If you’re not familiar with ILTM, it is the "see and be seen" luxury travel trade show that has been happening in Cannes for the last 22 years. Organizers claim this year was the biggest ever, with over 2,100 buyers (aka travel advisors) from 83 countries and 2,100 exhibitors representing 330 brands, having 82,000 + official appointments and events.
While there were whispers of slower holiday bookings than expected, and concerns about the current undercurrent of geopolitical unrest, the vibe at ILTM was upbeat. Here’s what themes stood out:
1. Revenge Travel is Over
The luxury sector is transitioning from the immediate post-pandemic rush to a more purposeful style of travel. According to Matthew Upchurch, CEO, Virtuoso, which raked-in more than $30 billion in annual sales last year "holiday bookings are up 19.7 percent vs 2022 and sales are up 16.8 percent, which means the rate has been a bit sticky, and we may see a leveling off this year." However, he noted "despite geopolitical instability, bookings for 2024 are looking robust."
Internova, one of the world’s largest travel services companies, shared results of a first-ever survey of their top luxury sellers. Key findings: more than 60% of clients are looking for authentic experiences from local cuisine and custom excursions to accessing exclusive sports and sold-out music (hello, Taylor Swift). Also, people are taking longer trips (10-14 days up from 8-10); 52% of their clients plan to spend more in 2024. Overall, several presentations cited a shift toward more sustainable and purpose-driven travel, and continued demand for celebrating milestones and cherishing family time with several generations.
2. Doubling Down on Luxury + Hot Markets
Seems like every brand––big and small––is dramatically expanding their luxury portfolio. Marriott has 200 luxury properties in the pipeline; Hyatt has doubled their luxury portfolio and has 35 properties in the pipeline; one in three Melia openings is a luxury property; Langham Hotels & Resorts is growing by a third; several smaller brands are planning to double in size, including Nobu Hotels, Corinthia, and the exclusive LUX Collective to name a few.
Hot markets for luxury growth: the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia; across Asia particularly Thailand and China; and surprisingly European capitals. London and Rome have several very high-end properties opening this year and next.
3. Diversification: Hotel Brand Extensions into Residential, Yachting and Villas
Branded residences, high-end apartments that are built as part of a hotel complex or even as stand alone projects offering hotel services are booming in markets from London and Miami to Dubai and Phuket, offering hotel companies another revenue stream. Catering to wealthy global nomads that want homes in several countries, branded residences from the likes of Ritz-Carlton, Nobu, Mandarin Oriental, Aman and Rosewood, offer owners peace of mind that the property is maintained and can be ready on a moment's notice.
Similarly, leading luxury hotel brands are expanding onto the water by introducing luxurious yachts and riverboats. Following the successful launch of Evrima, Ritz-Carlton's maiden branded yacht in 2022, plans are underway for a second yacht, Ilma, scheduled for 2024, promising the highest space-to-guest ratio at sea. Jenni Benzaquen, senior vice president of The Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis Hotel & Resorts, observed, "These yachts are drawing a new clientele; 50 percent of our yacht guests are first-time cruisers, and they are on average 10 years younger than traditional cruise passengers."
Four Seasons is gearing up for the debut of a 95-suite yacht in 2025, while Aman is set to launch a wellness-focused yacht with 50 suites in 2026. This year, Oberoi introduced a luxurious 27-cabin riverboat cruise along the Nile and has plans for more intimate 10-cabin boats by 2025. Belmond is offering exclusive riverboat cruises in France with “Belmond Bateaux.”
Branded villas took off during the pandemic and continue to be popular, thanks to the normalizing of this type of accommodation by Airbnb over the last decade. Ritz-Carlton was one of the first to launch a branded offering in 2019, more recent players are Mandarin Oriental, Aman and Four Seasons. Beyond big brands, there were many interesting independent villa options catering to multi-gen travelers, milestone celebrations and corporate groups––read more about Spain's Vestige below and I loved the look of ANI Private Resorts, small all-inclusive properties in Anguilla, Dominican Republic, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
4. Sustainability is a Talking Point Across All Brands
Sustainability is a topic most brands and independent properties addressed, some in more meaningful ways than others, many have partnered with Earth Check. Preferred Travel Group CEO Lindsey Ueberroth, shared the growth of Beyond Green, its collection of eco-conscious properties that undergo a rigorous sustainability check. There are now 38 properties in Beyond Green, their first-ever Global Impact Report underscoring the brand’s commitment to sustainability and the effect of its member portfolio’s worldwide ESG initiatives. The report is available online www.staybeyondgreen.com. Highlights:
Over 90 percent of Beyond Green members have a dedicated Sustainability Manager or equivalent position or team, steering the evolution and on-site implementation of member’s sustainability programs.
100 percent of Beyond Green members have eliminated single-use plastic water bottles from their operations.
Nearly 70 percent of Beyond Green members utilize renewable energy sources, including solar panels, wind turbines and other sources such as biomass derived from certified wood pellets.
5. Wellness is a Must Have
Global wellness is estimated to be a $5.6 trillion dollar industry (Global Wellness Institute) and on the luxe end, well beyond basic spas, everything is elevated to the point that many properties even offer actual medical treatments. In fact, this is the premise of SHA Wellbeing, a Spanish "integrated wellness clinic" that helps travelers with a host of ailments, which is opening a second property in Mexico in 2024, their first in North America. Soneva, the ultra-luxe resorts in the Maldives offer a combination of Eastern and Western medicine, with medical doctors and specialists on staff that can even do cancer treatments. For all luxury hotels––city center or resort––sleep programs, detox, hot saunas/cold plunge, spa services, and extensive fitness facilities are table stakes at this point.
6. Unique, One-of-Kind Stays that Support Local Economies
An area where women really stood out as leaders at ILTM is in job creation and community building. I loved meeting Adine Roode, who runs HERD, South Africa's first elephant orphanage, and Jabulani, five-star safari lodges. She started the lodges 20 years ago to support the poor elephants, bless her. Her lodges are now part of Relais and Chateau, and she has recently launched #JabuLadies, a tourism driven social enterprise that employs local women and sells their crafts, including beautiful paper made from elephant dung!
Several female leaders of boutique hotels spoke about their role in the community as employers, from Giulia Sersale managing a team of local gardeners for the thousands of plants at Positano's famed Le Sirenuse, to Spain's Vestige Collection where Marta Madera's family has set out to restore some 25 heritage homes and castles, employing hoards of local craftspeople and builders along the way.
7. A Stitch Up: the Intersection of Fashion and Travel
A trend we've been observing all year, with notable partnerships over the summer with Leading Hotels and Camilla (the dress brand worn by Jennifer Coolage in White Lotus); Dior pool pop-ups at The Beverly Hills Hotel and with Belmond; and a particularly cool, craft focused program with the Fife Arms in Scotland and stylist Anna Garner, a former assistant to André Leon Talley at the Paris offices of Vanity Fair and Vogue USA, and most recently founder of fine craft website The Garnered. Palazzo Avino's Mariella Avino has created her own boutique, The Pink Closet, where she curates the items for sale and even created custom china in partnership with Villeroy and Boch.
Sewing a new thread (see what we did there?), resort-wear brand Vilebrequin opened a beach club of their own this year in Cannes, and has plans for another in Miami this winter. CEO Roland Herlory, chief executive officer of Vilebrequin, told us at ILTM, “The beach is where we belong. It was only a matter of time before we put ‘la plage’ center stage, installing our turtles and parasols on the Côte d’Azur and soon around the world.” The brand is planning 15 such beach clubs, with one in Miami’s South Beach designed by Vincent Darré, opening this winter, and another in Abu Dhabi, still in the works. Unlike other beach clubs, Herlory explained the focus is on “offering families fun and luxury at the beach, with lots of games and water sports, in Vilebrequin style.” Oui!
8. Art: Are Hotels Becoming the New Museums?
Having recently stayed at the iconic Dolder Grand in Zurich, which has over 100 museum quality pieces of contemporary art including a painting from Dali and Ferdinand Botero’s “Woman with Fruit'' sculpture, explained via a QR code-led tour, art is a big part of their hotel experience. Turns out art is integral to many luxury hotels–Capella in Sydney features an impressive kinetic sculpture of 18 colors of Australian wildflowers called Meadow, by Amsterdam-based Studio Drift; a Damien Hirst exhibition of 20 pieces at the Hotel Martinez in Cannes was installed just in time the film festival; Auberge just opened the 108-key Bowie House in Ft. Worth, Texas with 700 pieces of art from the collection of owner, Jo Ellard–to name a few. Several brands spoke of having curators and incorporating an art program not just into the design, but also creating educational programs for guests.
9. Slow Travel and Heritage Brands
This trend matches the data presented from Internova, longer trips, more experiential. These were the pillars of the Belmond presentation, with an emphasis on new itineraries on their fleet of historic and beautifully refurbished trains in destinations ranging from Singapore and Malaysia to European routes along the Italian Riviera, and a Paris to Istanbul itinerary. There was buzz about the rebranding and repositioning of Orient-Express, owned by Accor, with meticulous attention to the heritage of the company–and the new CEO is “hertelier” Gilda Perez-Alvarado, which we are excited about!!
10. "Authentic" vs. "Rizz" in Luxury
“Authentic” was named the word of the year by Merriam-Webster, and this was the opening point of discussion in a Langham Hotels & Resorts panel led by AFAR editor-in-chief, Julia Cosgrove. Every brand was talking about authentic experiences, from Six Senses hosting festivals to Auberge announcing an “An Extraordinary Year,” a series of experiences throughout 2024, and “worthy of planning a trip around,” said Evan Altman, SVP of sales and marketing. "Spanning epicurean journeys, well-being, art and culture, and adventure, these experiences and "once-in-a-lifetime" events are focused around exclusive partnerships in our 27 destinations."
Yet, in my mind two brands stood out with some "Rizz," which the Oxford English dictionary named as their word of 2023. Rizz is a slang word for charisma (but you probably knew that). Hyatt, which brought a shaman named Fernanda, from Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya, who led the group in a gratitude chant followed by a long “gong bath” with two gong masters to open their breakfast event. And IHG, whose Regent brand brought in Olympian Brian Boitano for a skating showcase and winter-themed party. Bear in mind, I didn't make it to many of the parties due to having to write up each day's events, so I likely missed lots more rizz!
11. Embracing Inclusivity: Women Are Leading Luxury
Last but definitely not least, it was great to see so many women leading at ILTM–from an insightful opening keynote by economist Tina Fordham, to the aforementioned presentations by Hyatt and Marriott being led by women. It was AMAZING to connect in person with so many “herteliers” and hear what is top of mind––sorry not to list everyone (see image above). Hyatt VP and global brand leader for independent hotels and collections, Katie Johnson, mentioned that they are working on a recruitment program to get more female “returners” (women that have taken a career break). I continue to be impressed with what Anne Golden is doing at Pan Pacific from regular training for her team on how to be more welcoming transgender guests to offering safe spaces for disabled people in London. And to finally meet Kristina Snaith-Lense, GM of The Upper House in Hong Kong–just ranked #4 on the 50 Best Hotels list!
Thank you to Lucy Clifton and her team at Spotlight Communications for a well organized and productive ILTM! Until next year....