For the second year in a row, I was fortunate to be invited to attend the International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) in Cannes. Touted as a showcase for the global luxury travel community, buyers (who are invited and expenses covered) and suppliers (who pay hefty fees to meet buyers) meet to exchange ideas, discuss new products and hopefully find a convergence of needs which will lead to increased sales for both. In addition, leaders in the travel media cover this event to insure sufficient hype for all.
As a vetted buyer, I was flown to Nice, France, met by a helicopter that flew me to Cannes. Checking into the Art Deco dream of a hotel the Martinez, (pronounced with the ”z”, since named after a Spanish explorer, which I learned only after being corrected). I was escorted to a beautiful room with a balcony overlooking the blue Mediterranean. Champagne arrived shortly thereafter with new surprises delivered every night.
What followed was the work to justify the luxury in which I was living. My appointment diary for the next three days included over 50, 20-minute appointments, determined by a combination of my requests and the requests of suppliers. In reality, I spent three fascinating days (and nights-the parties are as legendary as the locale) exploring the world for all that was new and exciting in travel. Equally valuable was spending time with my “buyer” colleagues, the most expert of experts in the world of selling travel. I was humbled, inspired and hot to introduce everything at once to my clients.
As those who have read my past articles know, Egypt is a passion and I am working with the Minister of Antiquities to support the Egyptian Museums. Most of my appointments on day one were with Egyptian tour operators and hotels, discussing how travel will be rebounding as things have been calm over the past two months. Returning to my hotel room that night, I see scenes of protests outside the Presidential Palace in Cairo on CNN and reluctantly realize it will take a little longer.
Days two and three were a broader geographic spread, but some themes were evident.
Culinary or epicurean tourism is huge. From food historians in Paris to dining like the Romanovs in St. Petersburg, food tourism has become a primary travel focus. Tasting, learning and meeting the experts is now as important as ticking off well-known sites and creativity in travel food offerings has increased exponentially. Tea, vodka, coffee sommeliers are now added to wine sommeliers. I think sugar and salt sommeliers will be next, and the history of both can be extrapolated into the history of exploration and discovery. Farm to Table is hot but only if you can see the farm from the table. Luxury is not the price of the meal but the pedigree of the soil and tasting the history behind every dish.
Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Oman and Dubai are becoming true leisure destinations with experiences way beyond what I was calling “hotel tourism.” Certainly the hotels in this region are sites in themselves but now there is much more to see and learn beyond Hermes amenities in the room and huge shopping malls. You can now explore in a Ferrari (Formula 1 is big here), yacht or paraglide into your hotel. Soft adventure is big in the desert and food is a close second. Desert feasts and overnights in tents are becoming less touristy and offer a taste of bedouin life. The pace of new hotel openings is surpassing pre 2008 levels. And bookings are strong.
Italy remains the king of European tourism for new and repeat travelers. One would think this could parlay into help for their budget problems but that is beyond my scope here. New hotels, some in impressive Renaissance palaces, and others the cutting edge of design and architecture beckon. Food experiences in Italy have evolved from the early “cooking school” models. At one hotel you can purchase part of the vineyard surrounding your hotel and return at harvest time to bottle you own personal label from your vines.
Overall it is clear that the new luxury in travel is artisanal or according to Wikipedia’s definition-“hand processing an industrial process.” Travel, personalized and customized for each traveler is the luxury, regardless of price point and the options are endless and exciting.
This is just a glimpse of what I learned and I have 10 more pages of notes to get through.