It wasn’t so much goodbye as “hasta la próxima.” Less than three months after pulling out of the Seaside Mariana project, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, the largest hotel group in the world, is back in Nicaragua today to announce a new franchise deal with Milagro del Mar Beach & Golf Resort.
The forthcoming luxury condominium and hotel project is in fast-forward construction on Nicaragua’s expansive central-Pacific coast—one hour from Managua’s international airport. The Wyndham Milagro del Mar Resort will open its first 42 rooms to the public in mid-2014, becoming the first internationally branded hotel on Nicaragua’s beachfront.
“All the pieces have finally come together. It’s real and it’s happening,” developer Roger Keeling told The Nicaragua Dispatch in an interview.
The arrival of Wyndham, which will be announced officially tonight in Managua, could be the start of what Keeling hopes will become a major beachfront tourism cluster spread across the Gran Pacifica property, a sprawling 2,500-acre coastal project one hour west of Managua.
“I’d love to see two or three major hotels along that stretch, lots of residential development, the golf course, and a bit of commercial development,” says Keeling, whose Milagro del Mar project will be the first resort within the Gran Pacifica master development. “I want to see that area thrive for the people who populate the area. Over the years we have become very close with the community there.”
The Milagro del Mar resort was originally developed as a private condominium project on the beach, but a confluence of economic, financial and political factors brought a halt to the project in 2010. “The world took a different view of buying a condominium on the coast of Nicaragua,” Keeling says. So amid the world economic downturn, the owners and developers of Milagro del Mar huddled and came up with a new plan: to find and international brand-name partner to manage the project as a hotel.
“It became critical for us to build a new business plan around this project, and when we looked at tourism trends and understood the need for hotel beds in the country over the next five years, we realized it made a whole lot of sense to take a really strong look at this project as a true condominium hotel,” Keeling says.
After a few years of retooling and meeting with potential investors and hotel partners—a process that included several setbacks, countless handshakes, innumerable kaffee-klatsches and more than a few Advil—Keeling was able to ink a deal with Wyndham and secure the financing he needed to restart the Milagro del Mar project. Now, thanks to the original work done on the project back in 2009 and 2010—more than a year’s worth of construction went into project before it was put on pause—Milagro del Mar is going up miraculously fast.
Phase I of the Milagro del Mar/ Wyndham project will open next year with 42 condos, a restaurant, lobby, pool and bar. Phase II, scheduled for completion by 2015, will be 42 additional villas and Phase III will be 128 hotel suites, bringing the total hotel project to 212 units.
Milagro del Mar is also working to improve and reseed its golf course, which will be expanded to 18 holes by the time Phase II is completed in 2015.
Room for growth
Keeling says his company started talks with Wyndham in May of 2012, always under the impression that Milagro del Mar would be one of two Wyndham hotels built on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast.
“Wyndham wants to be a major player in Central America. When we first talked to them, they said ‘We have no issue with having two hotels on the coast of Nicaragua, because we believe the market is there and we have many brands we would like to introduce’,” Keeling says.
He says Wyndham’s announcement last November that it had terminated its contract with Seaside Mariana came “as a surprise to us, and in some ways a disappointment to us because there is strength in numbers.”
Says Keeling, “With the number of tourists coming into the country and the projected deficiency of hotel beds, it was a disappointment that we weren’t going to have this affiliation in that area of the country.”
Still, Keeling hopes that Wyndham’s decision will encourage other hotel chains—perhaps Wyndham Hotel Group itself—to develop more hotels in the area to create a new central-Pacific tourism cluster. The Gran Pacifica property alone can support “one, two or three major international hotel brands and can probably support a boutique hotel or two,” Keeling says.
“It’s a prime spot,” he adds. “You’ve got two incredible surf breaks along that stretch of beach. And there is no other stretch of beach that is closer to the international airport in Managua. So it makes perfect sense that the area would become a huge growth area for the country as tourism increases.”
The idea isn’t turn the area into an Acapulco or a Cancún, Keeling says, but into a reasonable development cluster that can handle an influx of middle and upper-middle class tourists and a wide variety of activities—everything from business conventions and family surf trips, to baseball tournaments at the forthcoming baseball academy.
Milagro del Mar’s second phase will include a convention area that can handle specialty events, such as destination weddings, or business groups up to 300 people, Keeling says. It will be the first convention center on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast.
Nicaragua’s time has come
Keeling says he thinks the promises made about Nicaragua’s potential are finally starting to take form.
“This thing that everybody has been talking about for so many years may actually be here. Our feasibility study says the same thing: it’s Nicaragua’s turn,” Keeling says.
“All the efforts that have been put into tourism and development of a brand for the country, it is all starting to pay off because the world is taking notice,” he adds. “The world has decided it wants to come and visit Nicaragua. And we are going to do something special here to make sure we have a place to treat our guests really well when they get here.”