Playa Hotels & Resorts has been busy in the Dominican Republic, recently opening the adults-only section of the newly reflagged and renovated Hilton La Romana and planning to debut Hilton La Romana's family-friendly section and the newbuild Hyatt Ziva and Zilara resorts in the destination later this year. Hotels editor Christina Jelski recently caught up with Playa Hotels & Resorts' executive vice president and chief commercial officer, Kevin Froemming, to talk about Playa's plans to attract travelers back to the embattled market.
Q: How drastically has recent bad press impacted the Dominican Republic as a whole and Playa Hotels & Resorts in particular?
A: While we certainly do not speak for the destination, tourism officials have been very clear that demand took a downturn following the negative headlines. From the market data that we have seen, the steep declines from summer have leveled somewhat, and we are seeing demand normalizing. While there will still be a recovery period into 2020, we will continue to see a progressive increase in sales, with everything having cycled out in around 12 to 18 months. We are fortunate to be a regional player, and strong performance in other destinations, such as Jamaica, helped offset some of the immediate shortfalls we saw in the Dominican Republic.
Q: What is the biggest challenge when it comes to bringing business back?
A: The toughest business to get back in the Dominican Republican is going to be the group business, because it's booked further out. So the impact of any kind of short-term problem is going to be reflected down the line, because people are planning their events months out. We're definitely trying to attack that piece of it. For example, we're offering a 10% commission on wedding packages, options and extras purchased prior to group arrival, and for MICE [meetings, incentive, conference and exhibition] groups we've launched additional concessions like complimentary lighting enhancements for private events and a three-night future stay for the meeting planner, among many other initiatives.
Q: Can you talk about what Playa is doing to reassure travelers that it's safe to visit?
A: We're working with travel agents on a strategy to recover the business that's been lost. Travel agents are best at getting business back into a destination that's gone through some kind of negative event. Whether it's a hurricane or a crime rate issue or just general concerns, travel agents are able to set the record straight. We just took a whole group of travel agents down to the Dominican Republic. And as we were going through the Hilton La Romana project and doing a hard-hat tour of our Hyatt Ziva and Zilara Cap Cana, they made at least 20 bookings with customers who have told them that they're not interested or had expressed they were concerned. We have already begun a very aggressive fam schedule intended to bring over 1,000 of the top U.S. and Canadian travel agents into the destination, and we are launching weekly social media contests for travel agents attending our fam events, with cash prizes based on audience reach and creativity.