by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
The Mexican government has always understood the special appeal of Business Tourism or MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, events) for its regionality, seasonality and high yield characteristics. Thus side by side with the mass market leisure resorts in Cancun they encouraged high-end developments so you’ll find amazing 5 star luxury properties there like Ritz Carlton and Fiesta Americana aimed at upscale leisure and MICE.
Part of the Plan
Playa del Carmen is another phase in Mexico’s master plan to create irresistible leisure and business tourism assets on the Yucatan peninsula. Here, however, there’s a more rarefied, exclusive aspect to the developments. The resorts are even named on the official road signs as you approach along the highway from the international airport at Cancun. Like ancient towns and legacy villages along the way, these brand new resorts are themselves journeys-ends, destinations worthy of official wayfinding. The resorts define themselves by their impressive monumental entrances, “Pearly Gates” style edifices that provide a flavor of the eternal all-inclusive delights that await you on the other side.
Paradisus, Playa del Carmen
Delays to the massive Bahamar development on the Bahamas forced SITE, at short notice, to look for an alternative home for the SITE Classic, its annual lifestyle fundraising event. SITE Foundation Trustee and obvious magician, John Iannini, stepped up and delivered Paradisus Playa del Carmen, a super-luxury, all-inclusive beach resort that opened to much acclaim three years ago. Paradisus Playa del Carmen brings more of Melia’s rich hospitality legacy to the Riviera Maya along with exceptional resort design courtesy of Spanish designer, Alvaro Sans, a specialist in hotel architecture. As the setting for an event that brings the entire incentive travel supply chain together, Paradisus lived up to its name offering a truly motivational experience with spacious, beautifully appointed guestrooms, an endless choice of quality restaurants and bars and a local team with a smiling, can-do attitude.
Rain in Mexico
I arrive mid morning off a short flight from Orlando and, to my abject surprise and grave disappointment, find rain to be general over the entire Riviera Maya. Discovering that John Iannini has arranged for me to be accommodated in the Royal Service Wing of La Perla, the adult-only section of Paradisus, quickly disperses the gloom, however, and leaves me feeling warm and sunny. And a bit special. As a Royal Service guest I am given a personal butler who explains the lay of the land (it’s a complex campus), demonstrates how everything works in my room and takes a couple of crumpled shirts from me for ironing. “I could get used to this!”, I think to myself.
Playa del Carmen – and indeed the entire Riviera Maya – has mutated rapidly from a virgin state of dense mangrove plantations and small fishing villages into a high density tourist development of all-inclusive resorts and an urban centre that’s doubling in size every year. Thus the tricky back story to any mega development like Paradisus will always pivot around issues like disruption and displacement of natural eco-systems and on-going sustainability questions around waste management etc. However, Paradisus Playa del Carmen has 8 hectares of green areas of which 3.5 are formal cultivated gardens and the rest natural mangrove and jungle. 80% of the plants used in the formal garden are native. This maintains the carbon dioxide rate at less than 20kg per room, per year.
Constant rain puts paid to my secret plans to spend the day poolside in luxuriant idleness so I work in the spacious grandeur of my guestroom with the patio door open and the air conditioning off. An extremely disappointing summer in Ireland of far too much useless wind and rain leaves a yearning for unadulterated heat. I punctuate my day with visits to Lapalapa and The Grill, two of the 11 on-site restaurants with stellar service and fabulous food. Our first formal gathering is at Gabi Club where Kurt Paben of Aimia, our fearless leader at the SITE Foundation, welcomes us all and promises the SITE Classic will be an event to remember. It’s particularly gratifying to find Sam, Kimbal and the RedButton TV team in attendance and to know that SITE Classic will be socialised and shared and this year, in addition, there will be drones!
Our dinner, hosted by Paradisus at Mole (Contemporary Mexican), is a veritable tour de force showcasing the extent of the hotel’s capabilities to deliver beyond the expectations of fussy and fatigued incentive travel professionals. When you’ve “done that, seen that, worn the tee shirt” as much as any of us at dinner that night it’s hard to be fazed or impressed. But fazed and impressed we are by a creatively planned, beautifully cooked and magnificently served “traditional” repast of 5 courses that included Guacamole with roasted Grasshoppers and Chili Piquin, Shrimp Aguachile Sinaloa style with Habanero Chili and red Onions, along with great entrees.
The SITE Foundation Board of Trustees meetings pivots around deeply satisfying, engaging dialogue around research into the effectiveness of incentive travel and the business case for incentives. It’s truly inspiring to be part of a board that includes corporate buyers, big incentive houses like AIMIA and Maritz and huge brands on the vendor side like Delta Airlines, Melia and Starwood, all dedicated to the advancement of incentive travel as a key means to generate business results.
My work in Playa del Carmen ended with the conclusion of the Board Meeting and a poignant farewell to my great friend and mentor, Jane Schuldt, whose term on the Board comes to an end after 6 fine years of service. Jane will shortly be an inductee on the Convention Industry Council’s Roll of Honour, as fitting an honour as I can think of. She has served the incentive travel industry with supreme dedication for decades, as passionate spokesperson, as prophetic reformer, as visionary leader but, especially, to many of us, as a dear, kind and gentle friend.
Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua. SoolNua works globally with destinations, venues and hotels on strategy, marketing and training for the MICE sector.
Photography courtesy of RedButton.Tv