PLAYA DEL CARMEN – How do you distinguish yourself as a hotel in a very touristic city like Playa del Carmen in Mexico? Francis Deyne goes with his small-scale boutique Bloom! for the personal approach and prepares a delicious breakfast for its guests every day. "I think it's especially important that I get the opportunity to meet them."
Bloom! is very central and yet somewhat hidden, within walking distance of the busy center of the city and the beach. From the hotel, you are also quickly on the main road, towards Cancún or Tulum. Francis started this boutique six years ago and quickly made a name for itself. The experienced hospitality man knew that he would face a lot of competition, but still saw plenty of opportunities. By offering a special, extensive, fresh and homemade breakfast, he scores on the Booking.coms and TripAdvisors of this world.
The comments online are especially jubilant about those breakfasts. And that attracts extra guests. “I don't have a reception and I want to prevent people from being here for five days without ever seeing them. I want to be there for them. Giving them tips. Talk to them. Make them feel at home. Pamper them with good food.” And of course. That personal approach also has to do with reviews. “Guests find it difficult to complain ‘in your face’ about something that is not good. I'll remove that threshold. So I don't read afterward on the internet that something was wrong; we solve that immediately on the spot.”
The seven rooms are luxurious. Fully equipped; a large TV, a jacuzzi, and a large bed. Children are not welcome here, it is adult-only. On top of the roof is a large jacuzzi, to bubble in the sun. And a spacious terrace, with a view over the city. Downstairs is a two-bedroom apartment for larger groups. There is a tree in the middle of this room. “It only grows around cenotes, so it drinks the water below. Because yes, apparently this building was built on a cenote, we found out thanks to this tree. That's very special, so let's keep it that way."
The 57-year-old Fleming was born in Brussels and lived in Antwerp for a long time. Seven years ago he was on vacation in Mexico, visiting friends. Just before he was due to travel back to Cancún airport, he was strolling through Playa del Carmen and came across a real estate agency. “I always like that. How much does something like this cost here? I saw a hacienda, with eight studios and a swimming pool. A really great building. I didn't believe the price, how can it be so cheap?”
That stream of thoughts does not come out of nowhere. Francis has been dreaming of his own boutique abroad for years. The Caribbean is on his list, or Indonesia. Francis gets into a conversation with the estate agent and before he takes the bus back to the airport, they view the hacienda together. “It was fantastically beautiful. The thought lingered throughout the entire return flight,” he recalls.
When he returns, he texts his friends, who fuel his enthusiasm. However, they think the hacienda has a major disadvantage: it is on the wrong side of the main road. ,,That is too far from the sea, that really made it less promising. I then cast some lines, on a budget. Four months later I was given two options, one of which was this building,” he says. He decides to take a chance and sells his apartment in Antwerp and crosses the Pacific again. Now forever. “I was ready. You must be; you leave your family, your friends. That was fine with me, I came here with my dog Maica and five suitcases,” he says.
Building begins. Francis is indeed ready: he speaks good Spanish, has a lot of experience, has a well-filled bank account, and is 'healthy suspicious' when it comes to outsourcing. “I was looking for a contractor. They all said knock this down and build again, but I didn't want that. The house is authentic, although it is only sixteen years old. But I like it the way it is.”
He finds a Mexican handyman, who can theoretically tackle anything with his team. They start with weekly assignments. Every day Francis is also there and gives instructions. “You can't just let them go their own way. Then it won't be the way you want it to be. They have different standards. I also have experience in renovations, so I always indicated what I wanted.”
Francis has been in the hospitality industry all his working life. He did hotel training and chef school. He took care of the sales of a number of shops and worked for the airline company Sabena. This is how he gained experience at different companies and in different accents, but always within the catering industry. He sailed on cruise ships for three years (on an annual contract) and expanded his expertise in wellness. For example, he was a manager on a cruise ship, with 23 people under him. Hairdressers, pedicures, masseurs, and so on.
,,I noticed that I found it increasingly difficult to return to Belgium. You separate more and more from everyone. That is painful and understandable. The dream to make the real crossing and to keep this adventurous life grew bigger. I am five-lingual (Dutch, French, English, Spanish, German) and that is a strength. It is difficult to find work on the other side of the world because the employer is responsible for you.” He has several jobs.
In Aruba he works at the famous Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort, in the Seychelles he starts working at an ISPC branch. ,,Nice experiences, but I noticed that I didn't like being on a small island. It's paradise, but if you're there longer it feels like you're locked up." It is clear to Francis: no Belgium, no islands. And then came that vacation in Mexico. And we come back to his boutique.
Bloom! Is modest with seven rooms; Francis knew he wanted little or no staff. That in theory, he could do it alone. He's got staff, sure. And his friend also helps with this where necessary, in addition to his work in a clothing store. “You are here now in the high season, which runs from Christmas to Easter. And it is disappointing this year.” Understandable. Corona caused a major setback, but the economic crisis in Europe also has a lot to do with it. And that while he normally has to have it from the European.
“I was very happy to be here during the corona pandemic. The airport has never been closed here and only in the beginning everything closed, under pressure from the world. Soon everything opened up again. Look, in Mexico, you don't get state aid. Pesos have to be earned. If that is not possible, there will be crime and violence. You don't want tourists to be negative about this area, because otherwise you're just done. As far as I know, the hospitals could also handle this very well.”
Yet. Although it is open during the corona period, it is not nearly as busy as before. ,,Friends said: why don't you cook for us? Are you starting some sort of takeout? I thought that was a crazy idea, with all the competition here. But they insisted, knew I could cook well.” Why not, thinks Francis.
It will be European cuisine; stew, fries, boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, chili con carne, carrot cake, vol-au-vent, blanquette de veau, that kind of meal. “I prepared a menu every week. People could order in advance and I would make it.” The initiative has spread through the city like wildfire and his meals are also recommended online. By Thanksgiving, he has 500 orders for turkey. That's how Bloom Food started, a kind of catering company. And it's a bull's eye. “It is running even better now than during the pandemic. I think it's 50/50 revenue-wise now,” he smiles.
His latest project is mypromo.today. A website where entrepreneurs can offer discounts to tourists. ,,That is map-based, we want to help each other here. It's basically free advertising. Tourists are looking for this, then such a site is a good help. It's only just arrived, so it has yet to prove itself. Playa del Carmen is a city with mature tourism, something like that is part of it.”
Going back to Belgium is not planned. He's happy here, with his friend. With his social contacts. “The handyman recently said how my Spanish has gotten so much better. Sure, he always understood me, but now it seems like it really is my first language.”