When Antonio Fungairino closed the deal on Apple Leisure Group’s Secrets Papagayo Resort and Spa in February 2015, he knew the work had just begun.
With a goal to renovate and reopen before peak travel season in December, the company had less than a year to take on a $25 million renovation. When Fungairino got his hands on the 15-year-old property, previously operated by Hilton, his plans were to focus on the 202 guest rooms.
“There’s nothing we aren’t redoing—the flooring, the restaurants, the mechanical and electrical plant, windows, landscaping,” Fungairino says. “We really want to take advantage of the Costa Rican nature and allow the guest to experience it. You have monkeys greet you in the morning when you are drinking your coffee, enjoying the incredible views from your room. The layout of the property goes along very well with our Secrets brand, focused on romance and couples.”
Apple Leisure Group enlisted the help of Zurcher Arquitectos to help with the architecture and interior design and Enjoy Group as project managers. The company is spending $120,000 per room on the renovation. According to Fungairino, the typical soft renovation averages $25,000 per room.
It’s a large undertaking, but Fungairino has more than 20 years of hospitality experience anchoring his position as vice president of development for Apple Leisure Group. The new resort will be the company’s second property in Costa Rica, along with the Dreams Las Mareas, the company’s successful family-branded resort.
Secrets is located in the Guanacaste region on the Papagayo Peninsula, with the closest airport only 20 minutes away. The latest resort ticks many of the boxes in Fungairino’s checklist for what constitutes an ideal property. His must-have items include: a beachfront property with about one meter of beachfront per every two rooms, a conveniently located airlift to easily transport guests, strong local development resources, and a good labor market.
“The labor market is important,” he says. “In Mexico, the hospitality training is incredible, and in some of the locations we are considering to expand into, there is a lot more training that needs to happen.”
Another item on his wish list is to find a property to build from scratch, but being able to find a location that boasts all these factors is challenging.
“The reality is that we prefer to build from scratch, but the developers that build from scratch are few,” Fungairino says. The number of resorts the company builds from scratch versus the number it renovates is pretty evenly divided.
Apple Leisure Group is the only vertically integrated all-inclusive resort management company in the United States. That means that once a traveler confirms an all-inclusive stay at one of the company’s resorts, everything from airfare and transportation, to dining, excursions, the resort, and more are provided by the company. The business model has been a success thus far, with more than 50 resorts in its portfolio.
The company has already made its mark in Curacao, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, and St. Thomas, but is looking into other markets. In the immediate future, AMResorts has its hands full with several new projects. The new deals include Secrets Cap Cana Resort & Spa in the Dominican Republic, Dreams Buenaventura and Secrets Playa Bonita in Panama; Secrets Akumal, Sunscape Puerto Vallarta and Breathless Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa in Mexico; Secrets Papagayo Costa Rica; and to Aruba for the first time with Zoëtry Isla Di Oro Aruba.
Apple Leisure Group’s long-term goal is to expand its four-star resort brand Sunscape into more areas. The company hopes to increase the number of Sunscapes in the major markets where the group sends its passengers. Apple Leisure Group handles approximately 2 million passengers from the United States and Canada to the Caribbean. Of those travelers, about half are looking for a Sunscape level product. So there is a clear opportunity for owners to develop and convert resorts into Sunscapes to feed off these passengers.
Apple Leisure Group is the fastest growing leisure resort company in the nation and Fungairino says persistence is the key.
“One of the challenges is you have to be patient,” he says. “You need to knock on all the doors and maybe out of 100 that you knock, you will get one that will answer.”