For the longest time, Mexico’s luxury lodging inventory was defined by large chain properties that dot the strips and shorelines of famous destinations like Ixtapa, Cancun and Los Cabos. But more and more, travel agents say, smaller properties are gaining attention in Mexico, with distinctive service and amenities only a smaller hotel can offer.
First in Service markets hotels through a feature the agency calls its “Wonderwall,” literally a wall that features only 52 properties each year that cater to the company’s upscale clientele. First in Service markets these properties through a variety of channels, and encourages its agents to visit them to be able to better sell them.
Wonderwall Mexico properties include the Banyan Tree Mayakoba - Riviera Maya and the Capella Ixtapa. The 121-villa Banyan Tree Mayakoba blends Asian accents with its Riviera Maya surroundings. It offers Thai-inspired therapies at the Banyan Tree Spa and a Greg Norman signature 18-hole golf course. Accommodations range from secluded Garden Villas to Beachfront Villas, with all including pools and terraces.
“More and more high-end hotel brands – recognized as luxury - are still investing in Mexico, and adding hotels,” said Fernando Gonzalez, CEO of First in Service Travel in New York. “That means that the demand is high not just for Cancun, Riviera Maya, Los Cabos, but other destinations that aren’t yet wildly popular, like Tulum.”
At the Banyan Tree Mayakoba, US travelers make up about 70% of the hotel’s guests, said Director of Sales and Marketing Sergio Serra, and its U.S. bookings have been growing for the past 9 years at a rate of about 3-4% annually. To break through the clutter with agents, the hotel hosts between 3-5 travel agent fam trips every year. “Agents are chosen by their business potential, consortia or travel program affiliation and their relationship with our sales and marketing team,” Serra said.
While the big brands are chasing the luxury traveler, “more individual entrepreneurs are becoming hoteliers, like the Esencia in Riviera Maya),” Serra said.
Monica Castorela, CTA, owner and travel designer at Mint Travel company, Pittsburgh, PA, was born and raised in Mexico, and worked for the resorts in Mayakoba before becoming a travel agent.
“In a town like Tulum, many of the beachfront hotels are small, not all inclusive and have only a few rooms. They pride themselves for being sensitive to the environment and offering luxury to their clients by offering simplicity and an opportunity to escape the demands of daily life.”
Castorela pointed to the 41-villa Viceroy Riviera Maya, as an example of the kinds of properties she sells to her luxury clients. “The villas are nestled in the jungle. There are no high rise buildings in the resort. And their food offering consists of two main restaurants. From the moment that you arrive, the resort’s staff make you feel different, while providing superior service, they recreate experiences for you to gain an understanding of the Mayan culture.”
“In my experience, many high end clients are looking for resorts that offer local/out of the box experiences, they look for places that are comfortable or that fulfill their living standards but they are also seeking resorts that offer a more authentic view of the place they are visiting. They are searching for activities that would bring them closer to a particular culture while bringing them close to the people they are traveling with,” Castrorela said.
Gonzalez and Castorela both pointed to Mexico’s long hospitality history, and how it has shaped a whole generation of staff experienced in serving luxury travelers.
“Tourism has been an important industry to the country for decades. Nowadays when you visit a luxury Mexican resort, you come into contact with staff members who have worked their entire careers in hospitality, and young people who are fresh from hospitality and tourism universities with hotel internship experience,” Gonzalez said.
“Combine this technical training with the warm hearts of the hard-working Mexican people, and you have great service.”
“The level of service has to go beyond the expectations of the guest so that a client can truly recognize it as a luxurious experience. In the luxury world, service is more than providing what is requested, it means accommodating the needs of the client at all cost,” Castorela said.
During Castorela’s first visit to the Viceroy Riviera Maya, she received a Mayan blessing at the spa before she was lead to her villa where her personal butler showed her different kinds of handmade soaps she could select during her stay. “By the time the butler opened my villa, I was very relaxed and disconnected from the world. Needless to say, their villas are absolutely beautiful, comfortable and with luxury touches everywhere you look.”