“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
“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 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
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.
Targeting the American Market
Dreams Tulum's night entertainment by
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,”
European guests were accustomed to the various intricacies
involved in an all-inclusive vacation, but the Americans were lost
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
“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.
“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
Zozaya-Gorostiza acknowledges that this policy limits his
clientele and may be off-putting for guests from other
“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.”
The Dolphinarium at Dreams Cancun.
Zozaya-Gorostiza originally envisioned AMResorts as an
all-inclusive company with resorts catering to an exclusive,
“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 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
Like similar luxury all-inclusives, Secrets can now demand up to
$1,000 per night for a double room, a price far exceeding the
Along with the Secrets brand, AMResorts also developed its
family-oriented Sunscape brand in the Dominican Republic and
Mexico’s Riviera Maya.
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
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
Dreams Cancun guestroom.
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
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
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
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 &
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
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
“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
Secrets Punta Cana Resort & Spa, Dominican Republic, opening
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,
Dreams Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, Puerto Valllarta,
Dreams Cancún Resort & Spa, Cancún, Mexico
Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa, Tulum, Mexico
Dreams Riviera Cancún Resort & Spa, Puerto Morelos, Mexico,
Dreams Huatulco Resort & Spa, Huatulco, Mexico, future
Sunscape Resorts & Spas
Sunscape The Beach Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Sunscape Casa del Mar La Romana, Dominican Republic
Sunscape Puerto Aventuras Riviera Maya, Mexico