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It’s been referred to as the Dominican Republic’s best-kept secret, “The World’s New Great Destination,” and a “destination within a destination,” but the 30,000-acre gated community of Cap Cana has had its fair share of ups and downs.
A master-planned resort positioned in the Punta Cana region, Cap Cana sits on the Dominican Republic’s coveted eastern shore, only 10 minutes away from Punta Cana International Airport. The region’s developers originally planned to build a high-end alternative to the Dominican Republic’s largely mid-market, all-inclusive tourism offerings. In addition to oceanfront real estate and five-star European Plan (EP) hotels, the region would feature high-end amenities such as a full-service marina built for luxury yachts, boutique shopping and a specially-designed oceanfront golf course.
“There is no upscale Caribbean resort like this on the east coast of the United States,” said Ricardo Hazoury, Cap Cana president and developer, in a 2001 interview with LatinFinance magazine, where he also made clear his target market was buyers, not vacationers.
“This is not a hotel-driven complex,” he told LatinFinance.
Sixteen years, the 2008 global financial crisis and a multitude of projects later, Cap Cana has since somewhat restructured its business plan. It still appeals to A-listers and expats via its boutique hotels, a Punta Espada golf course, a yacht-worthy marina and a world-class equestrian center. However, the gated community also appears to have embraced the broader opportunities made possible by the luxury all-inclusive market.
It has been a year since AMResorts opened Secrets Cap Cana Resort & Spa in the community, joining a collection of shore-side all-inclusive resorts operated by AlSol Hotels & Resorts. Meanwhile, Hyatt Ziva and Zilara have broken ground next door, with completion projected for late 2019.
A press release covering the launch quoted Abraham Hazoury, member of Cap Cana’s board of directors, as saying that “Cap Cana to date has a completed and operative infrastructure, able to support 20,000 new hotel rooms.”
According to Alex Stadlin, CEO of Playa Resorts Management at Playa Hotels & Resorts, which owns and operates Hyatt’s all-inclusive brands, the uniqueness of Cap Cana as a destination will allow the 750-room Hyatt Ziva and Zilara resorts to provide guests with a “very different, very detailed experience.”
“We’ll have a considerable amount of group business with the hotel,” Stadlin said in an interview with TravelAge West. “And that may open up the eyes of many people who maybe hadn’t considered vacationing in the Dominican Republic before.”
In October 2017, Playa Hotels and Resorts Corporation also assumed overall management of the still-celebrated 184-room Sanctuary Cap Cana, indicating an even deeper interest in its involvement with Cap Cana’s development as a destination. The all-inclusive property, formerly operated by AlSol Hotels & Resorts, will be closed in May 2018 to allow for the construction of new suites, and is scheduled to reopen early September 2018.
Stadlin says in addition to more rooms, Playa also intends to continue enhancing Sanctuary’s dining, decor and service to create a more personal hotel that “gets closer to its customers.”
“It’s a jewel we’ll continue to polish,” he said.
And interest in Cap Cana is continuing to grow: Karisma Hotel & Resorts recently confirmed it will invest about $130 million by building two 250-room El Dorado and Sensimar hotels in the region — both of which will include the brand’s Gourmet Inclusive concept, beginning in spring 2018.
“The Dominican Republic and the Punta Cana destination have become some of the most important in the world,” Rafael Feliz German, CEO of Karisma Hotels & Resorts, said in a release. “That is why our presence in the country is in the long term.”
Meanwhile, Cap Cana’s list of amenities serves to embolden guest experiences. Its scenic seaside golf course, Punta Espada, partnered with Secrets Cap Cana to host the fourth-annual DR Golf Travel Exchange in October. Eden Roc, which finished a $15 million expansion in 2016 and was awarded a Four-Star Rating on Forbes Travel Guide 2017 in March, recently celebrated the opening of its third onsite restaurant, Blue Grill + Bar.
With the Dominican Republic reporting 2.1 million U.S. visitors in 2016 and its hotel occupancy rate up by 78 percent, it isn’t difficult to understand why a relatively undeveloped parcel of oceanfront land would be attractive to the luxury all-inclusive market. The question, as brands continue to invest in the region, will be whether Cap Cana manages to maintain its original vision as an exclusive, high-end-only destination.