Club Med treads new ground with upcoming Dominican resort

Resort owner and operator Club Med is set to open its second resort in the Dominican Republic later this year in Miches, approximately a 90-minute drive from its 40-year-old sister property in Punta Cana.

At 93 acres, the $100 million Club Med Michés Playa Esmeralda will be Club Med’s biggest project of its type in the Caribbean in the past 40 years, and the first full Exclusive Collection resort in the Americas, serving as the new flagship of the dedicated line in the region. The Exclusive Collection makes up the top 10 percent of the brand’s portfolio, and includes the Finolhu Villas in the Maldives, the recently opened Cefalù resort in Sicily and the Valmorel Chalets in Valmorel, France.

“What we look for in new destinations is first of all an amazing beach—an amazing site—and preferably most of the time an untouched destination,” Sabrina Cendral, Club Med’s VP of marketing and digital, told Hotel Management, noting that the company built the first major resort in Cancun, Mexico, more than 40 years ago and was the first resort in Punta Cana. “This is what we want to be doing constantly: pioneering new destinations.”

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Accessibility is a significant factor for the company’s interest, and as Club Med’s CEO of North America and the Caribbean Xavier Mufraggi said, that presented a challenge for the team when it first began considering Miches for development three years ago. “It was so far away from anything that the land was inexpensive, but it was [more than] two hours from the airport,” he recalled. “But when we started talking to the government, they said, ‘In two years, we plan to build a highway,’ and when we looked at the map, this highway would [be] 2 kilometers away from Playa Esmeralda.” The highway would make the destination a little more than an hour’s drive from the Punta Cana airport, making it much more appealing for international visitors.

“We look also for accessibility for the North American market but also for European market because we’re really an international brand with international clientele, and when you look at our resorts in the Caribbean, they’re filled half-half with a European and North American [guests],” said Cendral. “That’s a very important criteria for us, and we had that with the Punta Cana airport, which is an international hub.”

The project also aligned with the Dominican government’s growth plans for the country. “It’s very much a priority for them to develop new destinations such as Miches,” said Cendral. “As soon as there’s a tie-in like that with their priorities and ours, it’s a great conversation to be having, to say [that] we as a brand, Club Med, we have the ability to bring clientele to a new destination where there’s nothing [else] around.” The company’s purchasing power made it easier to build the necessary infrastructure for development, which also boosted investor appeal for the branded resort. The project is being funded by the Pioneer Sociedad Administradora de Fondos, which launched the first investment fund that invests in the Dominican tourism sector. For the first time, Dominican Pension Funds, the biggest institutional investor in the Dominican Republic, is investing in the Dominican tourism industry, through Pioneer, to support the project. “It’s a mutual benefit in this kind of relationship,” said Cendral. When the property opens, Pioneer will be the official owner while Club Med will be in charge of operating, marketing, selling and managing the resort.

Luxury Family

By boosting the luxury quotient, the team also presented itself with a challenge: Many luxury travelers don’t want loud children running around during their vacation, but Club Med is famously family-friendly. To solve that dilemma, the team took a cue from the adults-only Zen Oasis at the Club Med in Punta Cana and will launch a new concept at the Miches resort. The property will have four boutique “villages” that let guests move from one area to another depending on their moods. Two of the villages will be family-friendly while two will be just for adults, but while guests will sleep in one village, they can access others as needed (with some limitations). “You can find all the experiences together in one,” said Cynthia Beauvais, the resort’s sales manager.

“We thought about how we could build a very upscale, all-inclusive resort, use all the space and yet create a very different experience within one resort,” Cendral said. The company saw growing demand from adults looking for either completely child-free vacations or at least to have some grown-up time when their own kids are busy, she recalled. The Zen Oasis at the Punta Cana resort proved sufficiently popular for the company to expand the concept. “A lot of other brands tend to create separate resorts and separate brands,” she noted. “Some all-inclusive players have one brand for family resorts and one brand for adult resorts. We decided to go down the other route [so that] all different targets can cohabitate without being bothered.”

Eco-chic

The development team also knew that the affluent families it was targeting for this resort would likely be much more conscientious of the impact their travel would have on the local environment and communities—even on the food chain—than the previous generation of Club Med guests might have been. To that end, said Cendral, the resort is “eco-chic,” designed to be sustainable and supportive of the nearby communities. (Local farmers will supply the food, she said.)

“How do we integrate with the ecosystem? How do we do it all in a very respectful way?” Cendral asked rhetorically. To preserve the local environment, the team uprooted and replanted palm trees rather than cutting them down. “Not a single tree has been killed in this project,” said Cendral. The buildings also will only be two stories in height, limiting the shadows they cast on the surrounding vegetation. “The fact that it’s eco-chic is part of the customer expectation nowadays. It’s essential," she said. "We’re piloting a lot of things in that direction.”

When it opens in December, the Club Med Michés Playa Esmeralda will be a case study of sorts for the brand, testing the appeal of both the four-villages prototype and the eco-chic development plan. “It’s an interesting model for us moving forward and I’ve had interest from my counterparts in Asia and from my counterparts in Europe,” said Cendral. “They’re watching very carefully what we’re doing here, and I think it will have a long life.”

Photo credit: Club Med

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