There are two different entities at ‘The Playa’, or at least in my head there are. There is a restaurant business and there is a hotel/cabana/cottage/bed on the beach/ or however you wish to describe it, business. I can only speak to the hotel side of the business because I keep the reservations.
With less than a month to go to the end of the 2020 business year, ‘The Playa’ will have increased its occupancy rate by 4%. Taking into account the 91-day government lockdown, they’ve had more butts in the ‘beds on the beach’ on average than ever before, even with a pandemic! People want what ‘The Playa’ has to offer, a little hide-a-way, where they can get away from the stresses that pandemic crowds cause. The size of ‘The Playa’ limits crowds in general and offers the tourist a safer environment. Social distance is what they do! They don’t offer a conga-line fiesta night!! They even try to refrain from hugging!!!
Tourism and the people that earn a living from it have taken a kicking over the last 14-months. Large companies, airlines, hotel chains and the restaurant giants have garnered all the news. Massive losses… huge lay-offs… but the small businesses had the same thing happen, the difference being they don’t employ thousands.
‘The Playa’ had only nine employees when the tourism-tap got turned off, and every single person there, was out of a job. Along with Berto the taxi driver, and Santos40 the vendor, even the kid that dragged me into the fake cigarette alley in Cabarete, was out of a job. The initial lockdown hit these small-business operators with the same ferocity as it did Boeing, Marriot and the Hard-Rock café. No customers=no money=no jobs. It hurts the same no matter who you are.
The business model for ‘The Playa’ was never complicated. Treat everyone the same, like an old friend. It doesn’t take an economist to see pre-pandemic, that the big-hotels weren’t interested in Dominican tourism dollars, and if you went after the domestic tourist dollars and became known as Dominican friendly, a small hotel could succeed. ‘The Playa’ was never going to make a person rich but it could make a person a modest income.
‘The Playa’ business model has been about inclusion. Tourism dollars all look the same to us. The source is irrelevant. We don’t discriminate. Every client that visits is treated the same. Domestic or Foreign. At ‘The Playa’ we don’t care about language, race, gender, sexual-orientation, political or religious beliefs. We aren’t systemic anything! We don’t even know what the word means!!! As long as you can pay the bill, you are welcome. Okay… there was no model… it was just an idea in my head… money all looks and spends the same, focus on that, not the hand that’s holding it. The key to success for ‘The Playa’, was filling the cabanas.
‘The Playa’ had spent 3-years cultivating that local tourist dollar, which at the time, the large resorts had no interest in and because of that, after a three-month country-wide lockdown, sprang back to life almost instantly. ‘The Playa’ showed a very modest increase in domestic tourism over the summer, less than a third of 1% to the previous pre-pandemic year. The airports were still closed and the big resorts were offering some very seductive rates to the domestic tourists, but Wendy and ‘The Playa’ had a reputation and managed to hold her little bit of the market. I can see where the business is coming from and I must say… thank you Wendy for doing what I was thinking!
The airports opened to international travel in September and ‘The Playa’s’ occupancy rate shot up by 33%. It seemed even the foreign traveler’s willing to venture out past their borders also liked what ‘The Playa’ had to offer. Reservations from off-island instantly rose and have remained steady ever since.
The high-season, Nov-Apr, has had only one month where occupancy this year failed to out-preform last year. That is pretty good considering that nationally, the Dominican Republic reported hotel occupancy had fallen to a low of 24% and only risen to 38% on average for most of 2020. ‘The Playa’ has out-preformed the national average by almost 20% the entire time. Who knew the business model was pandemic-proof!
I don’t want to mislead you, while the hotel side of the business has flourished, the restaurant side of ‘The Playa’ business has struggled. Local curfews and gathering size restrictions have had their effect. Being secluded never has encouraged walk-up traffic in general, and the massive loss of jobs in the region has not helped. Disposable income is at a premium. Still, it is the beach and on a hot day, a beer and a meal there is always appealing.
The initial three-month shutdown did mean that some of the regular staff were forced to find other ways to earn a living and have moved on. Nero opened a small cantina on the public beach, when it re-opened, at the far end of Playa Magante. Has a Facebook page and everything! As the tourism-tap continues to open wider and vaccinations ease the traveler’s mind, ‘The Playa’ as a whole should only continue to improve and recover fully. I believe it will show modest growth in the coming years because it is small and small is manageable, at least most days. As local restrictions ease, the restaurant business will continue to grow, “poco a poco” Wendy tells me. She has been able to re-employ 5 of the 9 employees she had laid-off for the restaurant, two are technically family by marriage, so I’m not sure that counts, but cabana occupancy continues to rise at a solid rate which only helps the restaurant side of the business recover and keeps the bills paid.
Recently, ‘The Playa Paraiso en Magante’ received its second award for customer satisfaction from Booking.com, achieving a 9.1 review average in 2020. It’s not a fancy place, but people obviously like what they get when they visit ‘The Playa’. It has what the tourist, both domestic and foreign want right now, “a secluded beach oasis”, in an otherwise crappy world.