Karisma looks to expand nudist-resort concept

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CANCUN -- Karisma Hotels & Resorts is planning to expand in Mexico, where it manages three resorts in the Riviera Maya.

The company, which already operates eight properties in Mexico and the Caribbean, has an inventory of approximately 1,200 rooms in Aruba, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

Its Riviera Maya resorts are the El Dorado Royale, El Dorado Resort and Hidden Beach Resort. The last-named is Mexico's first nudist resort.

Lubo Krstajic, Karisma's executive vice president, said he would like to expand Hidden Beach's nudist concept to Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta, two destinations that draw a lot of business from California, Hidden Beach's major market.

The 40-room resort created a stir last summer when it was inaugurated with a "Naked Air" flight, during which guests flew in the nude on a chartered airplane to Cancun arranged by Houston-based Castaways Travel. A similar flight is planned for May 1 from Miami.

Krstajic said Hidden Beach is not like other nudist resorts that are sexually charged. The resort is not "clothing optional," which means guests are required to be nude most of the time.

He said the property does not allow intimate contact between guests in public, even married couples.

"Our typical client is older than 45 and a successful businessperson," Krstajic said.

Although it was only open for seven months last year, occupancy at Hidden Beach was 60%, and Krstajic said he expects occupancy this year to be between 80% and 85%. Rates start at $184 per person, double. In addition to California, Florida and Texas account for a large percentage of Hidden Beach's guests, he said.

In order to re-create the Hidden Beach concept in another Mexican destination, the company first must find a small hotel -- preferably with fewer than 60 rooms -- with a private, secluded beach.

"We are looking for a small hotel so we can maintain the proper atmosphere," Krstajic said. "If we can't find one, we'll have to raise money to build one."

Meanwhile, Karisma is busy expanding and renovating its two other Riviera Maya properties: the El Dorado Royale and El Dorado Resort.

The El Dorado Royale, the company's five-star resort, is in the midst of a $10 million expansion that will add 85 rooms by March 15. A convention center that can accommodate 300 people and two new restaurants recently opened.

A second phase, scheduled for completion by May 2005, will focus on expanding the more upscale casitas rooms to a total of 200 units.

Krstajic said the casitas are popular with the wedding/honeymoon market because they provide more privacy and amenities like an indoor Jacuzzi and large balcony with hammocks. About 50% of El Dorado Royale's clientele are either newlyweds or honeymooners, Krstajic said.

Meanwhile, the 137-room El Dorado Resort, which is adjacent to Hidden Beach, will get a $3 million renovation that will raise its rating from four to five stars, he said.

Krstajic said he will market the El Dorado Resort as a "boutique" property after renovations are completed in November.

For information or reservations, call (866) KARISMA or visit the Web at www.karismahotels.com.

To contact reporter Jorge Sidron, send e-mail to [email protected].

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