New owner refreshes Mexico's oldest hotel chain

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MEXICO CITY -- Grupo Empresarial Angeles, the new owner of Camino Real Hotels and Resorts, is wasting no time restoring the luster to Mexico's oldest hotel chain.

Soon after paying $255 million last June to own and operate 13 Camino Real properties, the Mexico City-based Grupo Empresarial announced it would spend $48 million to rejuvenate the 3,500-room hotel chain.

"Camino Real has a proud heritage of showing guests from around the world the very best of Mexico," said Olegario Vazquez Aldir, president of Grupo Empresarial Angeles, whose holdings include eight hospitals and a chain of furniture stores in the country.

"We plan to maintain the highest standards to meet the demands of the growing number of guests coming to Mexico for business and pleasure," he said.

A renovated room at the Camino Real Mexico City, a property which is benefiting from $14 million worth of improvements. Camino Real officials admit the company's hotels had grown stale in an increasingly competitive environment.

Unable to spend the necessary cash to freshen the product, Camino Real was losing business to such brands as Four Seasons, JW Marriott, Westin and Sheraton in its own backyard.

"The properties needed a refurbishing," said Adrian Schjetnan, vice president of sales and marketing for Camino Real. "They were crying for it," he said.

According to Schjetnan, Camino Real asked agents and other industry professionals in the U.S. and Mexico for their opinion of the company.

Said Schjetnan: "They all told us, 'Your properties are run down. They're in beautiful locations, but they're outdated.' "

Faced with this revelation, the new owner "realized that there would have to be a compromise," said Schjetnan.

The owner "knew we needed to spend the money to reposition the brand rather than growing the brand or spending all the money on advertising or marketing."

Of the $48 million earmarked for improvements, $19 million is being spent on the company's flagship hotels in Mexico City and Guadalajara.

The 709-room Camino Real Mexico City, which opened in 1968 and served as host hotel during the Mexico City Summer Olympics that year, was scheduled to complete the first phase of a $14 million refit on Oct. 30.

The bulk of the money will be spent on rooms, which will be upgraded with Internet hookups, work desks with ergonomic chairs and task lighting and dual-line phones.

The hotel also is upping the ante in the capital city's restaurant war by opening two new eateries -- a Spanish restaurant and a brand name steak house -- to take on the likes of the Presidente Inter-Continental Hotel, which is widely believed to have three of the city's best places to dine.

"We're going to make the Camino Real Mexico City the place to come in the city for a spectacular meal," said Schjetnan.

At the Camino Real in Guadalajara, the company is spending $5 million to replace the hotel's facade, freshen up the rooms and build a new business center and health club.

The first phase is scheduled for completion in mid-November.

Renovations to both hotels are scheduled for completion by the end of May.

Soon after these two hotels are renovated, but no later than August, renovations will get under way at the company's hotels in Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, which will each benefit from $8 million worth of improvements, much of it slated for the units in the older towers of each hotel.

The hotel in Cancun also will build new break-out rooms for meetings and a new swimming pool for the exclusive use of guests staying in the more expensive Camino Real Club rooms.

The hotel in Puerto Vallarta will add two restaurants.

In addition, changes to the 6-year-old Camino Real in Acapulco will be limited to new meeting rooms and minor property enhancements.

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