Better together: Sunwing & RIU celebrate another strong year

Better together: Sunwing & RIU celebrate another strong year
(From left) Jennifer Lucas, product manager, Sunwing; Lexi Lipitkas, director, group sales, Sunwing; Deana Murphy, VP – sales, Sunwing; Hugo Aguilera, director of business development, partner marketing – groups & romance, RIU Hotels & Resorts; Dave Wright, director of sales – Ontario & Atlantic Canada, Sunwing; Lorraine Brisbois, corporate manager – preferred partners, Sunwing.
Blake Wolfe

Blake Wolfe is an award-winning journalist and editor, who joined PAX after nearly 10 years in Canada’s newspaper industry. In addition to PAX, his work has been featured in publications such as the Metroland Media group of newspapers and the Toronto Sun.

More parties, more renovations and water parks in the Caribbean and a new Toronto hotel are among the highlights heading into 2020 for RIU Hotels & Resorts.

The resort chain was joined by Sunwing, RIU’s exclusive Canadian tour operator, for the companies’ annual holiday celebration, welcoming travel trade partners to a lunch update, recapping the previous year while looking ahead to the newest developments.

PAX sat down with Hugo Aguilera, RIU’s director of business development, partner marketing – groups & romance, to learn more about what lies ahead following a “challenging but successful” 2019.

“It’s all about the experience”

Heading into 2020, guests at a handful of Riu’s properties can take part in one of two Riu Party experiences, the chain’s entertainment concept.

For adults, four weekly Riu Pool Party events – two during the day and two at night – will take place at Riu’s Cabo San Lucas and Punta Cana properties, offering themes including White, Pink, Jungle and Neon, the latter of which has proven to be the most popular with guests, Aguilera said.

Families can also get in on the fun with the new Riu Get-Together Party. Offered in the theatres at Riu Jalisco, Riu Guanacaste, Riu Tequila and Riu Republica, these family-friendly get togethers are another sign of RIU’s growing multi-gen market, Aguilera said.

“We have a very good niche of multi-gen travellers and we didn’t want to exclude them from the fun,” he said. “It’s more like one of our enhanced shows; for example, the DJ goes with the crowd, playing things like ‘Baby Shark’ – everyone loves it! It’s not a huge Ibiza-style party – that’s why we have the pool parties.”

“We’ve been working on that for a long time,” he said of the growing multigen market. “We’ve been adding multi-room suites for families; for example, at Riu Ocho Rios, after the renovation we added a new building just with the family suites.”

In addition to parties, RIU has continued to bring its Splash Water World water park concept to new resorts, most recently opening at Riu Guanacaste in Costa Rica last week and at Riu Ocho Rios earlier this fall. Like the Riu Party concepts, access to the water parks is included with a stay at the properties, Aguilera said.

“It’s all about experiences – we already have the hotels, so how can we enhance the experiences?” Aguilera said.

Hugo Aguilera, RIU’s director of business development, partner marketing – groups & romance

Expanded offerings

While RIU’s new builds in 2020 will be taking place outside of Mexico and the Caribbean, Aguilera said that the chain will focus on renovations and expansions in its popular sun destinations. Recent renovations include:

  • The renovation of all rooms at Riu Ocho Rios, along with the addition of Splash Water World and expanded kids’ and teens’ clubs; 
  • The addition of 312 new rooms plus the Splash Water World at Riu Emerald Bay in Mazatlan, a key destination for Canadian travellers (particularly from Western Canada) in the winter months, Aguilera said;  
  • A new look and new restaurants at Riu Vallarta; and 
  • A total renovation at Riu Palace Riviera Maya, scheduled to reopen Dec 6.

Aguilera said that in 2020, Riu Montego Bay will close for renovations in April, reopening in September as an adults-only property with new rooms and facilities. The change will create a trio of adults-only properties side by side in Montego Bay, with the Riu Reggae and Riu Palace Jamaica next door, Aguilera said.

O Canada

Currently under construction, RIU will debut the Riu Plaza Toronto in 2021, bringing its line of urban hotels to Canada for the first time.

Does it mean there’s more Canadian properties on the way?

“We’re always analyzing but the key thing for us is that we want the best location wherever we go,” Aguilera offered. “If it’s not the best location, we won’t do it.”

“It shows how strongly we believe in the Canadian market – that we decided to put one of our hotels in the heart of Toronto.”

The company also recently opened Riu Plaza Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, while a second New York property is currently under construction in Times Square.

Aguilera added that there are also plans to open a four-star property in Dubai, while a brand-new property will also come to Senegal in 2021.

Committed to the trade

As always, RIU will continue to work with their Canadian travel trade partners, including through the Riu Partner Club along with the work of the Canadian BDM team and Sunwing.

“The brand is very well-positioned in Canada, we’re well respected by agents and their clients,” Aguilera said. “We will continue to support our agent partners and protect their business.”

(From left) Deana Murphy, VP – sales, Sunwing; Niurka Garcia-Linton, director of sales – RIU Jamaica; Elsi Cruz Garcia, sales manager, Punta Cana, RIU Hotels & Resorts; Jennifer Lucas, product manager, Sunwing; Lexi Lipitkas, director, group sales, Sunwing; Hugo Aguilera, director of business development, partner marketing – groups & romance, RIU Hotels & Resorts; Valerie Ward, business development manager – Ontario, RIU Hotels & Resorts; Anthony Ortiz Lopez, sales manager – Cancun & Costa Mujeres, RIU Hotels & Resorts; Lorraine Brisbois, corporate manager – preferred partners, Sunwing; Dave Wright, director of sales – Ontario & Atlantic Canada, Sunwing; Sandra Mallette, manager – business development, Canada, RIU Hotels & Resorts;  Alejandra Marino, sales manager, Riu Palace Paradise Island.

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