Boutique Beauties

Collecting some of Mexico’s most unique properties

By: Janeen Christoff

In 1999, John Youden was traveling through Mexico when he discovered a problem. Many small, independent hotels all seemed to have a similar struggle: The cost of running a 20- to 30-room operation was becoming prohibitive, and local hotel associations were not meeting the smaller inns’ specific needs. Youden found that many properties were willing to put the money they were giving to their local hotel associations into a single pool to market themselves as a group. Youden was mulling this situation over when he attended Tianguis in Acapulco in 1998.

“Travel agents began coming up to me and saying ‘these are the type of hotels my clients are looking for, this is the information that I’m looking for,’ ” said Youden.

At the same time, Youden says, small hotel owners were coming up to him saying, “these are the kinds of clients we want to attract.”

“That’s when I realized we had something,” he said.

‘Member’ Properties
From the moment you arrive at a Mexico Boutique Hotel, you know you’ve come to someplace special. Each property is unique from historic haciendas to rustic beach locales to upscale hideaways. Forty-one of these special properties located in 23 Mexican destinations are now united in a special collection known as Mexico Boutique Hotels (MBH).

For six years, founder and director general John Youden has been refining this product and, in 2004, Mexico Boutique Hotels saw its largest growth ever, becoming an influential force in Mexico’s tourism industry.

At the beginning of 2005 six new hotels joined the collection, adding two new destinations to MBH, and the company inked a deal with Puerto Vallarta-based Vallarta Adventures to add scheduled flight service to four properties on the secluded Costalegre, the stretch of coast south of Puerto Vallarta. And, according to Youden, MBH continues to grow by about 20 percent each year, doing nearly $2 million in revenue in 2005.

To add to its success, in December of last year, MBH drew even more recognition with three accolades from readers of Conde Nast Traveler in the magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards. Casa Natalia, in San Jose Del Cabo, earned the number four spot on the magazine’s list of the top 10 Central American/Mexican hotels. Casa de Sierra Nevada Quinta Real, in San Miguel de Allende, was number eight on the list. And readers chose Zihuatanejo’s Villa del Sol as number 10 on the list of the top 15 Mexican resorts.

Currently, MBH is made up of 41 member properties, all hand-selected by a team of hospitality professionals, including Youden and his wife. Properties are chosen for their unique ability to deliver personal service and a home away from home for clients visiting Mexico. They are usually small frequently they have less than 50 rooms.

“We feel that it’s a little difficult to get that personalized service where, from the moment you walk in, you are greeted by name” if the properties have more than 50 rooms, said Youden.

Some hotels are quaint, local hideaways like El Tamarindo, tucked away in the tropical forest of the Costalegre, while others are centrally located Hacienda San Angel overlooks Puerto Vallarta but they all have one thing in common. They are, according to Youden, a destination unto themselves.

“At many of our hotels you can go and not worry about what’s outside. The hotel itself is sufficient,” Youden said. “Our guests are looking for something unique and better than their last vacation. And that’s what we offer.”

Potential hotel members can apply for membership to the organization by filling out a form, but according to Youden, acceptance is based on a feeling. Youden, a photographer, writes down his impressions and uses his camera lens to guide him in his decision about whether or not a property qualifies.

“It isn’t a money thing. You can’t buy membership and we’ve certainly had hotels that have tried you have to earn it,” he said.

Over the years membership has become tougher to obtain. Some borderline hotels have been dropped, but in Youden’s eyes, this has served to improve the collection.

“We had a clean-up in 2004 where we dropped more hotels than we took in and that actually helped us,” said Youden. “After that, we saw that the whole quality of the group was better.”

One-Stop Shopping
MBH really is a one-stop shop for an agent looking to give clients an intimate, one-of-a-kind experience. In fact, a primary goal of the Puerto Vallarta-based organization is to make Mexico and its unique properties and secluded locales more accessible to agents. Member properties enjoy the benefits of a centralized call center, national and international marketing, promotion and reservations to make obtaining information and booking easy and accessible to agents.

One of the most important things for agents to note, according to Sylvie Laitre, director of Mexico Boutique Hotels, is that the organization is not an agency but a group of qualified hotels.

“The hotels that are a part of Mexico Boutique Hotels have qualified to be part of Mexico Boutique Hotels so, no matter what they choose within that, we are really marketing that concept,” said Laitre.

When a property first becomes a member it takes only a short time to process and get them into the system with a GDS number. According to Youden, once paperwork is completed, a property will be accessible to agents within weeks.

Although an illustrated color handbook is available, agents will find everything they need on MBH’s Web site, which is carefully designed for research and planning and provides the most up-to-date information on properties.

The Web site also allows agents to find hotel rates, check availability, find packages and make bookings.

Mexico Boutique Hotels also takes pride in its highly trained reservations staff, which personally visits properties as often as possible. Agents can call and talk to one person who knows 41 boutique hotels in Mexico. According to Youden, you can’t get that anywhere else.

“I think it can be very handy, not only for the public, but for the agents themselves, to have that security,” he said. “We’ve gone out and done the homework.”

Another advantage Mexico Boutique Hotels offers agents is protection. Agents know that if they book a MBH property their commissions are protected. The collection is there to make sure that it’s not just the client that comes away with a positive experience.

“It is also very important that if [the members] are going to be working with agents they take care of [their clients],” said Youden. “We are here to ensure that there will never be a problem.”

Mexico Boutique Hotels is also on hand to maintain a standard of service so that agents know what to expect when they send their clients to one of its hotels. Although the properties may be unique and independent, the level of service will be the same. Hotels are reinspected yearly by staff, and MBH also follows up with guests to find out how they felt about their experience.

“We expect our hotels to give extremely personalized service and attention to detail. And that is what we try to do as well,” said Laitre. “[MBH] is the first experience that the agent or client will have, so we really have to represent what we demand our members do, as well.”

Circuit Tours
One of the most unique ways to enjoy these individual properties is to combine them in one tour. Clients who have more time may want to see more than just one city or region. Mexico Boutique Hotels has devised what they call circuit tours so that agents can easily book clients in multiple hotels and destinations with one phone call.

According to Laitre, the best way for agents to start planning a client’s tour is to send an e-mail to the reservations department. From there, the staff begins researching what is available at the various properties.

“We start proposing different things and working on the file,” said Laitre. “[Circuit tours] become much more complex sales than just making a reservation.”

Hotel staff also assist agents in booking add-ons like water taxis to more remote locations or car rentals for clients who may want to drive through a region.

“We will always find all the resources that they need. Our hotels will help them because they are very personalized,” Laitre said.

Packages can also be tailored to fit a client’s needs. MBH can individualize trips for travelers who want to see multiple regions, or a custom tour can be arranged for clients who have picked out their favorite properties, not just their favorite region.

“It’s not like a package. It’s really a la carte travel,” said Laitre. “They look at what the agent wants or what the client wants and go from there.”

As boutique hotels grow more popular with the baby boomer generation who like to have a unique experience on vacation, one question that comes to mind is expansion. How big can Mexico Boutique Hotels become?

Although the growth of the collection may seem exponential thus far they added six new properties in 2005 alone it is not growth but quality that is important to Youden. Although there is no limit, he believes that, in looking at the current market in Mexico, the collection would likely only expand to about 50 boutique properties.

“What we are really looking for is quality,” Youden said.

Youden added that, for him and his wife, Mexico Boutique Hotels is more of a hobby and a passion.

“The experience is what makes a Mexico Boutique Hotel. It’s not about the revenue,” he said.

His advice on selling these properties: “Agents have to take a look at [their] traveler. Do they want a place where at 10 a.m. there’s going to be an announcement about beach volleyball in the pool? They really have to look at the needs of the guest.”

There may not be beach volleyball or the cookie-cutter comforts of chain resorts, but each MBH property will offer clients a unique experience, a warm welcome and lasting memories.


" Ana y Jose
" Basico
" Casa Cid de Leon
" Casa de los Suenos
" Casa de Sierra Nevada Quinta Real
" Casa del Mar
" Casa Las Brisas
" Casa Natalia
" Condesa DF
" Deseo
" Dona Urraca
" El Careyes
" El Tamarindo
" Habita
" Hacienda de Los Santos
" Hacienda Los Laureles
" Hacienda Puerta Campeche
" Hacienda San Angel
" Hacienda Sepulveda
" Hacienda Xcanatun
" La Casona
" La Mansion de los Suenos
" La Quinta Luna
" Las Alamandas
" Los Juaninos
" Majahuitas
" Meson Dona Paz
" Meson Sacristia de Capuchinas
" Meson Sacristia de la Compania
" Playa Rosa Hotel & Casitas
" Quinta Las Acacias
" Quinta Real Acapulco
" Quinta Real Huatulco
" Quinta Real Zacatecas
" Secreto
" Verana
" Villa del Sol
" Villa Ganz
" Villa Merida
" Villa Montana
" Xaloc

Mexico Boutique Hotels
Timon #1, Marina Vallarta
Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mex. 48354

Commission: 10 percent


Mexico Boutique Hotels offers circuit tours in several different regions. The best way to book circuit tours is by e-mailing the organization:
Below are some examples of itineraries offered by Mexico Boutique Hotels:

Central Pacific
Puerto Vallarta - Costa Careyes - Tamarindo - Isla Navidad
This tour combines the Costa Vallarta area and the Costalegre which links Puerto Vallarta to Barra de Navidad. Seven Mexico Boutique Hotels line the region from Punta Mita to Bara de Navidad.

Bajio Region
Guanajuato - Morelia - P!tzcuaro - San Miguel de Allende - Guadalajara - Queretaro
This tour explores Mexico’s colonial cities in the Bajío, a region that embodies the true character of Mexico showcases the country’s 300 years under Spanish rule.

Yucatan Region
Cancun - Isla Mujeres - Holbox - Merida - Playa del Carmen
This tour includes one of the world’s most popular playgrounds. The area is home to a white-sand beaches, coastal villages, resorts and Mayan ruins and several Mexico Boutique Hotels.