Mexican luxury travel company Journey Mexico recently added a component to its line of authentic travel offerings, one that expanded the operator's already in-depth portfolio of customized tour and small-group programs, private jet and yacht excursions that cover Mexico from the Mayan ruins to the Sea of Cortes and from the Copper Canyon to the Magic Towns and many luxury haciendas, markets and resorts on and off the beaten path.
The new component features more than 100 villas and private residences as part of Journey Mexico's new villa program, spearheaded by Sean Emmerton, an industry veteran who has worked in executive posts at hotels in England, Hawaii and Los Cabos and was instrumental in the development of the Los Cabos Tourism Board.
He also created the rental program for prospective villa buyers at Villa Del Mar and ran it for 15 years before it was brought in house prior to Hurricane Odile in Los Cabos in September 2014.
"Journey Mexico had rented villas several times for clients through Villa Del Mar, one of the villa companies that Journey Mexico had in its portfolio," Emmerton said. "After Odile, Zachary Rabinor [president of Journey Mexico] and I joined together to support the company's new villa rental program. Today, Journey Mexico has villas in Los Cabos, Punta Mita, Puerto Vallarta, San Miguel de Allende, Tulum and the Riviera Maya with more coming on board all the time."
He estimated 40 to 50 more by the end of the year.
"In 2016, we will have 200-plus villas in our collection," he said.
Take your pick: A luxe stay in a diverse destination with unique culture
villa collection includes a range of properties from four to nine bedrooms.
Journey Mexico's goal in this venture is to support the growing demand for villa rental requests while combining its knowledge and expertise of private deluxe touring and in-country ground operations, according to Emmerton.
"What makes [our] villa program unique is that we are based in Mexico and have many years' experience understanding the variety of destinations and unique cultural aspects for each area of the country,"
Emmerton said. "There's a big demand for villa rentals with stunning accommodations and flawless service."
Joining Emmerton in this venture is his son Hunter, who serves as villa sales manager.
Together, the two of them seek out villas as they continue to expand a selective portfolio of Mexico's private properties that meet Journey Mexico's criteria and standards.
While on scouting missions for prospective additions to the villa portfolio, Emmerton often is accompanied by several top-producing luxury agents whose opinions frequently form part of the villa vetting process.
"The program has been received very well and the response has been amazing," Emmerton said. "There's demand on both ends, from homeowners who want their villas in our program and from upscale customers who more and more desire this type of accommodation."
Hacienda Chekul in Sian Kaan on the Riviera Maya rents from $2,100 to $4,800 per night.
Journey Mexico's villa criteria and standards are high, both for those properties that want to get into the program and for the properties already in it that want to remain in the collection.
Villas must be fully staffed. Homeowners and/or management companies must be able to take care of all prearrival needs, such as stocking the pantry with grocery items.
"We want our clients to be as comfortable in the villas as in a five-star hotel. We want it to be as easy to book a villa as a hotel suite in regard to deposit and cancellation processes," Emmerton said.
Villas range in size from three bedrooms to a 12-bedroom unit in Punta Mita that rents for $10,000 to $25,000 per night, depending upon time of year and number of people, he said.
Even the larger villas are rented only to one party at a time.
"Sometimes we run into clients, just two of them, who want to rent a six-bedroom villa," he said. "All clients want privacy, comfort and unobtrusive service."
The villa minimum-stay requirement depends on the destination. On the Riviera Maya, for example, it is five to seven nights most of the time.
What are the hot villa destinations?
"Tulum is very up and coming. More travelers are aware of Tulum," Emmerton said. "It's rarely crowded and does not have the frenzy of Cancun. The beaches are stunning. It's an ecoconscious area with a biosphere, no mass construction, lots of dirt roads and still is a very natural habitat."
Careyes, a small beachfront community along Costa Alegre in Jalisco state, known for its untouched natural surroundings, luxury accommodations and the warmth of its people, "is a stunning destination. We use the seven villas with 16 suites at Las Alamandas. Guests love it there," Emmerton said.
Four villas and nine casitas at Cuixmala, designed in a Moorish architectural style, are on the grounds of the former estate of a British billionaire. The estate also includes a beach, jungle and nature preserve.
Cuixmala, which is located south of Puerto Vallarta, did have some minor damage from Hurricane Patricia but is expected to reopen on Dec. 15, according to Rabinor.
Emmerton described Cuixmala and the surrounding area as "untouched Mexico. This entire area is going to explode."
Emmerton has a soft spot for Los Cabos. "I worked there, I lived there and I'll always love it. Our clients love it, too. We get a lot of requests for villa rentals in Cabo and in Punta Mita."
The majority of Journey Mexico's bookings come in through agents.
"We work with a number of top agents, who are very loyal to us. Our villa rental program is brand new, but we've got great bookings already and we expect a good year as well in 2016," Emmerton said.
The correct website address for Journey Mexico's villa program is www.jmvillas.com. An incorrect URL appeared in an earlier version of this article.