ILTM: Embracing travel helps reduce fear, nationalism

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CANNES, France — In a year marked by the surprising victories of Brexit and U.S. president-elect Donald Trump, the world's largest luxury travel event opened last week with the theme of "Love, Loyalty and Luxury," and a call for people to embrace travel as a way to overcome the rise of nationalism.

In a keynote address, Andrew Solomon, a Columbia University professor and writer and speaker on culture and psychology, told the more than 3,000 travel companies and agents gathered for the 15th annual International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) Monday night that travel is imperative for overcoming nationalist fears.

"It's how we make sense of a confusing world," he said. "If every youngster were required to spend two weeks in another country, half of the world's diplomatic problems would disappear."

Luxury travel in particular, he said, is key in eliminating "pernicious fear," offering the comfort level many people need to explore new and far-flung destinations.

And despite the recent events that ILTM portfolio director Alison Gilmore said made 2016 a year many might just as soon want to forget, the record attendance and mood here last week made it clear the aggressive growth and evolution of luxury tourism continues at a dizzying pace.

Smaller luxury travel companies such as Rosewood Hotels and Resorts and Belmond, for example, detailed plans for doubling their portfolios over the next few years.

Marriott International, which through its recent acquisition of Starwood now has one of the world's largest portfolios of luxury hotels under nine brands, said it will expand that luxury portfolio 7% next year alone.

And as has been a running theme across luxury since it bounced back from the backlash against opulence that crashed the sector during the recession, most conversations at ILTM focused on expanding into new locations, refining brands and developing products that offer unique experiences and an authentic sense of place in everything from the architecture to bathroom amenities.

Peninsula Hotels, for instance, detailed its recent partnership with Crystal Cruises to provide accommodations for Crystal's first private-jet excursions on its CrystalAir brand.

Four Seasons announced a new ski resort in Megeve, France. InterContinental Hotels and Resorts discussed its new projects in 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 longstanding focus on luxury and shopping and into more authentic experiences focused on Arabian culture and art.

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

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

In what has become a trademark opening for 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.

This year ILTM said it hosted a record number of exhibitors and travel advisers from more than 80 countries for the event, which featured four days of networking meetings and seemingly nonstop French Riviera-style partying.

Gilmore, whose portfolio 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 gathers 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.

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