One agent’s Playa del Carmen experience in the (hopefully) last days of pre-arrival PCR testing
Hilton Playa del Carmen's poolside cabanas (all photos courtesy of Andrea Heagney)

One agent’s Playa del Carmen experience in the (hopefully) last days of pre-arrival PCR testing

WATERLOO — While travel is set to ramp up dramatically in the coming weeks as Canada’s new travel measures come into effect, not everyone put their getaways on hold until restrictions eased.

Especially for those in the travel industry, it’s been critical to get out and experience travel at this point in the pandemic, if only to report back to clients and colleagues.

And while the eased measures taking effect Feb. 28, 2022, including pre-arrival antigen tests, are a much-welcome next-step for travel’s recovery, maybe there’s something to be said to being one of the last of the PCR-tested travellers, the intrepid adventurers who will explore this world no matter what.

Andrea Heagney, an independent travel advisor with Vision Travel in Waterloo, ON, returned from Mexico earlier this month, after a stay at the Hilton Playa del Carmen, part of Playa Hotels & Resorts’ portfolio. For her return to Canada, she used Air Canada’s Switch Health PCR testing, “which was a joy!” says Heagney. “No lining up like fools to pay a third-party in USD to swab me and then sweat out the results. We did our tests in the comfort of our own room, when we wanted to, and in under an hour the telehealth nurse guided us and we had our negative results. Worth the Cdn$149 for each test and I got Aeroplan points!”

THE RESORT EXPERIENCE

Heagney tells Travelweek that the Hilton Playa del Carmen in early February was just under 60% capacity, which was perfect: “It still looked busy at times (especially at the main pool where the action was), but with many beach cabanas, a quiet pool and two other sections near the beach you could escape people and get space. The same can be said for the lobby and restaurants. The gym was almost deserted each time we went but services / classes were still on. Entertainment at the pool and in the lobby each night was great and they have karaoke and a silent party too!”

One agent’s Playa del Carmen experience in the (hopefully) last days of pre-arrival PCR testing

The pool scene at Hilton Playa del Carmen

Heagney also gave high marks to the look and feel of the property. “This resort is authentic in design, beautifully maintained and the staff are wonderful. We loved most of the food, there is always that dish that doesn’t compute. We especially loved Asiana, and Rincon for authentic Mexican food. It was nice as a Hilton Honours member to get access to breakfast at Pelicanos as well – great menu!”

She adds that 10-15% of the resort’s guests were from the LGBTQ community, “which is great. The wedding office even has a ‘You & Me’ sign to match the ‘Mr. & Mrs.’ sign. During my site inspection I got lots of great tips from the Sales Manager about their growing ‘pink sales’. The proximity (two blocks) to 5th Avenue and the clubs makes a difference.”

Many milestone birthdays and other celebrations were in full swing during Heagney’s visit, and the resort was up to the task, with special desserts at dinner, decorated room doors, cabanas and the like. Long-overdue trips to celebrate big birthdays and anniversaries have been pegged as a major trend for post-pandemic travel.

She says resort staff had also been well-versed in the art of the upsell. “I wish I could have made money off the times I was asked to talk about the spa,” says Heagney. “In the lobby, poolside and at the beach at any time, spa personnel were offering deals and giving massages right there and then.”

One agent’s Playa del Carmen experience in the (hopefully) last days of pre-arrival PCR testing

Accommodation at Hilton Playa del Carmen

She was also offered vouchers with discounts for add-ons like room upgrades and cabanas, but that was after day 1: “I found this frustrating because I secured my room upgrade already and had bought my cabana and then was handed vouchers. No sales pitch offered but I also couldn’t use them. Frustrating as an agent to see sales tactics like this because tour operators like us to book excursions and sell things ahead of arrival.”

ON THE GROUNDS

The Hilton Playa del Carmen is right across the street from the newly rebranded Wyndham Alltra Playa del Carmen (formerly a Panama Jack). “It looked nearly identical so guests were sometimes confused if that was an extension of the hotel. Their beach area is much narrower so I think a lot of those sister property guests tried to come over and use our chairs but Hilton security was very good at not permitting non-guests.”

Heagney also notes that the area between the Hilton Playa del Carmen and the Wyndham Alltra is a public pier with beach access, so there were a lot of locals, plus a lot of security. “Happy to see the militia pass by once or twice a day to keep everyone safe,” she says. “We ventured to Cozumel by ferry and walked along 5th Avenue for 15 minutes early in the morning and on our way back at 8 p.m. It was a party scene but we still felt safe.”

Heagney says she’s travelled south three times since October 2021, to Punta Cana, the Bahamas with Celebrity Cruises, and now Playa del Carmen. “With the right tools (masks, sanitizer, wipes and spacing) you can feel good as a vaccinated / boosted traveller to come home healthy. It’s do-able and a lot more clients are feeling the same. I hear hesitation about some things but I explain my personal experiences and they feel better. That’s my job.”