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Breaking Travel News Interview: Casa de Campo’s Claudio Silvestri

Breaking Travel News Interview: Casa de Campo’s Claudio Silvestri

Hot on the heals of its major $42 million renovation, the multi award winning Casa de Campo, which boasts its own marina and international airport and the famous Teeth of the Dog golf course, is already planning its next innovations. Plans for 2012 include tapping into mobile technology, the upgrade of The Links golf course set to re-open in March and of course not forgetting its latest ‘green rooms’ initiative.

BTN caught up with Dr Claudio Silvestri, president and CEO of Premier Resorts and Hotels and Casa de Campo to find out how business is faring at the luxurious hideaway in the Dominican Republic.

BTN: Casa de Campo has won five World Travel Awards in 2011 including the Caribbean’s Leading Hotel. What differentiates the property from any other?

CS: Casa de Campo is different from other properties in the amazing variety of high quality offerings available to our guests within a single destination:  sports adventures, fine dining choices, accommodation choices, cultural experiences; educational opportunities and more.  Guests who come here can choose from being as active or as relaxed as desired, within a luxury Caribbean ambience that is truly worlds apart from others.  When all combines with the warmth of unique Dominican hospitality set in a fabulous tropical environment, guests depart with a vacation experience unlike any other.  It then becomes a wonderful chapter in the story of each of our guests that they not only want to relive, but return with their family and friends for another stay.

BTN: Casa recently announced new airlift at La Romana International Airport with American Eagle adding flights from Puerto Rico and JetBlue flying from New York. How important is this component for your business? What does it bring to the overall experience for the visitors to have an airport 8 minutes from check in?

CS: Located on an island, guests arrive by sea or by air.  Our Casa de Campo Marina meets the Sea demands and our International Airport (code: LRM) with private and commercial terminals well services the needs of those that fly in.  So we were indeed very excited to inaugurate the arrival of these two new carriers:  American Eagle from Puerto Rico and JetBlue Airways from New York.
Travel – while a very rewarding and enriching life experience can be quite challenging and additional transfers, especially when you have been travelling for a while are not necessarily fun. Our airport being only 8-minutes from check-in, offers not only a wonderful arrival experience but an additional full day of vacation added to a guests stay – ½ day upon arrival and ½ day on the day of departure!

BTN: Casa has been undergoing major renovations recently. What feedback have you had from your guests so far?

CS: When the economy started slowing down, the owners of Casa de Campo took advantage of this opportunity and began investing in our guest experience.  Over the last 2-1/2 years, our owners invested $42 million dollars which totally transformed our guest experience.  All of our hotel rooms were totally gutted and remodelled, the lobby and central area, main pool, new conference room and a new main kitchen was installed too!  We have received nothing but rave reviews from our guests who love our new experiences!

BTN: Which new emerging markets are you targeting in 2012? How are you doing this?

CS: Casa de Campo has been a luxury vacation destination for travellers from the US, Canada, Latin America and Europe for many years.  With the new air lift available and the convenience of our private terminal, we are now exploring opportunities throughout the Middle East and Saudi Arabia with our dynamic sales teams in concert with our global luxury travel partners such as American Express and the Leading Hotels of the World.

BTN: Is technology a priority for the Casa de Campo? In what ways are you embracing / planning to embrace social media and mobile technologies in coming months?

CS: As Casa de Campo guests are “connected” and constantly on the move – traveling around the globe for business and pleasure - technology and staying connected to them 24/7 and their travel professionals is important to us. In addition to our own website, we have active social media sites on Facebook and Twitter and are moving into mobile technologies too!

BTN: Will you announcing any other new developments / products in coming months?

CS: Yes indeed.  One thing you can count on is for the Casa de Campo experience to continuously evolve, making our guest Caribbean luxury vacation experience – even better!  We will soon unveil the details of our new “green rooms” announce and make a major world-wide announcement of the opening a new club at our Altos de Chavon artists village for our guests evening pleasure!

BTN: How are occupancy levels and forward bookings for Casa de Campo? What booking trends have you noticed in the current economic climate? 

CS: Occupancy levels ended strong as we closed 2011 and look to remain high into 2012.  Our guests love our new hotel rooms and our new “green” rooms introduced in late 2011, and are confident in the safety of all of the food & beverages served throughout our dining outlets and processed through our new kitchen.  They book at Casa de Campo knowing their anticipated experience will be worth the investment.

BTN: With a rich and fascinating 40 year history – in what ways are you able to leverage this history to enhance the overall guest experience?

CS: Casa de Campo is a subsidiary of the Central Romana Corporation, Ltd., an Agro-industrial and Tourism development company, based in the Dominican Republic.

Naturally the roots of our hotel reside in land… nature and the illustrious roster of guests that have vacationed here.  Located on a tropical island we have the very best of Mother Nature has to offer and make it all available to our guests in its most natural, healthy fashion.
Guests subliminally feel and experience Casa de Campo’s heritage throughout their stay; upon arrival to our Casa de Campo / La Romana International Airport (code: LRM), just 8-minutes from check-in, they arrive to a terminal that was fashioned to look like a sugar mill;  in our hotel rooms there are photographs of rolling fields of sugarcane and artistic pieces from the harvesting and manufacturing process; in our new
Casa de Campo Spa treatments as: Azucar Morena (featuring a sugar exfoliation); Rosemary and Sea Salt Caribbean Papaya-Pineapple Mix wrap; Aromatherapy of Purple Crush “featuring lavender”; Warm Bamboo Cane massage and more.

And then when you think of the many, many celebrated guests who have been here before and called Casa de Campo, their vacation destination of choice… it makes a Casa de Campo vacation more special.  Names of the past such as Frank Sinatra who inaugurated our amphitheatre 30 years ago, Dame Elizabeth Taylor who vacationed here for many years; and baseball great Joe DiMaggio who played our legendary Teeth of the Dog golf course; to names of today… royalty from around the world; heads of state – which we do not release for their privacy; as well as performers on our amphitheatre stage:  Sting, Marc Anthony, Enrique Iglesias, Andrea Bocelli and more.

BTN: With so many features and services available to guests at Casa, what would you describe to be the focal point of the property?
CS: Our sports facilities would have to be first with Golf coming in at #1 followed by polo, shooting and tennis (not necessarily in that order). Our golf is by far the very best found in the Caribbean. Pete Dye has an unmatched golfing experience in three entirely different courses featuring 63 holes of play for hotel guests on the Teeth of the Dog, The Links, and Dye Fore.  Additionally there is a Jim Mclean Golf School at Casa de Campo!

BTN: The Teeth of the Dog golf course, designed by architect Pete Dye, has consistently been ranked in the top 50 golfing courses since it opened in 1971. What is it about this course that is so special?

CS: Construction began on the Teeth of the Dog in 1969 and it first opened for play in August 1971.  This amazing course is a par 72-challenge that stretches 7,471 yards in length.  In addition to being an amazing Pete Dye design with trademark challenges throughout, it boasts 7 fabulous holes on the Caribbean Sea that captivate:  four on the front nine and three on the back nine.  Not only do you have the challenge of a Pete Dye design, but Mother Nature also joins with constantly changing trade winds, Caribbean Sea sprays and breath taking beauty to draw your focus off your game.  This is one course that creates an indelibly fond, lifelong memory that golfers – if given the opportunity -  don’t want to miss!

BTN: How is The Links refurbishment going?

CS: The Links is our inland course and opened in 1976, after the Teeth of the Dog. Over the years, it received its annual maintenance – but last year, Pete Dye decided it was time to totally transform and remake this course.  It has been closed since May 2011 and will reopen in March 2012.  The course will stretch out to 6,900 yards which is not long in this modern golf era, but will require accurate drives and pinpoint accuracy with irons. Five holes are played around man-made lakes.  It will be a great course to play – and still very different from our other courses.

This past September 2011. Pete Dye added another 9-holes to the Dye Fore golf course making this a 27-hole experience!

BTN: How is the spa received by guests of Casa? What proportion of business does it bring for the hotel? How important is it for hotels / resorts to offer a good range of spa treatments and facilities?

CS: For 2012 we have taken our Spa experience to the next level.  A true haven inspired by Caribbean roots and the purity of nature, guests not only are able to enjoy the very best in natural products, specialized treatments and sports specific massages during their vacation, but also can take their experience of a natural healthy lifestyle back home with the assistance of our holistic counselling component.  Due to its emphasis on natural living, The Casa de Campo Spa has become a key component to nearly every guest experience.

BTN: What are the key challenges for travel professionals in the Caribbean at present?

CS: Education.  The travel landscape is constantly changing and travel professionals need to continuously educate themselves on the changes in the product offerings, lift available and how these changes best fit the clients they serve.

Casa de Campo is not the same hotel as it was when it opened 40 years ago, a decade ago, or as recent as two years ago.  We are a 7,000 acre luxury product as we were when we opened, but today we have a chic new appeal with a range of flexibility that enables our guest to have the tropical vacation of their dreams.

BTN: What are your predictions for the travel and tourism landscape in the Caribbean in 2012?

CS: The last few years have been challenging and at the same time wonderful in the Caribbean luxury travel market place.  As our guests and travel partners have continued to raise the bar on value received, we have been trying to exceed this challenge to provide each of them with exceptionally superior level of confidence for those that book a Casa de Campo vacation.  This double-raising of the bar, has not only been fabulous for our guests but for our employees too. 

The indicators I am seeing show that travel and tourism in the Caribbean will open up more as the global economy begins to settle down, while luxury travel to the Caribbean in 2012 will continue to rise.