Alex Zozaya at the Apple Gala

The all-inclusive resort industry will continue to grow and flourish, despite headwinds such as widespread publicity about tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic and sargassum on some Mexico beaches.

That was the conclusion from a hotel forecast panel organized by Apple Vacations the morning after its annual gala at the Theater on the Lake in Chicago. At the gala on September 9, the company awarded 12 Crystal Apple Awards to its top-rated partners.

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Apple Leisure Group Executive Chairman Alex Zozaya began the session by introducing ALG’s new CEO, Alejandro Reynal. Then Zozaya addressed “a rumor” that ALG was planning an “imminent IPO.”

“That might very well not be the case,” Zozaya said. “We have to be ready, but we don’t even know if we’re going to go that route.”

He then noted that Raynal had experience in going public; he previously was CEO of Atento, a global provider of customer relationship management and business process outsourcing services, where he led the company to an initial public offering in 2014.

During the hotel panel, several top all-inclusive resort executives bemoaned the damage done to the Dominican Republic’s tourism industry, despite efforts to combat the coverage with facts.

Gonzalo del Peon, President of AMResorts, said it is frustrating that huge damage was done to the destination without evidence, and that it’s taking longer to get toxicology reports from the FBI, which would help refute reports of tainted alcohol and other theories.

“The damage is done but there’s nothing yet presented to explain why this is nothing to be concerning,” del Peon said. “There’s no evidence whatsoever.”

Currently, the U.S. State Department shows the Dominican Republic at a level 2 advisory, which is the same as other Caribbean hot spots, Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas and Cuba. The level 2 advisory hasn’t changed since April.

Neither the Centers for Disease Control nor the FBI have issued any warnings in regard to tainted alcohol. For more information on this, visit travFACTS.

When questioned on the possibility of overcapacity in Mexico and other Caribbean vacation destinations, Zozaya used the Mexican Riviera as an example: “It was at 80 percent occupancy with 10,000 rooms and it’s still at 80 percent with 90,000 rooms.”

He also said more Americans are getting passports but still, only 35 percent have one. International travel also is increasing from other countries. “The size of the market is tremendous,” he said.

Zozaya also noted that businesses in Mexico are getting innovative in finding ways to use sargassum, such as animal feed, plant food and even shoes.

“In the short term, we’re in much better shape right now than we were a few months ago,” Zozaya said. “I was just there 10 days ago, and there were many, many beaches with no sargassum right now.”

Also, Abel Matutes, CEO of Palladium Hotel Group, said the industry has finally shed a reputation as a cheap vacation. “The perception that all-inclusive resorts are a cheap holiday is not there anymore. Fivestar is five star, whether it’s all-inclusive or not,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Crystal Apple Award recipients were selected because they earned exceptional ratings on the company’s post-vacation surveys. Here are the recipients of the 2019 Crystal Apple Award:

Best Hotel Chain: Secrets Resorts & Spas

Best Adults Only: Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall, Jamaica

Best All-Inclusive Resort: Secrets Cap Cana Resort & Spa

Best Staff and Service Mexico: TRS Yucatan Hotel, Riviera Maya

Best Staff and Service Caribbean: Riu Palace Jamaica

Best Staff and Service Hawaii: Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort

Best Staff and Service Central America: Riu Palace Costa Rica

Best All-Inclusive Family Resort: Barceló Maya Palace, Riviera Maya

Best Entertainment: Hard Rock Hotel Cancun

Best All-Inclusive Dining Experience: El Dorado Royale, a Spa Resort by Karisma, Riviera Maya

Best Overall Airline Experience: American Airlines

Best Destination: Puerto Vallarta-Riviera Nayarit