Chill Out at the Pop-Up Papaya Playa Project in Tulum

Design Hotels partnered on its first pop-up hotel in Tulum in October 2011. Much has already been written about the Papaya Playa Project, but it’s exciting to hear Berlin-based CEO Claus Sendlinger explain the history of the resort. At the inaugural LE Miami 2013 design hotel conference in June this year, Sendlinger talked about the evolution of the pop-up trend in general during his 32-minute talk: Creating Temporary Hospitality Experiences.

For planners booking programs in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, Papaya Playa is a great escape for lunch and dinner, or as a popular party place on the weekends.

“Brands have done great pop-up or temporary experiences,” said Sendlinger, citing his favorite example, Comme de Garçon. “[They] used their pop-up stores to represent ultimate creativity.”

When Design Hotels came on the scene in Tulum, there were 80 rustic cabanas around a central casita on what Sendlinger calls one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Half of them didn’t have bathrooms.

Sendlinger worked out a deal with the owner for a prescribed amount of time, although that seems to have been extended ad infinitum. In 2011, the hotel was pulling in about $300,ooo per year. Design Hotels hired 250 local workers and invested $650,000 in renovations after bringing in design teams from Berlin and Mexico City. All materials used to rebuild and decorate the property were sourced within 60 miles of the beach. In March 2013, the hotel booked $500,ooo in revenue for the month.

Within six months, Papaya Project attracted almost 6,500 likes on Facebook.

For entertainment, Sendlinger has brought some of the most innovative DJs from the illegal temporary club scene in Berlin to Tulum, like Bar 25. They and their friends camp out at Papaya Playa for a month at a time, drawing 600 people to the beach on weekends.

Last fall, Papaya Playa built a new pop-up ashram with Tibetan singing bowls, where guests could meditate and practice yoga.

“The media output with that thing was just unbelievable,” says Sendlinger. “So that motivated us to do more, so this year in February, we brought in a phenomenal chef. This guys kills every animal he serves by himself…. So he did the workshop and we had like 30 people coming, and learning from him how to cook the pork until the last piece. So no waste.”

During the LE Miami conference, Sendlinger said, “Tomorrow, we have the ensemble from the Metropolitan Opera from New York and they’re singing on our beach.”