Cristina Buaas, president of Houston-based CSB Travel // © 2016 Cristina Buaas
Feature image (above): Los Cabos, along with the Riviera Maya, are the most popular Mexico destinations among Buaas’ high-end clients. // © 2016 iStock
As a Virtuoso member, Cristina Buaas, president of Houston-based CSB Travel, has a lot of upscale clients who look for the finer things when they vacation. And Mexico is a natural fit with the preferences for this very demanding audience, she says.
“Los Cabos and the Riviera Maya are the most popular destinations, but we also have clients traveling to San Miguel de Allende, Merida, Ixtapa and Puerto Vallarta,” she said, adding that this is proof of the increasingly diverse interests of travelers headed south of the border. “While time on a beautiful beach is important to many clients traveling to Mexico, many are now interested in experiencing the cultural aspects of Mexico, as well — history, art, food, etc.”
One of Mexico’s biggest selling points with luxury travelers, according to Buaas, is the quality of the experience.
“The service level, especially at five-star resorts in Mexico, is very high,” she said. “The destination as a whole is an excellent value for the quality of accommodations, service and cuisine our clients receive.”
This year, Buaas says she has noticed that some types of travel are becoming especially popular with luxury travelers.
“For 2016, in Mexico we’re seeing a mix of romance travel — honeymoons and anniversaries — and milestone birthday celebrations with spouses or significant others, along with family travel,” she said. “We’ve had a few groups of friends traveling in Mexico, as well.”
The increasing desire for “authentic” experiences may be luring some of Buaas’ customers away from self-contained properties.
“While we do have some clients looking for a high-end, all-inclusive resort, many prefer to eat at local, off-property restaurants and do not want an all-inclusive experience,” she said.
According to Buaas, continued growth in the hotel segment has helped increase the destination’s appeal with luxury travelers.
“Rosewood, One&Only, Viceroy, Belmond, Banyan Tree, Grand Velas — along with wonderful independent resorts such as Hotel Esencia and, of course, larger brands like Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Fairmont, Hyatt and Starwood — all have a presence and make an impact on the Mexico hotel scene,” she said.
Whether in Mexico or elsewhere in the world, Buaas says that luxury travelers are, on average, spending more.
“There has been incredible growth in the business,” she said.
She also says that Mexico is an ideal complement to far-off destinations that are more expensive to visit, even for upscale clients who, at first glance, may not seem to be price sensitive.
“A lot of people new to this business are just trying to reel in the big fish all the time, trying to educate themselves on the big, bucket-list destinations,” she said, adding that savvy travel counselors know that the foundation of good business is the ability to recognize client preferences.
In other words, wealthy clients may sometimes travel far and spend a lot, but they’re also likely to take trips to closer destinations such as Mexico — a fact that’s backed up by the range of budgets for Buaas’ clients.
“We do plenty of $5,000 trips, as well as $20,000 trips,” she said, noting that her clients may be millennials booking luxury honeymoons or families planning multigenerational vacations — all of which are ideal fits for Mexico.
And Buaas isn’t the only travel agent noticing great interest in Mexico as a luxury travel hot spot, according to two recent surveys. This year, the destination showed up on three top-five lists in the 2016 Virtuoso Luxe Report, ranking as the second most popular family destination; the fourth most popular global destination; and the fifth most popular honeymoon destination. In addition, Travel Leaders Group’s luxury travel survey reported that Mexico was the second most popular luxury travel destination in North America, following only Caribbean cruises.
All of this bodes well for travel agencies looking to sell more Mexico to upscale travelers.
“There are so many new brands and resorts opening in the Riviera Maya and Los Cabos alone,” Buaas said. “It is a very exciting time for Mexico.”