Growth, evolution main topics at ILTM

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Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

CANNES, France — The International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM), the world's largest luxury travel event, marked its 15th anniversary this week, welcoming a record 3,000-plus exhibitors and travel advisers from more than 80 countries to its flagship event on the French Riviera.

In what has become a trademark opening for the ILTM, organizers rolled out the literal red carpet to welcome attendees up the stairs and into the Grand Auditorium at the Palais des Festivals et des Congres, home to the famed Cannes International Film Festival.

Although one of the opening-night speakers referenced concerns about the growing global tide of nationalism behind this year's surprise victories of Brexit and U.S. president-elect Donald Trump, the record attendance and mood made it clear the aggressive growth and evolution of luxury tourism continues at a seemingly unprecedented pace.

Alison Gilmore, director of the ILTM portfolio that includes annual regional networking events in Asia, Africa and North and South America, said ILTM "is the luxury market," the place where the global luxury community gather to understand and develop the latest in luxury travel trends.

"The conversations that take place here are worth tens of millions of dollars," she said.

There has been an ongoing evolution across luxury since the industry bounced back from a backlash against opulence that crashed the sector during the Great Recession. Most conversations at ILTM focused on the continuing themes of companies expanding into new and far-flung locations and refining brands and developing new products that offer unique experiences and an authentic sense of place in everything from the architecture to bathroom amenities.

For example, Rosewood and Belmond discussed plans to double their portfolios over the next few years. Peninsula detailed its recent partnership with Crystal Cruises to provide accommodations for that company's private-jet excursions. Four Seasons announced a new ski resort in Megeve, France. InterContinental talked about its projects in far-flung locations such as Ljubljana, Slovenia; Sofia, Bulgaria; and Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia.

And Jumeirah, the company behind what is billed as one of the most opulent hotels in the world, Dubai's famed Burj Al Arab, unveiled its newest property, the Jumeirah Al Naseem, a contemporary product that marks the first evolution of the now 20-year-old brand away from Dubai's long-standing focus on opulence and shopping and into more authentic experiences and Arabian culture and art.

Chris Cahill, head of luxury brands for AccorHotels, said the underlying trends remain the same, with any changes being very nuanced.

"It's a continued evolution," Cahill said. "Not a revolution."

But all seemed to agree that travel, not material possessions, is the ultimate luxury today.

Andrew Solomon, a Columbia University professor who writes about culture and psychology, told the opening forum that luxury travel gives people the comfort level needed to explore new destinations, noting travel is a key to overcoming nationalist fears.

"If every youngster were required to spend two week in another country, half of the world's diplomatic problems would disappear," he said.

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