CARTAGENA, Colombia – Corporate and group travel is growing in Latin America, while leisure travel – especially to high-end resorts – continues to dominate the demand landscape, and developer interest follows these trends.

Luxury, lifestyle, resort and all-inclusive brands have been the top priority for many of the world’s largest brand franchisors as they expand their presence in Latin America.

Hyatt Hotels Corporation’s agreement in 2021 to acquire Apple Leisure Group has been a catalyst for the expansion of these types of hotel brands, particularly in Mexico and the Caribbean, said Camilo Bolaños, senior vice president of development at Hyatt for Latin America and the Caribbean.

During a panel at the recent SAHIC Latin America & The Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Investment Forum, Bolaños said Hyatt is also taking its all-inclusive brands into high-end luxury.

“We’ve been increasingly tweaking the model to increase sophistication and enhance the experience to meet the needs of luxury customers,” Bolaños said, referring to the Secrets brand’s new Impressions sub-brand, which is a more exclusive luxury resort within a resort. The company’s offering debuted last year at Secrets Impression Moxché in Mexico. Another iteration is opening soon in Isla Mujeres, Mexico.

Luxury and lifestyle are also fueling IHG Hotels & Resorts expansion in the region, said Paul Adan, regional senior vice president of development for Latin America and the Caribbean at IHG.

” During the last years, [we’ve used] the philosophies of acquisition and organic growth in luxury and lifestyle around Six Senses, Regent, Vignette Collection and we have seen success with that around the world,” said Adan.

IHG signed last year the first Americas hotel of its Vignette Collection in Mexico, the El Gran Encomendero, which will be a new hotel in Valladolid. The company acquired the Six Senses brand in 2019 and has resorts, including several with residences, planned in Belize, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Grenada.

Adan pointed out that developer interest ultimately drives strong expansion, and that in Latin America that appetite is skewed toward luxury and lifestyle brands that can include branded residences.

“We see a lot of luxury because we can create luxury resorts with branded residences that help fund development and close the deal,” he said.

Luxury and lifestyle also continue to be a focus of Marriott International’s focus in the region, said Bojan Kumer, Marriott’s regional vice president of hotel development for the Caribbean and South America. While Mexico and the Dominican Republic are the company’s primary focus areas in the region, Brazil has been “a big success in recent years,” he said, particularly for luxury and lifestyle.

In 2022, Marriott converted an existing hotel into the JW Marriott Hotel São Paulo and has a Westin Hotel and a W Hotel also under construction in São Paulo. Other recent conversions in the area include the Royalton Riviera Cancun to Marriott’s Autograph Collection, as part of Blue Diamond Resorts’ affiliation with Marriott Bonvoy; and the opening of Sanctuary Cap Cana, an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic, as the first luxury all-inclusive resort to join Marriott’s The Luxury Collection brand.

Higher rates of domestic travel among a growing middle class, along with the return of business and group travel, also make select-service hotels attractive to developers, speakers said.

Hilton in particular has been consistent over the past three years to “create what we call brand effect,” said Juan Corvinos, Hilton’s senior vice president of business development and A&C for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The company’s Tru by Hilton brand is gaining traction in Mexico and Brazil, Corvinos said, and the company continues to expand its loyal Hampton brand throughout the region. Laying that foundation then allowed the company “to bring luxury and all-inclusives to the market where they belong, and that’s been very stable,” he said.

Marriott’s 2022 acquisition of Mexico’s City Express brand will add more than 17,000 rooms to Marriott’s portfolio of select services in the region.

Kumer said the company’s investors and consumers in the region have told Marriott about the need to fill this gap, and the company has listened.

“We buy the brands, not the hotels, and the idea is to develop the franchises not only in Mexico, but in Central America and especially in South America,” he said. “Brazil will most likely be our biggest growth market, followed by Argentina, Peru, Chile and Colombia.”

While the growth of luxury and all-inclusives in the region is “aggressive” for Hyatt, Bolaños said “traditional brands” for businesses and groups such as Hyatt Regency and Grand Hyatt “are still our daily bread.”

He said while the pandemic has halted many developments, most projects haven’t really stopped, and Hyatt has also sparked developer interest in select-service and extended-stay hotels.

Ultimately, Bolaños said projects in the area “are usually driven by owners with a very specific vision of what they want.”

“For us, it’s about finding solutions for each individual owner, their project and how best to approach it in terms of branding and structuring a proposal,” he said.

Adan agreed that there is regional demand to develop brands below the luxury classes – for IHG this includes Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express – but ultimately it’s about “doing projects that have meaningful,” he said.

“We all have a lot of brands and we all want to see them grow, but ultimately what comes in is what makes sense for investors,” he said. “We need to be responsible and guide investors on the parameters of projects that make sense.”

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