As many aspiring artists do, I spent my early post-collegiate days working in Manhattan in the restaurant and hospitality business. At one of the many restaurants where I spent my time, the executive chef of what was then a terrific contemporary American restaurant on the Lower East Side used to prep the team each day before the dinner rush and he would say that we all need to have our “mise en place” for the rush. Having studied French (albeit at the novice level) for more than a decade, I knew that the loose translation was “all things in their place” or in other words….have your stuff together.
Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with Colette Baruth, senior vice president of sales and marketing for AMResorts. One of my favorite parts of meeting new people through interviews is to take a more personal approach, and as such I had an opportunity to discuss her personal journey to leading one of the top hotel companies in the biz.
For today’s leisure travel professional, it goes without saying that AMResorts is a force within the industry. With a portfolio of six distinct brands (including Zoetry, Secrets, Breathless, Dreams, Now Resorts and Sunscape Resorts) it’s safe to say they have something for every type of customer.
Much like my own journey of becoming an appreciateur of arts, language, food and wine, Baruth walked me through her development as a young executive which was driven in large part by her passion for Spanish and Spanish-speaking cultures. "Through a series of fortunate events," as she described it, this passion led her to an early career in the fashion industry after some time working with the Olympics and the Spanish Olympic Organizing Committee in Barcelona, and eventually to the hotel and hospitality side of the business with a resort based in Spain’s vacation region.
That level of global experience certainly lends a helping hand in leading a portfolio of brands with global growth ambitions. And as Baruth put it, “The existence of AMResorts today, where we are and what we have been able to accomplish is through the hands of travel agents. It is because of the faith and support of the travel agency community that we started with our first hotel concept all the way back in 2001, and here we are seventeeen years later with hotels across many countries.” For AMResorts, the leisure travel agent is not just part of the business mix; they represent the single largest source of AMResorts’ business.
"I like to use the word ‘travel professionals’ as opposed to ‘travel agents.’ When you think about the responsibility and the amount of geopolitical knowledge that you have to possess in order to do the job that travel agents do each and every day, it just makes sense," Baruth said.
We have all witnessed the overly ambitious efforts of the OTAs to marginalize agents but agents today are better, they’re brighter and they should be boastful about the level of service they provide to customers. “The profile of the average travel professional has certainly shifted in recent years. Today’s professionals are incredibly resilient and know how to build and run a business,” noted Baruth. “Today’s professional provides such a heightened level of service that it’s hard to argue with their present and future value, and from my perspective, it’s hard to write the job description for someone whose responsibility it is to deliver someone else’s dream, yet they do just that each and every day.”
Hotel trends are shifting towards authentic experiences (which Baruth admits is a little different with a beach vacation than it is traveling to Europe, for example). Experiences that are cultured and locally flavored are now more important.
As a company, they have made a commitment to deliver truly authentic experiences to help you align with consumer demand for true, local experiences. They call these Unique Resort Experiences, or UREs, which represent their commitment to localization of experience.
The temazcal experience (pronounced tem-ess-kall) is an ancient Mayan tradition available in the Riviera Maya. It’s a Mayan word and tradition which means a cleansing of the body, the mind and the spirit. The ceremony is led by a Mayan Shaman and customers are ushered into the temazcal for a once-in-a-lifetime cleansing experience, similar to present day sweat lodge experiences in North America: truly exception and truly original, and something I would personally love to experience. They also offer chef-guided garden tours, wine tours and other experiences that localize the trip for your customers (which certainly strikes a chord for this former foodie).
If you’re new to the industry (or new to AMResorts), one thing to note is that as a portfolio of brands, they have abandoned the moniker “all-inclusive” in order to use phrases that align more appropriately with a higher level of service than your customers may have come to expect from the standard all-inclusive experience. Under the Zoetry brand, for example, the term used is “Endless Privileges” and under the Secrets, Breathless, Dreams, Now Resorts and Sunscape Resorts, the term is “Unlimited Luxury.”
“That says a lot about the execution of the product,” Baruth said. For customers staying at Zoetry, for example, upon arrival their clothes will be unpacked and organized for them, and then laundered and packed for them at the end of their stay so they don’t experience the post-vacation blues of trying to get that all taken care of at home. “The devil is in the details and we handle every detail on behalf of you and your customer,” Baruth said. When I asked what the easiest way to have AMResorts create that personal experience for customers based on the customers’ needs, she responded, “Just ask!”
With the recent announcement of AMResorts opening new properties in Spain and the 20 additional constructions planned in the coming years in destinations that aren’t currently within the footprint, there’s a lot to love from AMResorts from a product standpoint. Even better yet, agents can expect two additional hotel brands from AMResorts in the not-too-distant future. When coupled with the agent favorite AMRewards program, where you as agents can earn cash, room nights, co-branded marketing materials as well as gifts for your customers (currently celebrating its fifth anniversary this year), the deal just keeps getting sweeter. So as it pertains to supporting you as an agent, it appears AMResorts certainly have their “mise en place.”
Chef used to also say (quite often in fact, perhaps as a reminder to us all) that there is great power in service. I never quite understood what that meant while in the moment but now this slightly older and perhaps just a bit wiser man realizes that it was through service that we provided value to the customers. It was through service that we provided memories to those patrons every night, whether it was a first date or a milestone anniversary and to be a part of that memory. I see some similarities between the restaurant business and being a travel professional today. It is through the service that you provide that allows you to be a part of your customers’ memories and, to quote Baruth, “deliver someone else’s dream each and every day.”