Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
Karisma Hotels and Resorts really knows how to get a party start-dead.
The luxury hotel collection kicked off its 15th annual Gourmet Inclusive Vacation Consultant (GIVC) conference in Mexico’s Riviera Maya region Sunday night (Oct. 30) with a special Day of the Dead extravaganza.
The Mexican holiday – typically celebrated from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 – where families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a brief reunion was a fitting backdrop for an industry that is seeing a resurrection of its own.
“Travel agents are really happy to see the world open back up. Travel is back,” Liz Fettes, chief marketing and sales officer for Premier Worldwide Marketing, the worldwide sales and marketing representative for Karisma, told PAX at last night’s welcome bash in the poolside Fuentes-Culinary Theatre of El Dorado Royale, a luxurious, adults-only, all-inclusive beachfront resort.
Spirits were alive and high as travel pros from Canada, the United States and Latin America donned traditional Mexican dresses, feathered hats, flower crowns and skull face paint to activate Karisma’s invite-only event, which, this year, will see more than 400 attendees.
It’s a different climate this year, compared to 2021, now that travel restrictions have been lifted at the Canadian border and beyond.
“I refer to 2021 as the year that everybody was just happy to be here,” said Marilyn Cairo, vice-president of global sales at Premier Worldwide Marketing, referring to last year’s conference at Nickelodeon Hotels and Resorts Riviera Maya.
“2022 is the year everybody had to claw their way back. These are agents that have fought really hard to bring up their numbers, coming out of a recovery year.”
READ MORE: Floating taco bars, savvy Canadian agents & winners at GIVC 2021
Cairo is “immensely proud” of the Canadian agents who were invited to attend this year’s GIVC.
“They had to work a lot harder than U.S. agents due to the strict border and lockdown restrictions they faced,” Cairo, donning full Day of the Dead face paint and regalia, told PAX. “They've got strong production on the books."
In order to earn an invitation to the event, agents need to sell at least 240 room nights – a Diamond Level 2 within the GIVC program – throughout the year, Cairo explained.
A total of six Canadian travel agents are attending this year’s GIVC event.
Overseeing the group is Marisol Calderón, who was named Karisma’s regional sales manager for Canada in February earlier this year.
Calderón, who lives in Playa del Carmen, recently spent her September travelling through Canada to connect with the trade and host seminars in various regions.
“I'm really excited. I'm here to support them,” Calderón told PAX.
Last night’s high-energy gathering at El Dorado Royale was, in some ways, a homecoming for GIVC participants.
The adults-only resort – a sweet spot for weddings, romance and social groups – was the hub for Karisma’s conference for years, until last year when it was moved to the newly-opened and nearby Nickelodeon Riviera Maya, a punchy, SpongeBob SquarePants-inspired, five-star property for families where the popular “Aqua Nick” waterpark is also located.
El Dorado Royale is linked to other Karisma-managed properties in the area, including El Dorado Casitas Royale and Generations Riviera Maya.
“We have four resorts on the same two-mile stretch of beach,” Cairo noted.
This week’s GIVC program includes a main session (happening today) on the main stage at Nickelodeon Riviera Maya, where updates on Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts, El Dorado Spa Resorts, Margaritaville Island Reserve, Generations Hotels & Resorts and Azul Beach properties will be shared.
There’s a lot to talk about. Karisma, for one, is now selling its first Margaritaville Beach Resort Belize, which sites on Ambergris Caye.
The secluded resort is now open for bookings and the doors open in March of 2023.
The adults-only, purpose-built Margaritaville Island Reserve Riviera Maya, which has its own Landshark brewery, is also opening soon (and currently accepting bookings).
PAX, this week, will be participating in site visits, including stops at Margaritaville Island Reserve Riviera Maya and Margaritaville Island Reserve Riviera Cancun.
We’ll also be getting a first-look at Margaritaville St. Somewhere Holbox Island, a boutique EP-plan hotel (that has a meal plan add-on) and the newest property in Karisma’s collection.
Holbox is an island north of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula and getting there is “an adventure,” Fettes said, noting the transfer from Cancun to a ferry sailing and then golf cart ride through town.
Margaritaville St. Somewhere in Holbox, with ocean-facing room categories, has an intimate feel with farm-to-table cuisine.
A bioluminescent bay is within walking distance, there’s whale shark watching tours and a nearby dog shelter, which guests can visit.
“It really connects you to the community versus it being just a resort,” Fettes explained.
This is something Canadians might enjoy because “they’re explorers” and, generally speaking, “they want to go off the beaten path and try something new,” Fettes said.
The holiday season is also fast approaching with special promos, which Karisma will tackle in Canada via Boxing Day, Fettes added.
“We'll have really good momentum overall from an end-of-year approach, with good business set for Q1 and Q2,” she said.
A “record-breaking” year
GIVC 2022 unfolds on the heels of what Marilyn Cairo called a “record-breaking” year.
“We put numbers on the board that we’ve never seen before,” Cairo told PAX.
Next year, the targets will be higher, but the team is going in with 60 per cent of its inventory already on the books, she said.
“Rates are going to continue to go up a little,” Cairo said, “but it’s going to be a game of watching airlines and charters very carefully to make sure we've got our guests on those seats first.”
She said 2023 “will be a very strategic.”
Calderón said this year’s GIVC is “really important” now that Canadians are travelling again, and she’s eager to help agents build their Karisma business.
“We can do it together,” she said.
Stay tuned as PAX brings you more on-location coverage from GIVC 2022 in Mexico.
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