Luis Riu: “We are celebrating RIU´s 25th anniversary in Mexico with 22 hotels and thousands of reasons to be grateful”date_range 12 July, 2022 question_answer 4 Comments
I first visited the Mexican Caribbean in 1987 and it was ten years before the Riu Yucatan opened, with a multitude of things happening in that time, both personally and business-wise. I fell in love with the place at first sight, but I had to wait before I could open my first hotel there. Once we got the ball rolling though, it was a learning curve to success that still today, 25 years on, keeps us on our toes. Mexico is our top destination in all aspects: for the sheer number of rooms, employees and business turnover. Mexico is so important to RIU that I am afraid this article cannot possibly do it justice. But I will try.
Because Mexico is much more than just numbers to the company. We have learnt so much from the people we work with there, and from our suppliers, as well as from our customers. We have evolved our product and perfected our service. Mexico is one of the leading tourist hubs in the world, and I can still see it has a huge potential for us to learn and improve. This anniversary can only be celebrated with gratitude. I look at Mexico and I see more work and further current, medium- and long-term opportunities.
In 1997 RIU opened its first hotel in Mexico
My first trip to Cancún was in 1987, with Isabel, before we were even married. From the moment we set foot there I knew immediately that it was a fabulous tourism destination and its beaches, the climate and the cuisine remain etched on my memory. I was captured by its charming villages and people. Shortly afterwards in the history of the RIU chain, when we had to decide where to open our first international hotel, my father, Luis Riu Bertrán, who was at the helm at the time, went for Punta Cana. We opened the Riu Taino, Riu Naiboa and Riu Palace Macao hotels there soon after. This was all between 1991 and 1995, and that’s when I said the time had come to head to Mexico.
At that time our guests were mainly coming from Germany and other European countries and that’s why we planned our first hotel in Playa del Carmen. We thought, and I think we were right, that it was a destination more to their liking, while Cancún at that point was more of an American favourite. The team travelling with me to Mexico was also positive that it was the right thing to do, and in fact, before we opened the Riu Yucatan, we had already bought the land for the Riu Tequila and the Riu Palace Mexico.
The tour operators visiting us there also saw it in the same way. The stunning beaches, climate, music, food, excellent service… an unbeatable combination. And that’s how it happened. Ever since we opened that first hotel in 1997, we have continued to grow in Mexico.
Hotel Riu Yucatan, in Playa del Carmen, is a reference of expansion
We had just developed hotels in Punta Cana, where everything was so complicated. There were no roads, no electricity, no running water… every step we made in the Dominican Republic in those early years of the 90s was such a huge effort. Arriving in Mexico was amazing. Playacar was fully developed: roads with tarmac, telephone lines, drainage, lighting… and everything had also been tastefully designed with a view to it becoming a great tourism destination. And there we were, next to the Cancún hotel district, the top destination in Mexico.
The first all-inclusive service we offered was in Puerto Plata, at the Riu Merengue, but where we really extended, enhanced and tailored our all-inclusive range was in Mexico. We opened our first themed restaurants (Mexican and Asian) at the Riu Yucatan. From then on, all of our hotels offered different themed dining options. The same goes for the bars. All customers can be demanding, but Mexican customers want to have their favourite tipples alongside the option to sample local brands, so the drinks menu also grew and became more sophisticated in Mexico.
RIU widens their offer in Mexico with hotels in new areas
Mexican customers have been vital in RIU’s success. That’s why it wasn’t long before we opened our first Pacific-side hotel: the Riu Jalisco.
To find Nuevo Vallarta, we visited the most famous and favourite destinations of travellers from Mexico’s big cities. We really liked what Nayarit was offering so much that we opened the first hotel there in 2002, and added to it with the Riu Vallarta and Riu Palace Pacifico in 2006 and 2008. Nayarit has the authentic Mexican charm with its little villages, beaches and lush nature. And its seafood, of course. It is very popular within the country, as well as with international customers who are looking for a less touristy experience.
Cancún on the other hand, is the country’s main tourism hub. Its unrivalled beaches attract millions of clients from around the world. US customers are very sensitive to distances from the airport and want things to do on their vacations. The hotel has large swimming pools with bars, music and is a hive of activity. Elsewhere there are numerous clubs, bars, restaurants and stores, as well as the possibility of visiting the Mayan pyramids of Tulum or several theme parks. That’s why Cancún remains unbeatable as a destination.
For me, however, Los Cabos is the most beautiful place in the Pacific. The Gulf of California, with its impressive vermillion colour, its famous arch, the boats always in and out… really is idyllic. It is a popular destination in the United States and we pull out all the stops for this market. We broke with our usual pattern of opening first a Classic hotel and then a Riu Palace by going in straight off the bat with the Riu Palace Cabo San Lucas. It worked out well for us. We also realised though that we had to extend the range with a more affordable family option and that’s why we built the Riu Santa Fe hotel, which has also proved to be a popular destination with our Mexican guests.
It was at Los Cabos where we first started with the Riu Party idea, the same year that we opened our third hotel there: the Riu Palace Baja California. Mexico has been groundbreaking for so many reasons. It’s logical because it is our first international destination and we have the product, customers and one of the best teams to try out new service ideas and designs. And in Mexico there is so much talent, professionalism and enthusiasm. It’s easy to test things out there before standardising them and exporting them to other destinations.
And if Los Cabos is all about the US, Mazatlán is all about the Mexican domestic market. The ‘Pearl of the Pacific’ is very special as a stunning, authentic destination. Opening in Mazatlán was a tribute to Mexico and its tradition of travelling by road from major cities like Guadalajara.
Guadalajara, the first Riu Plaza in Mexico
And going the other way, from our hotels in Nuevo Vallarta, Mazatlán and Cancún was how we came to open our first Riu Plaza hotel in Mexico in the capital of Jalisco, the country’s cultural capital. In Guadalajara we saw the perfect opportunity to offer a modern hotel in the city, with an enormous space for all kinds of conventions and events. We also opted for a skyscraper which, together with the Matute Remus bridge, has become one of the city’s icons.
Costa Mujeres, the most recent RIU hotel in Mexico
Not to mention Costa Mujeres, which has been our most recent destination, up in a municipality to the north of Cancún, with an amazing beach and which is working very, very well. We opened the Riu Dunamar there in 2018 and this year we will be opening our third hotel in the destination.
Recognition to the team at RIU Hotels & Resorts in Mexico: 25 years of work
Mexico has been such a vital part of RIU for so many years. It’s a destination that has given us a wealth of opportunities and satisfaction. But what we didn’t know was that it was also going to save us during the most difficult moment that the tourism industry has been through in its history. Thanks to the Mexican government’s open policy we could open the hotels in Mexico and keep them open from the very start of the Covid-19 pandemic. And that is what has kept the company afloat. That’s why we will never tire of saying that we owe Mexico a great deal.
Firstly, in recognition of its talent, from which we have learnt so much:
- We have the safest hotels across the Americas, thanks to Mexican professionals, who are particularly good with structural elements. José María Sanchís leads an outstanding team of architects, engineers and site personnel for the continent, who have been responsible for the construction and renovation of almost 50 hotels.
- We also look to the Mexican talent heading up the technical services of numerous hotels across the entire region.
- Our product manager staff for Bars, Restaurants, Entertainment, Reception, Housekeeking and Cuisine in Mexico who are training new RIU professionals in multiple destinations.
- We cannot forget about the Sales, International Call Centre, Admin, Purchases and Human Resources managers… professionals who are looking after these invisible aspects from Mexico but who are essential for RIU’s operations across the continent.
- Hotel and Operations directors who have been with us for years, handling the hectic pace, and taking on substantial refurbishments and new openings in a destination that never stays still.
- I especially mention Rafael Expósito here, who led Operations for the country for 20 years.
To all of you, my most heartfelt gratitude.
And to finish off, special thanks to the local, state and federal authorities for working together with companies to develop their tourism vision. Also to the CROC, a trade union organisation which has worked to defend the rights of hotel workers and always been willing to reach an agreement. And lastly, to our suppliers, 95% of whom are Mexican, and who serve RIU in other countries in the region. They have always been able to offer quality and reliability in spite of the fact that we are a demanding client due to the volumes and turnaround times that we need. Many thanks to you all. We are 25 years into our journey, but it’s nowhere near over yet.
Fdo. Luis Riu