Secrets to Their Success

AMResorts brings luxury to the all-inclusive with its Secrets, Sunscape and Dreams brands

By: Maribeth Mellin

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Alejandro Zozaya-Gorostiza,
President, AMResorts.
Alejandro Zozaya-Gorostiza got far more than he expected when he joined an Abercrombie & Kent African safari in 2000. He saw plenty of wildlife, for sure. But he also gained a new perspective on the hospitality industry and the inspiration to create AMResorts, the fastest-growing all-inclusive resort brand management company in Mexico and the Caribbean. “I came back and said ‘now that was an all-inclusive vacation,’” he recalled. “I prepaid for everything, never had to see a menu with prices or sign a check.”

The African adventure wasn’t cheap, of course, but the accommodations and experiences were top-notch. Zozaya-Gorostiza, who had 15 years experience in corporate hotel sales and marketing, previously thought the all-inclusive concept was designed for people who wanted to save money or have “a booze-cruise type of experience.” His attitude changed as he realized that all-inclusive getaways included everything from luxurious cruises to pricey expeditions.

Eager for a change in lifestyle and career, Zozaya-Gorostiza began studying the all-inclusive trends in travel. After looking at what was happening with cruises, packaged tours and other vacation experiences, he began to think that the traditional hotel approach to hospitality was behind the times.

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Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa.
“The other industries were way more advanced in terms of fashion, trends and marketing,” he said. “I thought there was a great opportunity to come up with a concept that was a little more entertaining, while keeping the high level of luxury you could find in hotels. I saw what was going on with the growth of all-inclusives in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, and noticed that travel agents were pushing the all-inclusive concept. It’s a very convenient way of selling a vacation.”

After staying in a few all-inclusives in Mexico and the Caribbean, Zozaya-Gorostiza was convinced he could expand the concept and create resorts that would appeal to a high-end clientele.

“I wanted to look for the customer who had never stayed in an all-inclusive, but wanted to combine the luxury and the convenience of not having to look at any prices or sign any bills or checks,” he said.

He founded AMResorts in August 2001 and purchased an ideal plot of land in the Dominican Republic for his first upscale all-inclusive hotel, to be called Secrets Punta Cana. The events of Sept. 11 quickly brought that plan to a halt, however, and Zozaya-Gorostiza switched gears. Along with the company’s executive vice president Gonzalo Del Peon, he began looking at existing hotels that were struggling in the weak post-9/11 market. They took over management of one property and revamped it as an all-inclusive.

By the end of 2002, AMResorts was managing two resorts. Five years later, the company reported it had nearly $1 billion in assets with eight properties, almost 4,000 hotel rooms and three brands Sunscape, Secrets and Dreams.

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Dreams Tulum's night entertainment by pool.
Targeting the American Market
As he visited all-inclusive hotels, Zozaya-Gorostiza watched how guests handled the concept and noticed that Americans were confused. “There was a real language barrier,” he recalled. “One of the coolest things was watching the buffet.”

The American guests had no idea what to do at an omelet station and didn’t realize they could point to the ingredients they wanted. Instead, they were helping themselves to the spinach, mushrooms and other ingredients and just putting them on their plates.

At some hotels, the specialty restaurants had set seating times and other restrictions. At others, the restaurants didn’t even open until 9 p.m.

“The Americans were already done with dinner by then,” Zozaya-Gorostiza said.

European guests were accustomed to the various intricacies involved in an all-inclusive vacation, but the Americans were lost and unhappy.

His research had shown that American travel agents were extremely interested in Mexico and the Caribbean, and American travelers were the most profitable customers for those regions, traveling year-round, tipping heavily and generally splurging on luxuries.

“We decided to adapt to the customer, not the other way around. We wanted to keep it fun by doing things the American way. We knew what the Americans wanted, and the number-one thing was safety,” he said. “Normally, you feel safe by feeling at home.”

All AMResorts’ properties use brand-name ingredients that are familiar to Americans Heinz Ketchup, Hellman’s Mayonnaise, Dannon Yogurt and Gilchrist & Soames toiletries. The choice of television stations includes American networks such as HBO, Cinemax and CNN. Rooms, bars and restaurants are stocked with individual bottles of water that you can open yourself. And no matter where they are located, all AMResorts’ properties follow the U.S. calendar.

“We have Easter egg hunts, St. Patrick’s Day parties and follow the sporting events,” Zozaya-Gorostiza explained. “Our shows have jugglers, magicians, comedians and hypnotists who speak English. They joke about what’s happening in the U.S. and keep up with current events.”

Zozaya-Gorostiza acknowledges that this policy limits his clientele and may be off-putting for guests from other countries.

“You have to focus,” he said. “We know we cannot please everyone. We are training the Americans to adapt to a concept that already existed for Europeans. As long as they understand how it works they will come back happy.”

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The Dolphinarium at Dreams Cancun.
Strategic Branding
Zozaya-Gorostiza originally envisioned AMResorts as an all-inclusive company with resorts catering to an exclusive, high-end clientele.

“I wanted to try to innovate and come up with product that was way more expensive than what was then available, but at the same time, make it much more luxurious, entertaining and Americanized,” he said.

He decided to first create Secrets, a high-end, romantic adults-only brand. The first Secrets was an all-suite hotel with in-room whirlpool tubs, concierge service and other upscale amenities. The concept worked. Today, AMResorts is developing six new properties under the Secrets brand, including a 410-suite resort near the chichi Orient Express Maroma hotel on the Riviera Maya. Other properties are in the works in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, and the company is building its first Secrets in Jamaica. AMResorts has hired the prestigious HKS architecture firm (think Atlantis and Ritz-Carlton) to design four of the new Secrets resorts with luxury infrastructure and 700-square-foot suites.

“We don’t want to be Four Seasons or Amanresorts,” Zozaya-Gorostiza said. “We know what we are. But we’re also not Holiday Inn or Riu. We want to be in the high end of what we do.”

Like similar luxury all-inclusives, Secrets can now demand up to $1,000 per night for a double room, a price far exceeding the founder’s dreams.

Along with the Secrets brand, AMResorts also developed its family-oriented Sunscape brand in the Dominican Republic and Mexico’s Riviera Maya.

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Dreams Cancun spa.
Finally, the company’s third brand evolved out of the opportunity to take over the all-suite Melia in the pricey Los Cabos Corridor. Despite its ocean-view suites, the hotel didn’t meet Secrets’ adults-only criteria. An existing time-share program included families in the mix. As they were reviewing their plans for the Melia, AMResorts was also considering taking over the venerable Camino Real hotels in Puerto Vallarta and Cancun.

“We knew these hotels could be luxurious, but we could not restrict families,” Zozaya-Gorostiza said. “We were in a predicament. Should we make them a different kind of Secrets or a super-deluxe Sunscape?”

Eventually, they decided to create a new Dreams brand that was like a Secrets for singles, couples and families, with lavish spas, gourmet restaurants and a children’s World Explorer Club. The three Dreams hotels opened almost simultaneously in the summer of 2004 and the concept took off immediately.

AMResorts now has four Dreams resorts, with others opening in Huatulco and Puerto Morelos near Cancun.

In April 2007, Dreams Cancun Resort & Spa opened a dolphinarium (dolphin aquarium) in partnership with Via Delphi. Six dolphins born at Xcaret, the Riviera Maya’s successful eco-park, now reside in the resort’s lagoon. Born in captivity rather than captured in the wild, the dolphins are free to swim from the lagoon into the open sea. They tend to hang around the lagoon, however, providing a constant source of entertainment for guests in the “Dolphin-view” rooms. The hotel is also now offering a swim-with-the-dolphins experience.

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Dreams Cancun guestroom.
Staying Ahead
With its three brands firmly established, AMResorts continues to fine-tune and expand its products. All Secrets and Dreams resorts are now part of Preferred Hotels & Resorts. “We’re the only all-inclusives that belong to Preferred,” noted Zozaya-Gorostiza.

The company has launched an “Unlimited Luxury” concept at Dreams and Secrets that has replaced the term “all-inclusive.”

“It’s going to take some time to explain to agents what that concept means,” Zozaya-Gorostiza said. “I have friends who say they don’t want an all-inclusive, and I ask if they’ve ever been on a trip with A&K or traveled on any exclusive cruise ships. That’s Unlimited Luxury.”

At Sunscape, the new all-inclusive approach is called “Unlimited Fun” with an emphasis on beach, land and water activities and a wide range of nightly entertainment. All AMResorts properties now have full-service spas, and the Dreams Cancun and Tulum resorts have a spa marketing agreement with Pevonia Botanica, a worldwide leader in spa care.

AMResorts remains a very personal effort for Zozaya-Gorostiza and Del Peon. They manage every hotel that has the AMResorts brand and the company owns 50 percent of its inventory and does not work with franchises. In 2006, the company spent $50 million in improvements and plans to spend $20 million in 2007.

With hotels under construction on the Riviera Maya, Huatulco, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, the company is now looking at the emerging Riviera Nayarit region on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, various Caribbean islands and the Guanacaste region in Costa Rica.

Always interested in exploring new opportunities, Zozaya-Gorostiza said the company might eventually open a hotel that’s not at a beach resort. For now, however, he’s most excited about his original plot of land in the Dominican Republic. Construction is scheduled to begin soon on Secrets Punta Cana, a luxurious resort where guests in the most lavish suites will have swim-out access to a private pool.

“Mark my words, every major hotel company is going to have an all-inclusive product soon,” Zozaya-Gorostiza added. “Our advantage is that we are already there.”

“That’s why we’re so aggressive in development,” said Del Peon. “We have a lot of exciting new developments in the works that will differentiate AMResorts from other properties in the luxury travel market.”


AMResorts was just a blip on Mexico’s resort hotel scene until the summer of 2004, when the company took over two of the country’s most cherished beach properties. The Camino Real hotels in Cancun and Puerto Vallarta were among Mexico’s oldest and finest resorts with superb locations, striking architecture in the style of Mexican icon Ricardo Legoretta and a genuine sense of Mexican hospitality. Rumors of the hotels’ demise had circulated for years, but it was still a surprise when the Camino Real logo was replaced with that of the brand-new, all-inclusive Dreams Resorts & Spas.

Zozaya-Gorostiza, who had vacationed at Camino Real as a child, knew his company had taken charge of far more than simple resort properties. “In Cancun, Camino Real was an icon,” he said.

Friends in Mexico called and begged him to not turn the hotels into all-inclusives, saying we have customers who spend 60 nights a year at these hotels.

Zozaya-Gorostiza sat down with the staff members at both hotels and told them he planned to invest serious money into the buildings to make them better than ever.

“We invested $20 million in the Cancun property and $15 million in Puerto Vallarta just in the first year. Since then we’ve put $2 to $3 million every year into both properties,” he said.

The investment has paid off handsomely. Both hotels look better than they have in many years. The Puerto Vallarta Dreams sits alone on a private cove with a gorgeous beach south of town. In its heyday it served as the headquarters for various celebrities during film shoots and was known as both an idyllic romantic getaway and a great place to vacation with the family. That reputation has returned. The Cancun hotel straddles the tip of Punta Cancun and rises beside a small Maya ruin. Two beaches frame the pyramid-style hotel, which is fronted by a meandering lagoon.

The Cancun hotel is home to Azucar, a popular salsa club, and Paloma Bonita, the best regional Mexican restaurant in the hotel zone. The new owners quite sensibly kept those two successful businesses open to the public when the resort went all-inclusive.

Within the industry, the two Camino Real hotels were landmarks known as the best hotels around. Now fully restored and improved, the hotels have given AMResorts considerable exposure in Mexico.

“Everything works and is clean,” Zozaya-Gorostiza said. “We still have the quality of the people and the friendliness. They’ve gone back to the splendor they had years ago,”


Secrets Resorts & Spas

Secrets Capri Riviera Cancún Resort & Spa, Mexico
Secrets Maroma Riviera Cancún Resort & Spa, Mexico, opening May 2008
Secrets Punta Cana Resort & Spa, Dominican Republic, opening late 2008
Secrets Casa del Mar La Romana Resort & Spa, Dominican Republic, opening late 2008
Secrets Montego Bay Resort & Spa, Jamaica, opening mid 2009

Dreams Resorts & Spas

Dreams Los Cabos Suites Golf Resort & Spa, Los Cabos, Mexico
Dreams Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, Puerto Valllarta, Mexico
Dreams Cancún Resort & Spa, Cancún, Mexico
Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa, Tulum, Mexico
Dreams Riviera Cancún Resort & Spa, Puerto Morelos, Mexico, future property
Dreams Huatulco Resort & Spa, Huatulco, Mexico, future property

Sunscape Resorts & Spas

Sunscape The Beach Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Sunscape Casa del Mar La Romana, Dominican Republic
Sunscape Puerto Aventuras Riviera Maya, Mexico