When Amélie Provencher booked a tropical holiday for herself in November at Club Med Punta Cana – her first real vacation for 2020 – the plan was to go for one week.
But once she arrived at the all-inclusive, oceanfront property in the Dominican Republic, and saw health and safety protocols in place (and a lower-than-usual occupancy), she decided to extend her seven-day holiday to three weeks.
“I feel safer here [compared to back home],” the 41-year-old flight attendant from Montreal, QC, told PAX last month at the palm tree-covered, all-inclusive resort.
PAX stayed at Club Med Punta Cana from Nov. 15-21 as part of a 24-day tour of the Dominican Republic and Provencher was one of many travellers we met along the way that modified their booking to linger a little longer in paradise.
A hot travel trend
Extended stays have emerged as a hot travel trend amid the coronavirus pandemic as keen travellers, uninterested in dealing with spiking COVID-19 cases back home, take refuge in idyllic beach towns in Mexico and the Caribbean.
It’s a growing market that resorts, recognizing that more people are working and studying remotely these, are trying to appeal to with attractive perks and lower-than-usual prices for two to three-week to even month-long stays.
Supported by new health and safety programs, these promos, in many cases, are never-before-seen deals created to attract fresh businesses as the travel industry grapples with quarantine restrictions, low demand and fluid air schedules.
Extended stays are a wonderful way to work remotely and upgrade your home office with a beachfront view, but not everyone approaches it this way.
Some pandemic-era travellers are extending their stay after they arrive in destination once they see, first hand, how resorts are handling health and safety (and how other guests are behaving).
“Everyone here is on the same page,” Provencher told PAX at Club Med Punta Cana. “It’s as if we’ve all agreed that COVID lives among us. People are being very respectful.”
Vacations without crowds
Club Med is supported by a program called Safe Together, which aims to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission through measures such as routine temperature checks and hand sanitizing, capping capacity in venues and requiring all staff to wear masks at all times.
The brand’s resort in Punta Cana has moved most of its programming outdoors, where the risk is lower, and has signage promoting healthy hygiene posted on walls and screens everywhere.
(For a detailed account of our stay at Club Med Punta Cana, click here).
Provencher said she saw several guests at Club Med wearing masks (in public spaces, like restaurants, for example) and taking precautions when and where necessary.
But safety is just one of many factors people consider when extending their vacation.
For Provencher, it also came down to taking advantage of historically-reasonable prices and enjoying Club Med without the usual crowds.
“I was very conscious of the privilege of there being some 200 customers at Club Med, which will never happen again,” said Provencher.
(This resort, in normal circumstances, can accommodate nearly 2,000 people).
Avoiding lockdown back home
When Club Med launched in 1950, not long after the Second World War, its vision was to create a utopian bubble where vacationers could socialize, share meals together, play sports and forget about the war.
These days, seventy years later, people aren’t going to Club Med to forget about war.
They’re going to forget about the pandemic.
“We don’t want to deal with the lockdown back home,” a middle-aged couple from France told PAX, in passing at an outdoor bar.
Several guests from Quebec told us they decided to stay longer at Club Med so they could make the trip worth their while, noting how they’d have to quarantine for 14 days upon returning, as per Canadian law.
When Abdel Osmani, the Chief of Village at Club Med Punta Cana, hears about guests extending their stays, he calls it a “good reward.”
“It’s nice to see that,” said Osmani, who led the property’s reopening on Oct. 14 following a six-month-long shutdown. “It means clients trust what we are doing.”
Moving classrooms to the Caribbean
For 22-year-old Martin, a business student from France, an extended stay in Punta Cana was opportunity to do his classes, remotely, in a positive environment while avoiding the challenges of going into lockdown back home.
He stayed at Club Med Punta Cana for almost the entire month of November.
“November is the worst month of the year,” said Martin. “There is no magic of Christmas and summer is far off.”
“I’d rather experience my lockdown, here [in then Dominican Republic], than in France.”
Martin first visited Club Med Punta Cana with his family when he was ten.
His extended stay at the property last month started off as a one-week vacation in October. When that ended, he returned to France, only to learn four days later that his classes would be moved online due to the country’s lockdown (which has since ended).
So, Martin booked the next flight out of France and flew back to Dominican Republic, setting up shop at Club Med Punta Cana for another four weeks, attending lectures, virtually, and finishing assignments in his room, by the pool or on the beach.
“I came alone, but I met so many people,” said Martin. “I made new friends from France, Switzerland, the U.S. and Canada."
Staying longer because it's fun
There is also something to be said about extending your vacation simply because you’re having fun.
Provencher, who has worked in aviation since she was 18, and travels a lot, said her three-week vacation at Club Med Punta Cana was “one of the top three trips” she’s ever taken.
“I was happy to meet new people, who I feel are going to be lasting connections,” said the flight attendant, counting the tennis she played each day and visits to places like Saona Island, Macao Beach and La Montana Redonda in Michès as highlights. “It's so rare, especially when you become an adult, to connect with new people.”
“Club Med definitely did that for us.”
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