This story originally ran in the September 6, 2018 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.
TORONTO — A new resort in the Caribbean may seem like run-of-the-mill news at first. But for AMResorts’ new all-inclusive property in French-speaking St. Martin, three interesting tidbits give this opening far more weight: it marks AMResorts’ entry into the island; it gives the destination (which has a limited number of all-inclusive properties) a new player in the all-inclusive market; and it’s coming at a time when the island needs it most, post-Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Owned by Sole Resorts, a longstanding partner of AMResorts’ parent company Apple Leisure Group (ALG), the yet-to-be-named resort (formerly the Riu Palace St. Martin) will undergo a US$20 million renovation prior to its reopening in 2019 under the Secrets brand. It will reemerge as adults-only, with 350 rooms, a rooftop pool with direct views of Anguilla, luxury swimout suites and the largest pool in the Caribbean, all situated on a private and protected enclave.
Considering the timing of the announcement, travel agents, vacationers and local tourism officials have all welcomed the news. Less than one year ago, the island was devastated by Irma and Maria, with damage and losses reaching upwards to $3 billion, reports The New Yorker. And although much of the destination has mostly recovered – 75% of airlift is currently servicing the island, 65% of nightlife attractions and restaurants are open, and 26 accommodations representing just under 2,000 rooms are also open, with an additional 1,000 opening in Q4 2018 – the new Secrets resort is being regarded as the start of a new era.
“Every cloud has a silver lining, which is exactly what the Secrets resort brand means to the island,” says St. Maarten Minister of Tourism Stuart Johnson, adding that the new resort will help further target wedding couples and honeymooners. “The arrival of the new Secrets resort will help change the trend for the island and attract other luxury push resorts and amenities that are expected with this niche market.”
AMResorts’ entry is exactly the kind of tourism boost that the destination is working towards. In fact, just this past July, the governments of the French and Dutch sides of the island signed a one-island agreement to redevelop cooperative tourism and marketing initiatives. And it’s high-profile developments like Secrets that will reiterate the message to travellers and the world at large that St. Maarten/St. Martin is open for business.
“While the hurricanes may have devastated the island, it also presented us with the chance to rebuild better and stronger and allow for new opportunities such as attracting the Secrets brand to our island,” says Johnson.
As a highly regarded four-star brand that caters to adults, Secrets’ arrival also puts the spotlight back on the island’s reputation for being a luxury destination and, more importantly, away from the hurricanes’ aftermath. Its high-end hotels, on both sides of the island, have long attracted discerning travellers in search of first-class guest experiences. And though Secrets will certainly fall in line with other nearby luxury properties, it will easily stand out for the simple fact that it’s an all-inclusive.
Upon opening next year, the new Secrets resort will join a handful of other all-inclusives on St. Martin/St. Maarten, including Divi Little Bay Beach Resort, which has been offered as an all-inclusive option through Canadian tour operators for a couple years now; Sonesta Ocean Point and sister property Sonesta Maho Beach Resort; and the upcoming Planet Hollywood (formerly Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort) opening in 2019 under new owner Sunwing Travel Group.
You may think a handful of all-inclusive properties sounds paltry in comparison to other Caribbean islands like Cuba and Jamaica, but the truth is it’s a good amount for a destination that’s only 37 square miles from end to end.
That said, any new all-inclusive to arrive on the island, especially on the French side, will create major buzz in the industry, as the new Secrets has clearly done.
“St. Martin has a limited all-inclusive offer as it stands now, so the addition of our five-star Secrets Resort & Spa property will truly be a standout,” says Jan LaPointe, Vice President, Strategic Planning Retail Sales North America, AMRewards, Sales & Marketing Canada. “There is nothing like it on the island, creating a great opportunity for agents with clientele seeking a true luxury, all-inclusive resort in St. Martin.”
Noting how St. Martin has long been a favourite destination for the Canadian market, LaPointe adds that the company is “happy to be able to provide Canadian travel agents with one of our award-winning brands to offer to their clients on the island”, and that its Unlimited-Luxury offering coupled with its location “are sure to make it a favourite upon opening.”
Pauline Blacoe, Destination Wedding Specialist at Shinetravel.ca in Keswick, ON, is one of many agents counting down the days until Secrets’ opening. Already well versed in the brand’s offerings (“I sell it a lot to my clients”), and a fan of AMResorts properties herself (“I love AM properties, they have wonderful agent perks”), Blacoe says that despite a dip in bookings to St. Martin immediately after last year’s hurricanes, she’s not at all concerned about selling the new Secrets.
“It will be an easy sell; great product, great destination,” she tells Travelweek. “There are not a lot of all-inclusive options in St. Martin, and even less since the hurricanes, so this will be a welcome addition.”
For now, details about the new resort are scarce but Javier Coll, Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer of Apple Leisure Group, tells Travelweek that its official name will be unveiled soon. He also notes that the renovation of the property will be “significant” to meet the Secrets’ brand standards.
As for why St. Martin, and why now? Coll says that it makes perfect sense for the brand.
“St. Martin has always been on our radar, and we identified the right opportunity to expand there,” he says. “ALG always has its fingertips on the pulse of the Caribbean tourism industry and is constantly monitoring for unique opportunities to grow AMResorts portfolio.”
The potential for growth in the Caribbean is limitless, with the World Travel & Tourism Council reporting that international visitation has tripled from approximately 6.7 million to 20.1 million between 1980 and 2010. Moreover, it’s estimated to reach 26.5 million in 2018, and 39.0 million by 2028. “As such, we will continue to place our bets on this market, along with Latin America and, of course, on Mexico where we have deep roots,” Coll adds.
And although there’s no such thing as a ‘sure thing’ in the travel industry, St. Martin, with its blissful beaches, beautiful resorts and array of fine dining restaurants, comes pretty close. Says Coll, “We believe in the island’s potential to become a top high-end destination that is the perfect fit for our Secrets brand.”