This week I attended the ILTM (International Luxury Travel Market) in Nassau, Bahamas. Some of it was as expected, other things were eye-opening.
What Is The International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM)?
The International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) is an invite-only conference for both suppliers and buyers whereby travel agencies are matched with 20 or more meetings every day for three days. The suppliers range from entire rooms featuring major brands to boutique single properties and small chains.
The ILTM prioritizes matches by brands the agencies and their representatives have indicated they’d like to meet, as well as from brands looking to meet particular agencies that may advance their bookings.
Meetings are 15 minutes long with five minutes to move between them. In most meetings, the time allotted not quite long enough to introduce the agency and the market niche and hear about the property or product.
Major brands have entire rooms dedicated to their brand; Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, and IHG, all had their own rooms for example. Others like Luxury Hotels of the World, Hidden Doorways, and even the country of Portugal had rooms as well along with larger general rooms.
There Are Great Boutique Properties, And That Market Is Growing
I was able to connect with some amazing small boutique hotels that offer something unique away from the chains. There are a handful that made the journey from Europe to showcase properties with as few as 11 suites and apartments, another pair of gems in Barcelona (The Wittmore) have just 22 rooms and suites.
Though the Brando is loosely affiliated with IHG, this is another bucket list property for me and something my clients will love. Just over 3o rooms, suites, and bungalows in French Polynesia, this resort was constructed by Marlon Brando and in lockstep with the local government with a promise that the ecology wouldn’t be disturbed. To that end, they have an on-site team dedicated to cleaning the beaches and maintaining the ecosystem for the sea life that visitors come to see.
The indication was clear, the boutique market is growing – they haven’t all become Unbound collection and Curio properties yet. In fact, many of these are too small to fit into the major programs but offer the perfect little quiet getaway from the bustle of Paris, Barcelona, and Rome. Yet they are thriving.
While this has long been a staple of European travelers, many of these properties are invisible to the market and more than one supplier indicated that the North American market is the one they are chasing.
Prices Are High, Have To Come Down
I asked for the ADR (Average Daily Rate) for any hotel or resort I met. There were some bright spots like the Waldorf-Astoria Las Vegas which took over the Mandarin Oriental property and renovated. Resorts World also had great ADRs for the product.
But generally speaking, rates are very, very high across the board. So is occupancy. However, most agreed that in the coming months and over the next year rates will have to come down. Some were hesitant to talk about their ADR because they were higher than they would be going forward. This is a good sign for travelers but also suggests that the revenge stage of travel is likely coming to a close.
Travel Agents Are Needed
On the flight over, I could hear others sharing with passengers about the conference and the question came up: Why should I use a travel agent? The responses were in line with what I have shared on this site before: we have access to rates, upgrades, and amenities like Hyatt Privé (and Hilton Impresario, Marriott Stars & Luminous, IHG Lifestyle & Luxury, etc.) that OTAs and even elites booking direct on the site do not.
But there was something else that became increasingly clear throughout the conference. Because of events like this one, our contacts, experience, and raw client feedback, we can provide something unique: direct knowledge. I attended the equivalent of 60 presentations, gained over 100 new contacts, and learned about products from all over the world. When someone is looking to get away from it all and traveling via Dubai, Six Sense Zighy Bay is about as remote as it gets. When a traveler has sailed everywhere else, what about the Kimberly region of northwest Australia? When a client knows where they want to stay in Rome, but wants access to a private tour of the Vatican, or a cooking class with a celebrity chef in Paris – travel agents know how to get these arranged and have contacts on the ground.
Now more than ever before, there are more travel reviews, influencers, and general focus. However, parsing the fluff from the substance is difficult without an informed concierge to help you navigate.
Suppliers, especially of boutique products like guided tours, villas, and boutique hotels, can’t rely on OTAs to get the word out. They need travel agents too, who know their customers and can match them with the perfect product.
Meeting these suppliers and seeing their products was immensely helpful to me personally, but also for our staff and clients. The luxury market is not only growing but thriving. Boutique products are having a moment that will hopefully continue well into the future. Travel agents are needed to pair even the most experienced travelers with products that might be off the radar, and help them distinguish hype from substance. Prices are likely to come down some but no one is racing to the bottom as occupancies remain elevated. If I had the honor of being invited back to the ILTM, I would jump at the chance despite the heavy commitment and busy schedule.
What do you think?