With expansion, Riu Hotels targets U.S.

MIAMI -- Riu Hotels is expanding its portfolio of Mexico properties and stepping up efforts to create awareness of the chain among U.S. travelers.

Riu Palace, a 434-room resort, is scheduled to open in 1999, according to Lazaro Gutierrez, Riu's marketing director-North America. The resort will be in Playa del Carmen, near two sister properties, the 588-room Riu Tequila, which opened Aug. 29, and the 506-room Riu Yucatan, which opened one year ago. The firm, based in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, also is eyeing Puerto Vallarta for expansion.

Gutierrez said Rui has found success since introducing its products in the U.S. last year. Riu has about 100 hotels worldwide and has properties in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Florida. Riu has contracted with several U.S. tour operators, and its Mexico properties are featured by companies such as Apple, Friendly, Funjet, GWB, Magnatours, TNT and Transglobal.

Gutierrez said Riu properties are being adapted to the tastes of U.S. travelers. "We have been investigating what Americans look for in a vacation, and we now have the right product," he said. Based on customer feedback, Riu has upgraded facilities and services such as cuisine, music and overall ambience in order to cater to the U.S. vacationer, he added.

With increased promotional efforts in the U.S., Riu hopes to significantly boost the percentage of U.S. guests at Riu Yucatan from 15% during the high season last year (December to April) to 40% during the upcoming high season. He added that Riu Tequila is expected to attract an even larger percentage of Americans.

Riu will launch a trade advertising campaign, continue its consumer radio advertisements and begin a cooperative advertising campaign with tour operators in major newspapers. Other promotional initiatives include participation in major trade shows and boosting the sales efforts of its U.S. office in Miami with presentations for tour operators and travel agencies. Riu's main target markets in the U.S. include Boston, New York and Minneapolis plus other parts of the Midwest.

Riu's properties mainly consist of four- and five-star resorts. Its Palace line is the firm's most upscale brand. In Mexico, the company's roster includes two inclusive five-star resorts in the Riviera Maya--south of Cancun--Riu Tequila and Riu Yucatan. The properties mainly cater to families, couples and honeymooners. Both resorts offer a variety of facilities, water sports, entertainment and dining options as well as a supervised children's program.

Gutierrez said Riu distinguishes itself from other inclusive resorts with a heavy focus on personalized service and more inclusions. To that end, the properties have a general manager and a host manager who greets guests in the lobby to make sure there are no lines, Gutierrez said.

For dinner, the resorts operate on a cruise-ship concept, utilizing assigned tables and waiters. "Guests can be absolutely sure they are seated for dinner without standing in line, the waiter becomes familiar with their needs, and they feel more comfortable with the ambience," Gutierrez said.

Riu's inclusive concept does not exclude anything, he added. "Everything is included, including the minibar in the guest rooms, which are always restocked," Gutierrez said. Other features designed to create more of an upscale, inclusive flair include using only china and glassware in all of its restaurants and requiring men to wear long pants at dinner.

The two Riu properties in Playa del Carmen are low-rise resorts with a rich Mexican hacienda style in architecture and atmosphere, according to Gutierrez. Riu Yucatan sits on the beach, while Riu Tequila is set back from the water, fronting the 18-hole golf course that is part of the Playacar development. With Riu Tequila's sprawling layout, the property offers a shuttle service around the grounds and to the beach. Gutierrez said the main difference between the two adjacent properties is the "Club" concept at Riu Tequila, which offers a highly personalized atmosphere and an array of activities and entertainment.

Through Dec. 21, inclusive nightly starting rates for the two properties in Playa del Carmen are $100 per person, double, at Riu Tequila and $115 at Riu Yucatan. An agent rate of $35 per person, double, is available at Riu Tequila through Dec. 15. Interested agents can request the rate by faxing the property at (011) 52-987 30304.

Riu Hotels, Phone: (800) 327-5678 or (305) 604-3338, Fax: (305) 604-3325

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