This week has been monumental for luxury travel in Latin America. The first International Luxury Travel Market Americas (ILTM Americas, for short), was held October 1-3, 2012, at Fairmont Mayakoba in Mexico’s Riviera Maya.
This is another amazing resort, part of the 570-acre Mayakoba complex that visionary Spaniard Juan-Miguel Villar Mir built, in and around mangroves, rivers, lagoons and canals in the two miles between the sea and the north-south highway, Carretera Federal Cancun, which runs parallel to the Atlantic coast.
Mir fortunately knows a lot about development. He heads Grupo Villar Mir and Obrascon Huarte Lain OHL, which happens to build lucrative toll-roads in Mexico. Anyway, ILTM Americas was masterminded by Reed’s luxury exhibitions director, Alison Gilmore, and the show’s marketing director Simon Mayle (the gal sat next to him on the British Airways’ incoming flight, London Gatwick to Cancun, and heard how he was indoctrinated into the world of luxury travel by his godmother).
What, you might well say, is it like going to a luxury travel pow-wow? Well, take the two adjectives. Luxury travel requires authentic ambience. You could not meet in Scunthorpe or Slough.
Mayakoba, as its director of marketing, the lovely James Batt, says, is a brand. You aspire to this giant complex, with its three gorgeous and authentic resorts. Each is unique, but stay anywhere and you can go to any of the total-ten restaurants.
There are continual inter-resort motor shuttles. Last week Mayakoba launched a thatched lancha boat that plys the lagoons and rivers from one resort to another (you might see an alligator, or a snake, and you will certainly see Yucatan jays and Yucatan woodpeckers and many of the other 150 species of birds).
Coming up in November is a four-mile peripheral cycle track. Already each resort has bikes, to go from its main buildings to its sometimes distant villas, perhaps over a mile away on the beach.
Although the event itself is at the Fairmont Mayakoba, both Banyan Tree Mayakoba and Rosewood Mayakoba are involved. Some of the 350 delegates are staying at the other properties, both of which are hosting lunches, cocktails and dinners (Leading Hotels had an event prior to ILTM at the Banyan Tree).
Yes, everyone at ILTM had a chance to see not only the comfortable and family-friendly saffron-hued Fairmont but the others, too. Banyan Tree eschews colour for hints of Asia, with soaring sculptures that rise high above villas and public areas.
Rosewood similarly goes for shape and material over colour, to offer modern-Mayan in its villas set around waterways and reached on arrival by boat to your own private jetty. Of course golf comes into all this and Mayakoba, which hosts its own annual PGA classic, is perfect for an ILTM golf special. Many, before ILTM really started, tried their chances at El Camaleon’s holes, designed by Greg Norman.
This was a great time to meet up with the continent’s top luxury travel media, Wendy Perrin of Condé Nast Traveler, and top blogger Tiffany Dowd, who is supplementing her usual @LuxeTiffany with @ILTM_Events and hashtag #ILTMAmericas.
Interestingly, Tiffany too was brought up in the world of luxury travel – her parents owned the Turks & Caicos Club. Of the 150 exhibitors here at the show, there is only one from Turks & Caicos. The Caribbean is somewhat sparse (nothing from the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica or St Lucia).
The most exhibitors, not surprisingly, are from the US, but others come from Australia, Austria, Botswana, Canada, China, Cuba, France, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Maldives, Morocco, New Zealand, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey and the UK – and, of course, from all Latin American nations.
The ILTM format, perfected at the annual Cannes and Shanghai shows, is to kick off with a forum. Here, educationals on social media and sustainability are followed by a superb forum, thanks to its ego-free organiser, Javier Arredondo, Chairman of Travesias.
His panel on marketing showed the professionalism of Grupo Habita founder Carlos Couturier, and Inkaterra’s Jose Koechlin, and others – but the star of the forum was Claudia Madrazo, an impressively articulate philanthropist.
She has restored five magnificent ruined haciendas across Yucatan (three times the size of Costa Rica) and there are hundreds of Mayan ruins to visit. She set up Catherwood Travels, named for the artist who accompanied Yucatan’s early 19th century explorer John Loyd Stephens. She encourages villagers to continue making felt-hats, and doing embroidery and pottery.
And on November 14th, 2012, there will be the inauguration at Hacienda Ochil, in an arena designed by American light artist James Turell, of a Philip Glass composition she has commissioned. Next on her list is to invite seven world chefs to work with Mayan ingredients.
After this followed two days of one-to-one pre-arranged meetings, speed-dating style. If you are a supplier, a hotel or a Shanghai-based tour company offering programmes to North Korea (yes, they even do your visas and flights), you have a table. You do not move.
Every 15 minutes another buyer (modern word for a travel agent, at this luxury lifestyle level) comes, for you to pitch. When you do have a break, you can rush outside for yet another peek at the magnificent landscape that is Mayakoba. Is there anywhere more beautiful to do serious business?
Of course there is networking galore. The first night, Fairmont Mayakoba hosted what many thought was a cocktail but which turned out to be a magnificent spread of superb Mexican food stations, with a plain barbecue for those who really just craved perfectly-pink lamb cutlets.
The next night was a gala, hosted by Mexico Tourism Board and Riviera Maya, at the Xcaret theme park. The final night, Wednesday, Federico Echaiz at Maroma hosted jungle meets beach. Walk through his lush undergrowth, to be greeted by all-white-clothed dancers and stilt walkers, for food and margaritas on the beach.
Watch a water ballet, and raise your eyes higher for the fireworks. And anyone who is sensible went away not only with lots of new business but with the dates of the next event, September 30 to October 3rd, 2013, firmly engraved.