And while the relaxed measures taking effect February 28, 2022, including pre-arrival antigen testing, are a very welcome next step for the resumption of travel, there may be something to be said for being the one of the last PCR-tested travelers, the intrepid adventurers who will explore this world no matter what.
Andrea Heagney, an independent travel consultant with Vision Travel in Waterloo, Ont., returned from Mexico earlier this month after a stay at the Hilton Playa del Carmen, part of the Playa Hotels & Resorts portfolio. For her return to Canada, she used Air Canada’s Switch Health PCR test, “which was a joy!” said Heagney. “No queuing like fools to pay a third in USD to dab me and then sweat the results. We did our tests in the comfort of our own room, whenever we wanted, and in less than an hour , the telehealth nurse walked us through and we got our negative results. It was worth CA$149 for each test and I got Aeroplan points!”
THE VILLAGE EXPERIENCE
Heagney tells Travelweek that the Hilton Playa del Carmen at the beginning of February had a capacity of just under 60%, which was perfect: swimming pool and two other sections near the beach, you could escape people and have ‘space. The same can be said for the lobby and restaurants. The gym was nearly deserted every time we went but the services/classes were still going. The entertainment at the pool and in the lobby each night was great and they also have karaoke and a silent party!
Heagney also gave high marks to the property’s appearance. “This resort is authentic in design, beautifully maintained and the staff are wonderful. We loved most of the food, there’s always that dish that doesn’t count. We particularly liked Asiana and Rincon for the authentic Mexican food. It was nice as a Hilton Honors member to also have access to breakfast at Pelicanos – great menu!”
She adds that 10-15% of guests at the resort were from the LGBTQ community, “which is great. The wedding bureau even has a ‘You and Me’ sign to match the ‘Mr. & Mrs.’ sign. During my site inspection, I received many tips from the sales manager regarding their growing “pink sales”. The proximity (two blocks) to 5th Avenue and the clubs makes the difference.
Many milestone birthdays and other celebrations were in full swing when Heagney visited, and the resort was up to the task, with special dinner desserts, decorated room doors, cabanas, and more. Long-awaited trips to celebrate major birthdays and anniversaries have been seen as a major trend for post-pandemic travel.
She says the station staff were also versed in the art of upselling. “I wish I could have made money off the times I was asked to talk about the spa,” Heagney says. “In the lobby, by the pool and at the beach at all times, the spa staff offered deals and gave massages on the spot.”
She was also offered vouchers with discounts for add-ons such as room upgrades and cabanas, but that was after the first day: “I found it frustrating because I had already gotten the upgrade from my room and that I had purchased my cabana and then I received vouchers. No sales pitches offered but I couldn’t use them either. Frustrating as an agent to see sales tactics like this- ci, because tour operators like us to book excursions and sell things before arrival.”
ON THE GROUND
The Hilton Playa del Carmen is directly across from the new Wyndham Alltra Playa del Carmen (formerly Panama Jack). “It looked almost identical, so customers were sometimes confused if it was an extension of the hotel. Their beach is much narrower, so I think a lot of those sister property guests tried to come in and use our chairs, but Hilton security was very good at not allowing 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 lots of locals, plus lots of security. “Happy to see the militia come by once or twice a day to keep everyone safe,” she says. “We ventured to Cozumel by ferry and walked along 5th ave for 15 minutes early in the morning and on our way back at 8pm. It was a party scene but we still felt safe.”
Heagney says she’s traveled south three times since October 2021, to Punta Cana, the Bahamas with Celebrity Cruises, and now to Playa del Carmen. “With the right tools (masks, sanitizer, wipes, and spacing), you can feel great as a vaccinated/boosted traveler to return home healthy. It’s doable and many more customers feel the same way. I hear hesitation about certain things but I explain my personal experiences and they feel better. It’s my job.”