Today the Berlin-based Design Hotels group is staking the first big claim to the trend on the beach in Tulum, Mexico. The company’s founder, Claus Sendlinger, who moved with his family to Tulum last year, is spearheading the opening of Papaya Playa, a spiffed-up campus of cabanas once belonging to three now-shuttered resorts on about a half mile of beachfront land.
He brought in his creative team from Berlin to make simple stylish improvements to the 99 structures — “make it a bit more comfortable but keep the rawness,” he says — leaving about half of them with shared bathrooms, including a clutch of jungle huts with communal bunk beds that rent for $25 a night to the many backpackers, yogis and spiritual nomads who regularly drift through town.
But Occupy Tulum this isn’t. There are 40 ocean-facing cabanas with private decks and hammocks, a spa, a boutique, raw food to go from 42°Raw, and a restaurant run by the folks behind Bar 25 andKaterHolzig in Berlin. An international network of D.J.’s and artists will provide weekly entertainment and contribute to monthly full-moon events dreamed up by the Berlin creative agency Mamapapcola. “The fun part is that we brought our friends,” says Sendlinger, who adds that no one’s arm had to be twisted; most of them were already fans of Tulum.
Sendlinger himself is a longtime blow-in to the area, and he’d had his eye on this piece of land for six years before finally making a deal with its owner. Five years ago, he says, such an arrangement wouldn’t have been possible, but the financial crisis has created more opportunities in the hotel business for those who are “good at moving into a temporary space and creating something. I see this happening more and more.” And if it works this winter, it may become permanent — with some further construction and the help of solar and wind power. What won’t happen is a 500-room tower or luxury condos. “That would kill Tulum,” he says. “We want our kids to have as much as possible the same Tulum as we have.”
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