The one thing about a ‘global pandemic’, is that it is global. Almost every country, on every continent, has been drastically changed by COVID-19. Even the few countries that chose to ignore the whole flu-thing were effectively quarantined by their neighboring countries. So, no country got away scot-free. This of course, includes the Dominican Republic.
On March 19th, The Playa said ‘adios’ to its last guest, and shuttered everything up as directed by the government. May has come to an end, and it will be July before the government will allow restaurants, hotels or beaches to re-open. The Playa has all three! The government will re-open airports at that time. Tourism for The Playa is just as important as it is to the mega-resorts, we need there to be traveller’s if we are to survive.
Wendy, her family, and the staff are all fine. They have spent the last ten weeks holed-up in their homes. Wendy moved her family to The Playa at the beginning of the shutdown and has been there ever since. In general, life is at a standstill and absolutely nobody is making any money. The stresses and pressures are mounting and even though June has started, the four weeks or more remaining until re-opening feels like an eternity away. Support has been sent to The Playa to help those employed there survive, it is not much, but it is the best any of us can do at this time. The Playa had become a self-sustaining business over the last three years but at this moment in time…
The hospitality industry, to say the least, has taken a kicking over the last five months. From the Playa’s standpoint, the reservations slowed down in January for the late winter (Mar-Apr). Disappointing after such a solid year-to-date, but not unexpected. Travel warnings were being issued by almost every world government. The cancellations started to arrive in my in-box in early March, shortly after I returned from the Dominican Republic. In total, 74 nights worth of reservations have been cancelled due to COVID-19. How many reservations weren’t made because of it, is anyone’s guess.
So where to now? Bemoaning what has happened is going to serve no purpose. Basically, we are back where we began, post ‘Siege’. Once again, we must start from scratch. But this time there is no flow of visitors from foreign lands. The airports will remain quiet for the foreseeable future. The cabana business will struggle until they return.
Hopefully, this time will be different because we are not ‘opening’ but ‘re-opening’. The Playa didn’t close because they ran a crappy business, the food sucked and the cabanas were insect-infested. There is no stigma attached to this establishment left behind by previous management. The Playa Paraiso en Mangante has a decent reputation. Good food, fair pricing and clean-lodgings. We have an excellent review score with all our different agents. The Playa is more established than it was four years ago and we have shed ourselves of the sins of others. We are a known commodity, and flipping the sign from ‘closed’ to ‘open’ should have an immediate effect. At least for the restaurant, if not the cabanas. Our ‘non-bias, everyone is welcome, your money all looks the same to us’, approach to business in the past few years, may be what saves us in the future. We have cultivated local trade.
Local trade may well sustain us for the foreseeable future, but for the business to flourish, it will need foreign tourists. Not a lot, but a few. This ultimately, will depend on what the airlines decide to do once countries open their borders. Which airlines will fly where and when? The north shore had already become more difficult to get to for Ginger and The Earl prior to this outbreak, what will re-appear post-pandemic is uncertain. One way or another, it won’t be cheap for any of us to get there.
That aside, my job, will be to once again get bums in the beds using the trusty inter-web. When I look at the situation, I believe that The Playa is well-positioned to recover quickly. We have something that large resorts do not have… space. We have individual units, no shared corridors or stairwells and entries more than 6ft apart. Open-air dining and beach to call your own. We are small, away from the crowds, off the beaten path. These are things that may have worked against us in the past, but may just become what travellers shop for in the future. We don’t have buffet dining, or a large communal swimming pool where all sorts of nasty microbes inhabit. We are small and will always be that way. We can offer a traveller a sense of safety that a thousand-room resort can’t. A crowd to us is 15!! “Secluded Beach” is in our tagline!!! We were built for post-pandemic travellers!!!
I will probably need to rewrite our website to reflect these appealing features (I know Ginger just had a shiver go up her spine). Make a few changes in our booking agent bios. Use terms like ‘hidden paradise’ and ‘limited occupancy’. Little hook phrases that will tip the scales in our favour. Things that will make the limited number of expected travellers, look our way.
It’s all in the spin. I’m not lying when I say that we are ‘hidden’, if it weren’t for the big sign on the highway, no one would find us! ‘Paradise’ is subjective and pretty vague. ‘Limited occupancy’ is no lie, three it is and three it will remain. Even though we will book five if needed… and make it work!! We could be advertised as ‘authentic’. A Dominican business, run by a Dominican family, giving employment to a Dominican community, what’s more authentic than that!! And because we are an authentic Dominican business, everything gets cleaned with bleach! The Dominicans love to clean with bleach!!
The restaurant will take care of itself; Wendy knows what she is doing and her reputation has grown in the last three years. There are new guidelines that will need to be followed there, as it is everywhere in the world, and Wendy says she is on top of it. The beach will remain the attraction that it always is, the Dominicans and eventually the tourists, will seek it out. With just three little cabanas on the sand, a small restaurant and bar to service your needs, and miles of unpopulated beach, The Playa has ‘mucho’ to offer the wary traveller. I am confident The Playa will survive and ‘poco a poco’, will grow again.
Now all I have to do, is figure out how to convince people to get on a plane…