Sitting under an open-air pavilion looking at the Dominican Republic's north coast merge with the end of an infinity pool, I asked John Vasatka, CEO of Ani Villas, about the right clients for his product.
"A group of eight to 30 people who want to experience a luxury resort setting where they are the only ones there," he said.
It's a simple answer to what is actually a very simple, if unfamiliar, product: a private resort that caters to a single group at a time, whether it be of friends, family or a lifestyle or corporate group.
It is a small but growing niche of the luxury travel sector which Vasatka (who, along with many of the Ani staff, comes from the luxury hotel industry) said is filling a void.
"We saw that groups wanted much more privacy than the hotels could provide," he said. "It can be a really nice time, but there are still other guests. The hotel can promise as much privacy to the group as they can manage, but a hotel's business is to fill every room. … Tables of 20 in a restaurant that seats 100 is different than a table for 20 off the pool here at sunset, and your group is the only one here and has the full attention of the team and full use of the facility. That's where our little niche is."
The Ani concept is to give guests the services and amenities of full-service resorts along with the private, exclusive nature of high-end villa rentals.
In Ani's case, even small groups have access to amenities rarely found at villas, like waterpark-level slides, tennis courts, a separate spa and fitness center, two pools, two different bar and eating areas and a private events pavilion for anything from sunrise yoga to weddings.
Staff that would usually cost extra at villas, like private chefs, butlers, housekeepers and bartenders, are all included at Ani, as are services that normally carry an extra fee even at all-inclusive resorts, including tennis lessons, spa treatments (12 are included per group per day), up to four hours of daily childcare and guided bicycle tours.
Ani Villas — a name the team admits does not really describe its private resort offering — is growing fast. The company opened its fourth private resort in December, in the Dominican Republic. Ani's second Caribbean resort joins properties in Anguilla, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
The infinity pool at the Ani Villas. The resort sits on a cliff and does not have its own beach, but the staff will take guests to a cove if desired. Photo Credit: TW photo by Johanna Jainchill
During four days there in February, the aforementioned waterslides provided hours of fun for my family — adults included. My 4-year-old also took full advantage of the playground, shuffleboard court and children's tennis equipment.
I took full advantage of the free babysitting, allowing my husband and me the luxury of adult dinners at adult hours and uninterrupted tennis games.
The Ani staff also took our group to a beautiful cove, Caleton, nearby where they set up beach chairs and watersports equipment for us to enjoy as they prepared a barbecue lunch of steak and lobster tail.
Built on a cliff with dramatic coastal views, Ani Villas does not have its own beach but the staff will take guests to Caleton, with its crystal-clear waters and decent off-the-beach snorkeling, which is just a few minutes away by car or a quick bike ride.
The staff, in fact, will do almost anything a guest wants. I offhandedly mentioned wishing I'd gotten coconut water while in town, and not two hours later, a staff member was serving us cold coconut water straight from its shell.
While the experience really sets Ani apart, its hardware is spectacular. Ten master suites, at up to 1,000 square feet, have free-standing bathtubs, ample closet space, double sinks and vaulted ceilings. The ground-level ones have outdoor showers, and outdoor areas include loungers and sunken sitting areas on teak decks or upper-level balconies, all offerings stunning ocean views. Six of the master suites are freestanding, while the four family villas have a common room and two smaller bedrooms.
One of the resort’s 10 master suites, which feature free-standing bathtubs, ample closet space and vaulted ceilings.
Selling the experience
For travel agents, Ani is an ideal product to understand because it is such a unique one that needs to be explained.
The Ani experience works best when groups communicate amply with the staff to determine what meals, activities, entertainment and excursions are wanted, to make each stay as bespoke as possible.
"The more planning we can do beforehand, the less we have to do in-house and the more time they have to enjoy each other," Vasatka said.
Agents can also explain that while the price point, about $1,000 per room per day, might seem high, it needs to be explained in the context of what it includes versus a luxury resort.
"We're very much focused on showing value compared to those rates by including all drinks and food and activities, and breaking it down for the guests and agents," Vasatka said.
The most common Ani Villas guests are multigenerational families followed by wedding groups — the property can handle ceremonies of up to 70 people.
But after several days at Ani, it is clear that for any group, of certain means, the private resort experience offers a truly unique vacation. Visit www.anivillas.com.