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Sunday,  June 23, 2024 7:55 AM 

Q&A: RIU & Sunwing talk new resorts, renovations, booking trends & more

Q&A: RIU & Sunwing talk new resorts, renovations, booking trends & more
From left: Eric Rodriguez, EVP, partner development, Sunwing; Laura Castellanos, sales director DR & associate to VP Sales for RIU; Jennifer Lucas, director of Product & partner development for Sunwing; Armin Kaestner, VP contracting, sales & partner marketing for RIU; Valerie Ward - BDM, (Ontario, BC, Saskatchewan & Alberta) for RIU. (Supplied)
Pax Global Media

Sunwing and RIU Resorts & Hotels invited trade media to Sunwing’s head office in Toronto last Thursday (Aug. 10) to learn about RIU’s plans for new hotel properties in destinations, new city hotels, completed and upcoming renovations, their new Elite Club and more.

PAX caught up with Armin Kaestner, vice-president of contracting, sales and partner marketing and Jennifer Lucas, director of product and partner development for Sunwing, to learn more.

PAX: What is RIU’s plan for new hotels and destinations in the coming months, years?

Armin Kaestn (AK): We are very excited to be opening a new property in Jamaica next spring – our 38th RIU property in sun destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico and available to Canadians through Sunwing Vacations. Riu Palace Aquarelle, located in Falmouth, Trelawny, is set to open in May 2024 and will soon be available to book in Canada. This new hotel will offer 753 rooms and, in addition to several swimming pools and a variety of culinary offerings from different restaurants (including an international buffet, Italian, Japanese, fusion food and a steakhouse), will also have its own Splash Water World water park open to customers of all ages during their stay.

RIU will also continue to grow its urban line, setting foot for the first time in Canada in Toronto. Located in the Financial District, Riu Plaza Toronto will have 350 rooms. In 2024, RIU will also open a new city hotel in the United States: Riu Plaza Chicago.

PAX: What hotels have been renovated (or will soon be renovated)?

AK: On average, we renovate properties once every 10 years and invest roughly 30 per cent of the cost of a new hotel build in a renovation project for a completely new look and feel. Riu Palace Macao in the Dominican Republic is currently undergoing renovations and in addition to implementing the new Elite Club room category, a complete overhaul of its rooms will be carried out, converting some into swim-out rooms that will have an exclusive private pool for Elite customers. Two new specialty restaurants will be added to the list of those remodelled, as well as a new Pepe's Food grilled food stand and an innovative spa for customers. The makeover will also bring with it a new style and new decoration in the common areas that is fresher and brighter, being adapted to the new spaces and changes that RIU is making at its hotels. Its reopening is scheduled for September 9, 2023.

Riu Palace Macao Cubano Bar after refurb. (Supplied/rendering)

The complete renovation of Riu Palace Pacifico (Puerto Vallarta) will begin this August and end at the beginning of December, and will showcase a complete revamp of all common areas and rooms, as well as the implementation of new services. The hotel will become an Adults Only establishment and will have an exclusive bar and beach area for Elite Club customers. All renovated spaces will have a greater influx of natural light and a more sophisticated and fresh style, using light colours in the common areas and sober shades in the restaurants and bars.

What’s more, the renovation of Riu Caribe (Cancun) will be completed on August 26, 2023 bringing a radical change to all rooms and common areas. The entrance boasting natural light and a welcoming sense of openness will be what customers notice first on arrival at the lobby and reception area, in addition to rooms that will represent RIU's new style down to every last detail. The hotel will go from offering one swimming pool to three, one of which will be an infinity pool and another featuring a swim-up bar for adults only. The remodel will also include two new products. One will consist of five swim-out rooms with a private pool, providing a space with privacy and exclusivity for those who want it. The other is linked to one of RIU’s innovative concepts now available in Cancun – RIU Pool Parties – which came to be five years ago in Los Cabos and offers an exclusive area for hosting themed parties where all RIU customers from the five destination hotels are welcome. For this reason, Riu Caribe will have themed RIU Party rooms, including Neon, White, Pink and Jungle – so that customers can really feel part of the daytime and evening parties.

Riu Caribe lobby after refresh. (Supplied/rendering)

PAX: What is the Elite Club and how does it enhance the guest experience?

AK: Elite Club by RIU is a new room category available to Canadian travellers at select RIU Palace hotels. Elite Club allows customers to enjoy an even more elevated experience than what is currently offered at RIU Palace properties, including rooms in preferred locations with welcome gifts such as a woven beach bag, a personalized check-in area and guaranteed late check-out. Additionally, the Club features early check-in (subject to availability), premium drinks from dispensers and select hotel bars and a special room service option for Club members.

What’s more, different benefits will be added at hotels that have Elite Club status – depending on the hotel and the destination – and this may include designated beach areas, an exclusive swimming pool for Club customers and exclusive restaurants with à la carte breakfast items. Riu Palace Macao (Punta Cana) and Riu Palace Pacifico (Puerto Vallarta) will soon offer this room category after their renovations are complete, in addition to Riu Palace Jamaica (Montego Bay), Riu Palace Baja California (Los Cabos) and Riu Palace Antillas (Aruba), all resorts available to Canadians through Sunwing Vacations.

PAX: How are your guests travelling in 2023? What kind of booking trends are you seeing?

AK: Customers are willing to spend more to enhance the overall vacation experience, such as paying extra for higher room services and more premium services, inclusions and amenities. Elite Club by RIU is a direct response to the customer demand for elevated inclusions, one we expect to continue to grow in future. 

We are also seeing a strong increase in group travel – including adult friend groups and multigenerational family travel. Customers are craving more quality time in person with friends and family members, and travelling to an all-inclusive RIU property offers the perfect opportunity to reconnect with loved ones. We also offer connecting rooms as a room category for those looking to keep the whole group close together when travelling at one of our properties.

Riu Palace Aquarelle. (Supplied/RIU)

PAX: What should Canadian travel advisors know right now about RIU?

AK: RIU offers something for everyone and there is a RIU property that will appeal to every Canadian traveller. Plus, with the brand new Riu Palace Aquarelle (set to open in May 2024) coupled with newly renovated resorts starting to reopen shortly, including Riu Palace Macao, Riu Palace Pacifico and Riu Caribe, Canadians can enjoy a brand-new look and feel across various sun destinations. What’s more, with the introduction of our Elite Club room category and service at select RIU Palace hotels, starting with Riu Palace Macao which is reopening on September 9th, travel agents and their customers can look forward to a more premium and elevated experience at an affordable price point.

PAX: How are Sunwing and RIU preparing for a smooth and successful 2023-24 winter season?

Jennifer Lucas (JL): There is significant demand for winter travel and we are already seeing strong early bookings for various RIU properties among Sunwing Vacations customers, and we expect that demand will continue to grow as we approach the cooler winter months. From tried and true favourites to newly refurbished properties reopening starting this fall, our focus is on working with travel advisors to find the right RIU property to meet our customers’ travel needs and preferences.

PAX: What is Sunwing’s message to Canadian travel advisors?

JL: At Sunwing, we value our travel advisor community immensely and are always here to provide ongoing resources and education on the full breadth of our RIU offering. We look forward to continued partnership with travel advisors to educate our mutual customers on the RIU Hotels & Resorts properties available to them through Sunwing Vacations – with options ranging from family-friendly to adults only properties and those looking for an upscale vacation experience at an affordable price point, there is a RIU property to suit every travel style.

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