March 2019 | Investments in Central America and Dominican Republic: Arturo García Rosa's Opinion in Forbes

Below, we reproduce the article For Elite Guests on Hotel Investments in Central America and the Dominican Republic by journalist Mirna Gutiérrez with comments by Arturo García Rosa. It was published in the magazine Forbes Central America and Dominican Republic in the March 2019 edition*.

For Elite Guests

Companies such as Hyatt, Marriott and The Ritz-Carlton found in Central America and the Dominican Republic an ideal destination for their investments.

By Mirna Gutierrez

The arrival of international tourism to Central America and the Dominican Republic (CARD, in Spanish) is increasing. As a consequence, global and regional hotel chains are now looking to the zone to develop a range of properties, which will be inaugurated from 2019 onwards, under brands such as Hyatt, Palace, Fiesta Americana, Marriott and The Ritz-Carlton.

In 2017, this economic zone (including Belize) received a total of 23.2 million visitors, thus sustaining a growth rate of 7.5%. Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Panama represent 57% of the total number of visitors, while the remaining 43% is distributed among other countries, with similar volumes, according to the Compendium of Tourism Statistics of SICA 2017.

Also, in that year CARD recorded revenue of $19.9 billion dollars in the tourism sector, of which 35% are generated by the Dominican Republic, 22% by Panama and 19% by Costa Rica. Given these figures it is not surprising that 2017 and 2018 were years with important hotel openings.

For example, Hyatt Hotels Corporation opened the Hyatt Centric Guatemala City with an investment of $29 million dollars, in addition to Hyatt Place San Pedro Sula in Honduras ($22 million dollars). Marriott International opened several hotels in Panama and Costa Rica, including AC San Jose Escazu, W Costa Rica, JW Panama, W Panama, and Santa Maria, Luxury Collection Hotel & Golf Resort, the latter with an investment close to $50 million dollars.

"2018 was a very successful year for Marriott International in the Caribbean and Latin America; currently we have 247 properties in more than 30 countries in the region," says Rahul Vir, Vice President of Marriott International for Central and North South America.

The executive adds that with the acquisition of Starwood in 2016, the company's portfolio grew almost 50% in Central America.

Meanwhile, the 2019 goal for Hyatt is to have a hotel in each of the region's major cities, says Camilo Bolaños, Hyatt's Vice President Development Latin American and Caribbean. "We have been very successful in our recent openings in Honduras and Guatemala, and we are excited about the opening of our first hotel in El Salvador by the end of this year.

In 2017, Hilton announced its expansion plan in the Isthmus with the signing of nine hotels in five countries: Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras and Belize. In 2018, the Hilton Guatemala City and the Gran Hotel Costa Rica, Curio Collection, were inaugurated, and the rest of the openings will take place between 2019 and 2021.

Mexican businessmen also looked to the region. Grupo Posadas began its expansion in the Dominican Republic with the hotel Grand Fiesta Americana Punta Cana Los Corales All Inclusive ($130 million dollars), which began construction in 2017.

In the next five years, the company expects to have 10 hotels signed in the country, considering destinations like Costa Rica in a second stage.

On the other hand, in 2018 Palace Resorts began construction of Moon Palace Punta Cana hotel, a project with an investment above $600 million dollars. In fact, 25% of the company's capital will be invested in the Dominican Republic and they will focus their efforts on this country for the next three years, said Gibrán Chapur, executive vice president of the hotel chain, during the laying of the first stone.

Hotel chains have important plans for expansion worldwide, so they try to identify those markets offering opportunities for development of new projects (including improvements to existing properties), within a framework that provides conditions for sustained growth in the medium and long term, explains Arturo Garcia Rosa, president and founder of Latin American Hotel & Tourism Investment Conferences (SAHIC). He adds that many of the markets in Central America and the Dominican Republic fall within these characteristics. The specialist analyzes what happens in CARD: Dominican Republic is undoubtedly the great player of the Caribbean, a destination that has grown steadily and has achieved great recognition in the international market. The country has all the conditions to surpass the 10 and 12 million international tourists in the next years.

In the case of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, the expansion of the market is due to the growth of the corporate segment and the industry´s request for more international properties, with brands, reservation and membership systems attracting not only international travelers, but also local tourists and visitors from neighboring locations.

Costa Rica is a country with great development and potential, a player that has a clear possibility of attracting investments to the corporate and leisure markets in practically the same proportion, with its commitment to sustainable development.


CANAL TOURISM

Panama is a destination that remains in the sights of investors, despite the fact that hotel occupancy has decreased to 45%, while in 2010 it was around 70%, according to information from the Panamanian Association of Hotels (Apatel).

To reverse this situation, the country launched the International Tourism Promotion Fund, which began operating in August 2018 with a budget of $20 million dollars, an amount insufficient for the hotel sector.

"As an association and hotel union we are asking the central government to double or triple that budget, because we have the capacity and we have to remain competitive with other competing destinations that invest much more," emphasizes Armando Rodriguez, president of Apatel. He adds that for almost seven years the destination has not been promoted internationally and that this affected investments; however, he is confident that in the coming years the numbers will be positive and will continue to attract large hotel chains.


CENTRE OF OPPORTUNITIES

The outlook for the coming years is encouraging for CARD, as there are scheduled openings until 2021. The political and economic environment is currently favorable in much of the region and stable for investment, says Rahul Vir, Marriott.

The company plans to expand in Central America with 36 new hotels by 2021, including Residence Inn Panama City, Marriott Guatemala City Cayalá, Fairfield Inn San José Costa Rica, and The Ritz-Carlton Reserve Pearl Island, Panama. Also, with an investment of $350 million dollars, it will develop two luxury properties and a change of brand to one of its properties in the Dominican Republic.

The director of Marriott forecasts growth in corporate hospitality and sees in the luxury market a strong opportunity for the Central American market. Bolaños, from Hyatt, agrees that business travel has been on the rise in the last years: "It has been critical for hotel developers to establish a rapid but intelligent presence in major markets and create a critical mass in the region, especially in the select service segment.

Hyatt plans to continue developing in the region with a focus on Costa Rica and Panama: "The growth we have achieved in Latin America over the last decade represents an important boost to Hyatt's strategic global growth, and we expect to continue growing strategically, both in urban and leisure destinations in the region," says the executive.

For García Rosa, from SAHIC, the business opportunity lies mostly in the middle and upper-middle niche, with select services, upscale and upper scale hotels (three, four and five stars, respectively), but also in the luxury segment.

The executive comments that they will continue organizing the annual meetings in the different markets of the region, to facilitate the development of new businesses and investments, and ensure greater growth in less time.

"The demand is knocking at the doors of all markets, and it is a great opportunity and challenge for major regional players, as well as a commitment to the general population to make possible in the most efficient way the arrival of new investments to enable business growth," says Garcia Rosa.

Thus, major brands will continue with their expansion plans in CARD, both through the development of new projects and the improvement of existing properties, adding to the tourism industry with hotels for different levels of services, fitting the styles of the largest possible number of travelers.

Click here to download the full article.

*Note: The article was originally published in Spanish. Translation by SAHIC.

Camila Lavori