In A Class Of Their Own: Velas Resorts Require Specialized Sales Approach

Perfection is an elusive goal, ultimately an impossible one.

But the experience at the AAA 5-Diamond Grand Velas Riviera Maya comes the closest of any among the many dozens of resorts visited by this writer in over 30 years of covering travel and tourism.

Put simply, the Velas experience is next-level and has all the awards and accolades to prove it. It’s an all-inclusive product that can stand with the best EP resorts. That said, selling Velas requires a special skill set.

“Our product is different,” Juan Vela told Open Jaw in an on-resort interview. He’s the VP of Velas Resorts and brother of Eduardo, majority owner, founder and president of the group that operates top-rated resorts on the Riviera Maya and in Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos. “There’s nothing to compare it to. There are no 6-Star or 7-Star classifications. The closest might be if Four Seasons had an all-inclusive concept.”

Four Seasons doesn’t, though – at least not yet -- so it can be quite a challenge for luxury travel advisors to promote a property that can easily cost twice as much as a very good 5-Star all-inclusive.

Selling With Confidence

Alexandra Letellier, Sales & Customer Experience Manager, Laurier du Vallon, Quebec City; Caroline Boily, Groups and Incentives Manager, Laurier du Vallon, Quebec City; Evelyne Mayrand, Co-owner at Club Voyages Orientation, Montreal; Sophie Raymond, Regional Sales Manager, Velas Resorts; Kim Paterson, Vision Travel Calgary; Lynne White, Regional Sales Manager, Velas Resorts.

Caroline Boily, Groups and Incentives Manager for Laurier du Vallon in Quebec City, was honoured during my visit last week as Top Group Producer for Velas Resorts at its first-ever Partner of the Year Awards, the reason for Open Jaw’s return visit to the property.

Boily sent a group of 400 to the Maya property, and another 200 to Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit. She acknowledges it wasn’t an easy sell.

“This is the type of group that would normally go to a Four Seasons or a Fairmont. They had trouble believing an all-inclusive could deliver a similar level of quality. But the groups loved it. They were so impressed and came away saying the service was unique. And since then, several group members have returned for their own vacations.”

Open Jaw Editor-in-Chief Bruce Parkinson (right) with Juan Vela, Vice President of Operations, Velas Resorts.

Velas management is entirely confident in its product and that there’s a solid market for it, but it knows that identifying and convincing the right prospects requires an effort. “We know you know there are people who don’t know us but can be our clients,” Velas told advisors. “We want you to help us find them.”

Part of that search includes changing the direction of the sales team, which in Canada is made up of Sophie Raymond in the eastern part of the country and Lynne White in the west. They have now been tasked with spending 50% of their time working with new agents – many of them home-based luxury specialists.

Do You Drive Drive A Ford Or A Lexus?

Kim Paterson,Vision Travel Calgary with Lynne White, Regional Sales Manager, Velas Resorts.

Kim Paterson, who spent more than half of her 27-year career working with students at TravelCuts, now specializes in high-end adventure FIT and luxury travel for Vision Travel in Calgary. She was one of the Canadian agents honoured at the event, and she admits clients initially balk at the Velas price of admission.

“If I know they can afford it, I have no trouble explaining why it’s worth it. I ask them: ‘Do you drive a Ford or a Lexus?’ and they get it.”

Paterson says the support from Velas is excellent, and her customers return singing the praises of the experience, and telling others. “It’s hard to define exactly what makes Velas so special. It’s a hundred small things that all add up.”

The Special Sauce

Grand Velas Riviera Maya Executive Chef Mario Lopez

On a tour of the resort’s underground kitchens and food prep facilities, Executive Chef Mario Lopez said the most important elements for the property’s celebrated culinary success are, in order: people, ingredients and equipment.

From my perspective, the same could be said for the overall Velas experience. In Mexico, where genuine hospitality is among the best in the world – at any level of accommodation – the staff at Velas truly stand out. Several of them remembered me from a three-night visit two years ago. That’s impressive.

Service at Grand Velas Riviera Maya is intuitive and genuine.

But more amazing is their effortless, intuitive service. You don’t always see them, but they’re there. The moment you put your cutlery down, a plate is whisked away. At restaurants, stools are provided for women’s purses. Go for a run on the expansive property, and you might just be followed by an ATV, with ice-cold water, towels and a protective eye. Most importantly, the staff are uniformly pleasant and proud of their role.

In terms of ingredients, think all-day champagne and top-shelf liquors. Lunchtime meals presented like the main course at a top restaurant. A mini-bar packed with snacks. L’Occitane toiletries, and plenty of them. A beach bag packed with towels and ready to go. Nightly turn-down service leaving little surprises like a vial of lavender-scented pillow mist. A spa hydro-circuit that is nothing short of 90 minutes of heaven. The list goes on.

For The Love Of Food

Just want a bowl of soup for lunch? This is the presentation at The Bistro at Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

For your foodie clients, Grand Velas Riviera Maya offers a celestial journey. My previous experience at Cocina de Autor, a Five-Diamond certified restaurant (in an all-inclusive!), was one of the best dining experiences in a life (and stomach) filled with them.

Cocina de Autor Chef Nahum Velasco (third from right) poses with Canadian visitors and Denys Montes de Oca, Corporate Director of Sales & Marketing, Velas Resorts (centre).

It was closed on the night we had free, but a word to staff and it opened for us. ‘No’ is not a word guests will often hear. And it was just as amazing the second time around – a dozen tiny, perfect courses that reflected superior skill and passion, paired beautifully with quality wines. The other speciality restaurants, featuring Mexican, French, Italian and Asian cuisine, offer similarly elevated experiences.

The stunning view from a Grand Class balcony at Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

On the ‘equipment’ side, my Grand Class suite was 1,000 sq. ft of pure luxury, with a huge jacuzzi inside and a plunge pool on the terrace with a glorious view of the Caribbean sea. The bed was fabulous and the amenities were still being discovered as I packed to depart.

The Luxury Of Enriching Experience

Velas offers food for the soul too. On my previous visit I took a fascinating walking eco-tour led by a staff member who wasn’t hired for that purpose. But management spotted his passion for the area’s flora, fauna and the peoples who have lived on the land for millennia, and encouraged him to share it with guests.

Open Jaw’s Bruce Parkinson with Fernanda Montiel, who led the group in a morning meditation session based on indigenous beliefs. Even the spider monkeys came out to watch.

On this trip, a morning meditation session on the lawn was led by a soul-shining indigenous woman named Fernanda Montiel, and its simple beauty left many participants moved. It’s hard to put a price on experiences like that.

A good travel advisor learns to sell above their own budget and understand and cater to the needs and desires of those with more. The same goes for scribes like me of modest means. I’ve been in luxury places that left me cold, or made me feel like an interloper among the moneyed class. But thanks to the gracious staff and curated pleasures of Grand Velas Riviera Maya, I felt right at home.

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