13 SEP 2013: Customer satisfaction is number one. So, judging by RIU Hotels and Resorts current track record, it looks like this sun-drenched luxury all-inclusive family-owned enterprise is living up to expectations.


Doug Donovan, senior director of product development with Sunwing Travel Group which is RIU’s exclusive partner alongside Signature Vacations, smiles, cups his hands behind his neck and swings back in his chair, elated about the abysmally low customer dissatisfaction.

“We hardly get any complaints,” he says of the low complaint ratio at the Sunwing headquarters sitting beside RIU’s sales head honcho, Oliver Kluth, senior vice-president of sales and business development.

And why would you?

Fine products

The resort company with properties splashed across the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe, North Africa, and lately Central , uses only the finest products of which many items are imported from the company’s nascent country: Spain. You just have to see the whimsy art pieces flanking the resorts grounds conceived by Martin Fernandez, a Spaniard.

Food and drink is plenty and it’s not just the regular run of the mill stuff either. The luxury hotel chain has revamped its menus in the Palace properties which have been created by a Michelin-star Spanish chef, Oliver tells me.

There's the new micro-cuisine. These are smaller amuse-bouche style servings of sumptuous flavours. Oliver says a common guest comment the company hears due to the new portion approach is: “We eat less.”

Suites have a selection of four liquor dispensers and aim to feature locally produced alcoholic products. The fridge with its bottled water, beers, and soft drinks is daily replenished.

Renovations

Oliver outlines RIU's huge to-do list which has been in overdrive since 2009-2010.

“By 2015 we should be through with all of them (refurbishments) at the same time we keep building more because we have to keep growing,” he says on the major property redevelopments and adds the company invests gonzo dollars toward it.

Try $250-million which has been invested this year alone “with $150-million to the Americas.”

Conceivably RIU does three or four properties a year, Oliver adds, and with the 35 properties in Mexico and the Caribbean in the portfolio, next time your client wants a return visit to a RIU property, chances are excellent they will be arriving to a totally new or different experience.

The current strategy is a fresh modern look more akin to a cosmo-chic hotel with its punchy colour schemes in fuchsia and bold purple or bright orange then there’s jet blue and pewter. It all makes you feel like you’ve entered the lobby of a downtown hotel except the surrounds are palm-fringed beaches.

Product expansion


RIU realizes the importance of repeat customers.

Now these same clients will be able to experience new destinations within the RIU portfolio Oliver says as he outlines some new properties:

RIU Palace Jamaica: this is small by RIU standards, a 238-room Palace hotel, adults-only next to Mo’ Bay opening on December 6.

RIU Playa Blanca: this new property in Panama opens next year on April 1. “It’s no joke,” he smiles about the launch date coinciding on April Fools. The new build will be located on Playa Blanca along the Pacific Coast.

“We have the city hotel in Panama with good benefits,” says Oliver and adds clients will be able to book a city-beach break package suggesting either a four or five day beach stay alongside a two or three day city stay.

Closer to home RIU will be opening a property in 2015 by the illustrious Times Square in NYC. It’ll be located at the crossroads of 8th and 46th Streets - currently parking lots and an old building he says.

Berlin is another city RIU is planning to hit. Watch for a new city hotel in the old western part of Berlin by the snazzy KaDeWe department store aka a German Harrods. “We decided on this location because we felt former East Berlin was having too much of an offer with new hotels.”

Winter forecasts

Lots of snow svp.

For the Quebec market Oliver notes Sunwing’s early bookings are up 60 percent. “And all over Canada we are talking ten or fifteen percent so if that would be true for the end of the winter it would be a good year,” he explains but adds you never know when it comes to untimely world events which could affect bookings.

Top three best Ontario sellers (in no particular order):

Riviera Maya: the RIU Yucatan

Punta Cana: “They (all RIU properties) are all scoring very well”

Puerto Vallarta: Hotel RIU Vallarta- “For the winter we have very good figures for this one.”

Numbers

1.4 billion for turnovers.

“We discovered last week we made the top of Spanish hotel chains in 2012 in turnover,” he says of the company’s global success.

When it comes to the Canadian market, Oliver attributes the growth in the marketplace to its strong partnership with Sunwing which he notes is also busy and growing on its own.

“The fact is that RIU has managed to convey a strong brand message, we are consistent, have high standards and we have a good geographical diversity to offer guests so it’s easy for travel agents to work with us.”

Broadening Horizons

RIU sees Asia as its next hot spot while maintaining all its core strengths: sun destinations.

The company is looking at property along a fabulous slice of beachfront in... Sri Lanka. Completion date: 2015.

Why Sri Lanka? “Some of the friendliest people I have met,” he smiles, recounting his most recent visit this past March.

Watch for a new classic all-inclusive along Sri Lanka’s most famous sandy stretch Bentota Beach.

Now I hear some site inspections, anyone interested?

author

Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

Read more from Ilona Kauremszky

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