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Hotel 'pops up' on Caribbean coast in Tulum, Mexico

Courtesy Design Hotels

The bar deck at Papaya Playa Project, Design Hotels' first-ever pop-up hotel, overlooks the Caribbean.

Taking a leaf from a burgeoning number of retailers and restaurateurs worldwide, Design Hotels, which handles reservations globally for independently owned hotels, recently announced an innovation in the lodging industry: a pop-up hotel.

The Papaya Playa Project opened in Tulum, Mexico, on the Caribbean coast of the Mayan Riviera last week and will remain open through May 6.

The hotel features:

  • 99 cabanas, most with private bathrooms, some with shared facilities;
  • a spa with treatments based on Mayan healing practices;
  • restaurants run by KaterHolzig, a hot Berlin club, and 42°RAW, a Copenhagen restaurant whose food is cooked at 42 degrees Celsius or below. 

Nightly rates range from $25 for the most modest accommodations in the off-season to $675 for a five-bedroom private house in the high season.

Claus Sendlinger, chief executive of Design Hotels, said the pop-up hotel — which he described as a “five-month Burning Man on the beach” — is a conversion of an existing resort on the beach in Tulum, which he predicted should attract guests from metropolitan areas in the Northern Hemisphere. 

“In uncertain economic times, sometimes it’s very difficult to get investments for bigger projects,” Sendlinger said.  “This is a prime destination, with buildings that were unoccupied. It became a space where the pop-up phenomenon could be started.”

His concept, he added, was inspired by Comme des Garcons’ “Guerrilla” pop-up stores launched in 2004, and others that followed.

"I'm not drawn to this," said Christina Norsig, chief executive of PopUpInsider.com, an online exchange for temporary properties, and author of “Pop-Up Retail: How You Can Master This Global Marketing Phenomenon.” While not surprised a hotel company ventured into the pop-up world, Norsig questioned Design Hotels' approach with the Papaya Playa Project.

"Hospitality is harder to pull off in a pop-up concept because of the level of quality and service that travelers today expect when going to a resort," she said. "It's a tall order to open in a location for six months and execute a polished concept."

Sendlinger said Design Hotels — which currently represents 14 hotels in nine Mexican destinations, including another one in Tulum — could make the Papaya Playa Project permanent or open additional pop-up properties in other destinations, depending on how well the concept plays out.

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