Playa Hotels & Resorts last week agreed to acquire five Jamaica resorts, including four Jewel-branded properties and the 489-room Hilton Rose Hall, for about $300 million in cash and stock. The all-inclusive specialist, which went public last year, continues to expand throughout the Caribbean. Having converted two Mexico properties to its new Panama Jack brand late last year, Playa is planning to rebrand at least one of its new Jamaica properties as a Panama Jack resort. Playa Hotels chief marketing officer Kevin Froemming spoke with hotels editor Danny King. Q: What does this acquisition do for Playa's strategy to expand throughout the Caribbean?
A: This places us as one of the largest providers of all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica, in terms of room count. Jamaica is one of the top three Caribbean markets, overall. We want to have a dominant position in all of the major markets, so we need to have multiple brands and enough product to make an impact.
Q: You debuted the Panama Jack brand with two rebranded properties in Mexico last year. How has that been received?
A: The reaction we've gotten and the support from the trade has been phenomenal. All of the rooms, restaurants and lobbies were redone. There was a lot of thought that went into that rebranding. We finished most of the construction just before Christmas. The guests who are coming in now are blown away. We were digging out of a hole, like a lot of people were doing in Mexico, but we've seen a strong resurgence. Playa del Carmen and Cancun are on the rebound.
Q: Will that brand be brought to Jamaica?
A: The Hilton will remain the Hilton Rose Hall, and we're excited about that. The plan for this year is to operate the other properties as Jewels with an eye on looking at our Panama Jack brand for one or more of those properties in the long term.
We position Hyatt Ziva and Zilara at the top end of that five-star market. The Hilton is a four-and-a-half-star product. Jewel Runaway Bay and Jewel Dunn's River are in the four-star wheelhouse. Those are the ones we're looking at possibly converting to a Panama Jack.
Q: Aside from any rebranding, will you invest in upgrading the resorts?
A: We don't plan on closing those resorts, but we do have a multimillion-dollar renovation plan for all of those resorts. We see this as an opportunity to improve these excellent locations over the next two years. They need some soft furnishings.
Q: The Montego Bay area has been beset by some violence and gang activity, and is under a state of emergency. Does that concern you?
A: Obviously, we could do without the security warnings, and it's not good, but we do not have any long-term concerns about Jamaica. It's one of the most stable countries in the Caribbean. It's an excellent all-inclusive resort market, there's a great labor market, and it has a relatively low cost of energy, so this is really a long-term play.
Q: In addition to the five resorts, Playa acquired the rights to build another 700 rooms at the Jewel Grande Palmyra site. What are your plans there?
A: One of the things we're looking at is expanding the Ziva. Then, at some point, the existing property would all become the Hyatt Zilara. Then, we'd build a Hyatt Ziva for the new property. It's a huge plot of land.
Q: Last fall, Playa took over management of the Dominican Republic's Sanctuary Cap Cana. How has that performed?
A: During the last two months, we're looking at extremely high occupancy rates. It sits on a gorgeous stretch of beach, and we're looking at adding a couple hundred rooms there. We're also building a Hyatt Ziva and Zilara a couple lots down in Cap Cana. Those are scheduled to open in late summer or fall of 2019.