Major Puerto Rico Resort to Get Wyndham Makeover

The ribbon-cutting ceremony this Thursday, May 10, to unveil the Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa, A Wyndham Grand Resort, will mark the beginning of a nearly three-year plan to fully transform the property in Rio Grande from a Westin resort to a Wyndham staple.

 The Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa, A Wyndham Grand Resort, Puerto Rico

Sure, the name will change in a matter of a day, but plans to renovate the property and give it Wyndham's signature look will take a little time. Travel Agent recently spoke with an excited Peter Strebel, president of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, about upgrading the property, as well as preliminary plans for the Wyndham brand to build new properties in the Caribbean and Mexico markets.

"The Caribbean has been a major component for this brand," Strebel says. "Everyone knows the Caribbean and Mexico are hot spots... We have a very strong growth strategy. We are currently active in a couple of Caribbean deals. All I can tell you for now is that they will be in the Mexico/Caribbean market." Strebel says official plans to announce new properties in the Caribbean/Mexico regions could come in as early as one week.

A renovated bedroom at the Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa

Major Renovation of Rio Mar

But first, back to the Puerto Rico property. Strebel says there are plans for a $36 million renovation, which will include a major makeover of the property's casino, upgrading the guest rooms and all of the 70 suites, enhancing the lobby with new furnishings, renovating the meeting space, both outdoor and indoor (the latter spans about 60,000 square feet) and renovating the clubhouse at the resort's golf course.

Strebel said the project as a whole will take about two to three years to complete and will begin as early as the fall. Work on the Casino will begin in May and will be completed as early as October. Strebel says it still hasn't been decided whether to close the casino down entirely during the renovations.

An oceanside view of the Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa, A Wyndham Grand Resort

Strebel says the resort will be given a Wyndham feel by incorporating such brand signature products as the "Be Well" bed ensemble, which will include all new linens, pillows, new duvets and duvet covers, as well as signature pillows and blankets; signature items from the Michael Graves collection, including a specially-designed coffeemaker, ice bucket and alarm clock clock/radio/MP3 player; and an upgraded bath care line from Bath & Body Works called True Blue.

Wyndham will be making moderate changes to the staff as well. While Strebel says the 1,200-member staff will remain intact, Mark Stevenson was hired as the new managing director, while a new director of sales and marketing will be hired shortly. The current director of sales and marketing will stay on in "a lesser capacity," Strebel says.

Peter Strebel

Stevenson is a 35-year hospitality veteran who will be responsible for the operation of the 500-acre resort, including oversight and management of the 1,200-members staff, golf facilities, spa, casino, food and beverage outlets, rooms, sales and marketing.

Stevenson will begin his new role on May 10. He was previously the general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, LakeLas Vegas. From 1998 to 2005, he served as general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, San Juan Hotel Spa & Casino in Puerto Rico. He founded CMC Management Corporation, a casino and event management consulting company, in 1997.

While living in Puerto Rico, he served on the board of the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association and as Chairman of the Marriott Casino Cluster Committee. In addition to business and community affiliations in Puerto Rico, he held various leadership positions with hospitality boards throughout the United States and the Caribbean. He currently serves on the board of the Nevada Hotel & Lodging Association's resort committee. Wyndham hotels will make improvements, including an upgraded bath care product line from Bath & Body Works

"Mark has been a great addition," Strebel says. "His background and his knowledge of the island will work quite well here."

Strebel says a local sales team is handling all travel agent inquiries, setting up personal meetings and purchasing advertising in travel agent publications.

"The travel agent community is a strong component for us, so we are doing everything we can to keep them involved with progress," Strebel says. "We've had positive feedback with everybody we have reached out to, including a recent meeting with Liberty Travel. Wyndham has a strong presence in the Caribbean; [agents] are familiar with the brand and they like our approach."

Mark Stevenson, managing director of Rio Mar Beach Resort

Sprawling Resort Is Ideal for Large Groups

Fifty percent of the resort's clientele are groups, which mainly consist of corporate incentives groups, while the other half are leisure travelers, which can include the soft adventurer, avid golfer or spa enthusiast. During the holidays, the resort does very well with families, Strebel says.

"This is one of the largest resorts in the Caribbean, it's very easy to get to, you don't need a visa and you don't need a passport, so yes, this will definitely be one of the flagship properties of our brand," Strebel says.

The best room is the Governor's Suite, which is one of 70 suites offered at the resort. It has its own living room, dining room and a large balcony overlooking the ocean. Half of the resort's suites overlook the ocean, while the other half overlook the Rio Grande's rainforest.

The 600-room Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa offers agents a 10 percent commission. Agents should contact Tina Bernard, director of leisure sales, at 856-424-5410, for more information.

Strebel, a 25-year-lodging veteran, was named president of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts in October of 2005, following the company's acquisition of the brand. Among his accomplishments, Strebel directed the launch of the company's TripRewards loyalty program, the largest of its type in the lodging industry, which helped boost system-wide revenue per available room, an important industry performance metric. He also oversaw four distribution channels that deliver more than $1 billion in revenue annually.

At the Rio Mar Beach Resort and Spa, clients have many entertainment options. Golf lovers will enjoy the two championship golf courses designed by Greg Norman and Tom and George Fazio, as well as a putting green and driving range. There is also a large pool, 13 tennis courts and an onsite casino. Guests can revitalize at the exclusive Mandara Spa.

Nearby, El Yunque Caribbean National Forest is full of streams, waterfalls and panoramic views, where guests may go snorkeling or diving. Guests may also visit Old San Juan to discover Puerto Rico's history.