, the Riu Yucatan reopened earlier this year, following a $20 million renovation.
Karisma Hotels & Resorts will open its Azul Sensatori Jamaica in Negril on Dec. 21 on the site of the former Beaches Sandy Bay, while Blue Diamond Hotels & Resorts launched the Royalton Punta Cana Resort and Memories Splash Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic earlier this month. Blue Diamond also opened the Royalton White Sands in Trelawny on Jamaica’s northwestern coast where the former Breezes Trelawny Resort & Spa once stood.
Jewel Paradise Cove Beach Resort & Spa, the former Hedonism III property, opened in St. Ann, Jamaica, on Dec. 7.
On Mexico’s Riviera Maya, the 1,264-room Hard Rock Hotel opened Dec. 1, following a renovation of the former Palace Resorts hotel.
The newbuild, 425-room Iberostar Playa Mita debuted on Dec. 1 as the company’s 10th property in Mexico and its first on the Pacific coast.
AMResorts, the hotel division of Apple Leisure Group, intends to invest in six new resorts in Mexico by October 2015, in Cancun, the Riviera Maya, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta under four of its six brands.
One resort, Secrets Puerto Los Cabos Golf & Spa Resort, opened Dec. 15, the 12th Secrets resort and its ninth in Mexico.
Breathless Punta Cana, the first property for the AMResorts brand, opened in November in the Dominican Republic.Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.