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SPOTLIGHT ON Bruce Wardinski, Chairman, CEO & Director, Playa Hotels & Resorts

By Sharon Hirschowitz, Global Head of Media & Communications for The International Luxury Hotel Association
3 August 2023
10 min read
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In this exclusive interview, we sit down with Bruce Wardinski, CEO of Playa Hotels and Resorts, a leading hospitality company renowned for its exceptional luxury all-inclusive offerings. As a pioneer in partnering with major internationally recognized brands, Wardinski provides valuable insights into Playa Resorts’ unique positioning in the market, their commitment to delivering an extraordinary guest experience, the integration of sustainability initiatives, and their strategic vision for the future of the all-inclusive segment within the luxury travel industry. 

Playa Resorts has positioned itself as a leader in the expanding all-inclusive segment. Can you elaborate on the unique features and experiences that set Playa Resorts apart from other competitors in the market? How do you ensure that your luxury all-inclusive offerings consistently exceed guest expectations?

Playa Resorts has established itself as a trailblazer in the expanding all-inclusive segment, setting it apart from other competitors in the market. One key factor that distinguishes Playa Resorts is its unique collaboration with major international brands. Unlike many of our competitors, who are typically owner-operator family-owned companies with proprietary (local)brands, Playa Resorts brings a wealth of experience from renowned companies like Marriott, Hyatt, Wyndham, Hilton, and Jewel Resorts.

With this background, Playa Resorts has been able to leverage its expertise in establishing brands within the all-inclusive space. Our first collaboration was established over one decade ago with the Hyatt Ziva & Zilara brands, created in partnership with Hyatt. At that time, there were no set industry standards for all-inclusives, so it became Playa’s mission to establish the benchmarks. We set these standards at a level far superior to what was prevalent in the all-inclusive portfolio of companies at that time.

Bruce Wardinski, Chairman, CEO & Director, Playa Hotels & Resorts

Since then, Playa Resorts has continuously raised the bar, consistently striving for higher levels of excellence. 

Interestingly, the pandemic had an unexpected positive impact on our growth. With limited options available due to travel restrictions, individuals who may have never considered all-inclusive resorts were compelled to give us a try. This influx of new guests provided us with an opportunity to showcase the exceptional experiences we offer, dramatically increasing our awareness.

Our focus remains on improving year after year, both in terms of profit margins and guest satisfaction scores. We value our rankings within the brands’ own rating systems as well as the feedback we receive through social media. Playa Resorts is dedicated to maintaining our position as a leader in the industry by consistently exceeding guest expectations and delivering unforgettable luxury all-inclusive experiences.

Hyatt Ziva Cancun

In recent years, the luxury travel market has witnessed a rise in experiential and immersive travel trends. How is Playa Resorts adapting to these evolving traveler preferences within the all-inclusive space? Are there any specific initiatives or amenities that you have introduced to cater to the demand for unique, authentic experiences?

Playa Resorts recognizes the increasing demand for experiential and immersive travel within the all-inclusive space. We have taken significant steps to adapt to these evolving traveler preferences and offer unique, authentic experiences that go beyond the traditional perception of all-inclusive resorts. In fact, we have identified three pillars that guide our approach to providing exceptional experiences both on and off the resort.

The first pillar is food and beverage. We aim to elevate the overall standard of dining at our resorts and provide healthier offerings. To achieve this, we have appointed a world-class chef and leader in food and beverage as the head of our corporate team. This allows us to establish a high-level culinary experience across our resorts, catering to different price points while prioritizing healthy options. Our goal is to redefine what all-inclusive dining means, ensuring that guests can enjoy exceptional cuisine during their stay.

The second pillar is wellness. We understand that wellness encompasses various aspects, including fitness, nutrition, and spa treatments. At each of our resorts, we have developed world-class fitness facilities that surpass those found in traditional hotels. These facilities cater to a specific customer base seeking immersive wellness experiences. We have collaborated with social media influencers and fitness organizations to target this audience effectively. As guests share their experiences on social media, they showcase the exceptional fitness facilities we offer, attracting like-minded individuals seeking a wellness-focused vacation. Additionally, our spa offerings have been expanded to include a wide range of treatments inspired by Asian and European practices, providing guests with a holistic wellness experience.

The third pillar is entertainment. We have revamped our approach to entertainment by offering diverse and spontaneous experiences throughout the day. Rather than relying solely on one big evening show, we provide engaging entertainment options that cater to different interests and preferences. This includes activities and performances both at the resort and through carefully curated excursions outside the resort. We understand that our guests are looking for experiences beyond the confines of the resort, and we strive to offer memorable opportunities for exploration and cultural immersion.

Moreover, we have introduced special initiatives to enhance the guest experience further. These initiatives include bringing in wine experts and celebrity chefs for exclusive events and themed experiences. Guests can participate in these activities, ranging from a few days to a week, allowing them to delve into unique culinary offerings or learn from renowned experts. This targeted approach attracts individuals who seek these immersive experiences and are looking for a vacation that goes beyond the ordinary.
Hyatt Ziva Cancun

How does Playa Resorts integrate sustainability initiatives into its luxury all-inclusive offerings? Can you provide examples of environmentally friendly practices or community engagement programs that Playa Resorts has implemented to promote sustainability and social responsibility?

Playa Resorts has integrated sustainability initiatives into its luxury all-inclusive offerings, considering it an integral part of its culture. Social responsibility is prioritized through community engagement programs across the countries where Playa operates. For example, in Jamaica, Playa Resorts sponsors and supports a local school, with ongoing involvement for over a decade. This includes providing resources, mentoring programs, and employment opportunities. Similar community engagement programs are implemented in the Dominican Republic and Mexico, with quarterly magazines highlighting the positive impact created by Playa Resorts’ resorts in their respective communities.

On the governance front, Playa Resorts promotes diversity and inclusion throughout the company. The board of directors is balanced in terms of gender representation, and minority and underrepresented groups are represented at various levels. Playa Resorts has also been recognized for its efforts to create an inclusive and supportive work environment, receiving an award for being one of the best places for women to work in Mexico.

Regarding environmental sustainability, Playa Resorts has focused on improving energy efficiency and reducing reliance on diesel fuel. They collaborate with local governments and energy providers to explore renewable energy options such as solar power and highly efficient turbines fueled by liquefied natural gas (LNG). The adoption of these initiatives not only reduces pollution but also improves operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Water conservation is another area of emphasis for Playa Resorts. While reverse osmosis has been employed for water treatment, efforts are made to reduce the environmental impact associated with the process. This involves implementing water recycling systems and utilizing alternative methods for irrigation, aiming to minimize water usage and reduce the brine content that is typically discharged back into the environment.

Looking to the future, Playa Resorts is exploring additional sustainable energy sources, such as ocean-based turbines that harness wave power. These initiatives demonstrate Playa Resorts’ commitment to continuously improving sustainability practices and pursuing environmentally friendly solutions.

Playa Resorts is known for its partnerships with renowned luxury brands such as Hyatt and Hilton. How do these collaborations contribute to the overall guest experience and differentiate Playa Resorts from other competitors in the luxury all-inclusive segment? 

Playa Resorts’ partnerships with renowned luxury brands like Hyatt and Hilton play a vital role in enhancing the overall guest experience and setting Playa Resorts apart from competitors in the luxury all-inclusive segment. These collaborations bring a wealth of expertise, industry standards, and brand recognition to Playa Resorts’ properties.

One significant way these partnerships contribute to the guest experience is through technology. Playa Resorts has leveraged advancements in technology, such as its own resort app, to provide a seamless and personalized guest journey. From the moment guests make their reservations, the app enables Playa Resorts to proactively reach out and tailor their experience to meet their specific needs and desires. Whether it’s arranging transportation or understanding guests’ preferences for activities and excursions, the goal is to exceed expectations and create unforgettable experiences.

The partnerships also provide access to the brands’ high-level standards of service and hospitality. Playa Resorts combines these standards with its own unique approach, known as “Service from the Heart.” This approach emphasizes genuine care and attentiveness, with associates embodying the philosophy by placing their hands over their hearts as a symbol of sincerity. This personalized and heartfelt service differentiates Playa Resorts from other luxury properties, even those under the same brand names, creating a memorable and distinctive guest experience.

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Looking ahead, how do you envision the future of the all-inclusive segment within the luxury travel industry? Could you provide insight into your investment and development strategy? How do you identify new opportunities and assess the potential for successful resort projects?

The future of the all-inclusive segment within the luxury travel industry is poised for continued growth and evolution. Playa Resorts, as a pioneer in partnering with major international brands, recognizes the increasing demand for all-inclusive luxury experiences. While all-inclusive has historically been associated with beach destinations, the concept of all-inclusive luxury extends beyond that. Safaris in Africa, rafting trips in the Rocky Mountains, and dude ranches in various countries have long provided all-inclusive luxury experiences.

Playa Resorts aims to elevate the all-inclusive experience further by continuing to expand and innovate. The company believes there is no limit to what it can accomplish successfully. They are open to exploring opportunities that may deviate from their traditional resort concepts and sizes. Whether it’s a 250-room resort or a smaller 41-room property with a more tailored and focused service element, Playa Resorts is confident in its ability to deliver exceptional service.

In terms of investment and development strategy, Playa Resorts remains focused on delivering outstanding guest experiences while expanding its presence in diverse destinations. They recognize the potential for growth beyond beach locations and are considering ventures into ski resorts and other types of resort properties. The goal is to leverage their expertise in service and create exceptional all-inclusive experiences in various settings.

Playa Resorts also keeps a pulse on industry trends and customer preferences. They pay attention to market demands and opportunities identified by reputable sources like Travel and Leisure, which recently highlighted the top all-inclusive properties in the United States, many of which were not beach destinations. By staying adaptable and open to new possibilities, Playa Resorts aims to exceed customer expectations and continue pushing the boundaries of all-inclusive luxury.