This story originally ran in the November 15, 2018 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.
TORONTO — It’s not easy being the first at anything, but Club Med is taking it all in stride.
The company first announced in May that it will be opening a new resort in the Dominican Republic in December 2019, not in the island’s typical tourist hotspots but in the little known region of Michès, about 90 minutes north of Punta Cana. In fact, Michès is so unfrequented by tourists that the new Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda will be the first resort to ever debut in the region.
It’s essentially a blank canvas in one of the Caribbean’s most popular destinations, which has many hotel developers and tourists talking. But what do we know about Michès, and why haven’t we heard of it before?
According to Abdalah Castillo, Director of the Dominican Republic Tourism Board, Canada, Michès has mainly been regarded as an agricultural region that grows rice, coconut and tubers. Until recently, it’s been cut off from the rest of the island due to its geographic location (the sea is to its north, and a mountain range is to its south), which means that it hasn’t benefitted from the economic growth that tourism has brought to other areas.
But all that is about to change. In recent years, the government has invested in new roads and improved infrastructure in the region, linking it to Punta Cana, Santa Cruz de El Seibo, and Sabana del Mar, essentially opening it for tourism.
“This has been a carefully planned process that will bring with it improved education, thousands of jobs and an increased standard of living for the people of Michès,” Castillo tells Travelweek. “The development of Michès is part of a larger government plan in the region, and the arrival of Club Med is a wonderful start that will generate jobs not only in the resort itself, but with many other small local businesses such as restaurants, rental boats, horseback rides and tours.”
With tourism plans well underway, is the government counting on Michès becoming the next Punta Cana?
“Our plan for now is to celebrate this new hotel within the context of a master plan for the region that will play out over the next decade,” adds Castillo. “Each region of our country is different and, in fact, Michès is quite distinct from Punta Cana in a number of ways. We feel we might attract a whole new market of visitors interested in sustainable tourism.”
Castillo says other hotel brands are expected to follow suit, but that development is being carefully timed in order to adhere to the highest levels of environmental standards.
“Since our country made tourism a priority back in the 1970s, we have worked consistently to adapt, improve and diversify our tourism products in order to remain competitive. The development of Michès will appeal to a wide variety of visitors in a totally new, very authentic destination. We hope it will attract a new group of visitors interested in the unique attractions of the area – irregular coasts with incredible landforms, mangroves, rivers, waterfalls and caves.”
The rugged beauty of Michès is exactly what appealed to Club Med in the first place, says Carolyne Doyon, Senior Vice President, Canada and Mexico. Coupled with the fact that it’s within a reasonable driving distance from the airport, the region’s rare offerings and stunning environments matched the company’s criteria when opening a new resort. But being the first to develop an untouched location doesn’t come without some challenges, mainly with regard to sustainability.
“The infrastructure of the project has undergone a series of assessments on its environmental, social and economic sustainability performance to earn its BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) certification for the construction process,” Doyon tells Travelweek. “Club Med priorities eco-friendly practices in the production of our resorts, making sure that we are minimizing the impact on the environment. We adapt the property to the surrounding environment, not the other way around.”
Once finished, the resort’s daily operations will perform under the Green Globe certification and span 93 acres, Club Med’s biggest project of its type in the Caribbean in the past 40 years. It will be home to four boutique villages (Archipelago, Caribbean Paradise, Emerald Jungle, and Explorer Cove), each one with its own unique environment, and will be Club Med’s first full ‘Exclusive Collection’ resort in the Americas.
As with any new resort, amenities and location will be key when selling it. But with Michès being brand new to tourists, how confident is Club Med that Canadian vacationers will book, knowing that they’re going in blind, so to speak?
“With almost 70 years of experience and expertise in the industry, we have earned our clients’ trust,” says Doyon. “Canadian travellers are seeking new destinations and we’re confident that Michès will be a great option for them. Canadian interest in Club Med product continues to grow each year, and we’re eager for travellers to discover this untouched paradise.”
Having French roots, Club Med has always appealed to French Canadians and has enjoyed a loyal French following for years. But as Michès is considered a novelty for being largely untouched, Doyon says that the new resort is expected to attract a lot of interest across Canada.
“We have a very strong Canadian client base who already travels to the Dominican Republic frequently and to our other Exclusive Collection products. We feel that Michès will only strengthen this relationship and allow us to recruit new upscale clients,” she says.
The company is relying heavily on travel agents to get the word out about the new resort, as they play an “integral” role in Club Med’s Canadian sales.
“This is a relationship we value immensely since they are not only business partners, but also brand ambassadors,” adds Doyon. “We make a continuous effort to dedicate events, webinars and fam trips to agents throughout the year, and offer a very generous loyalty program to show our appreciation because we certainly couldn’t do it without them.”