What was ILTM 2019 really like?

Many might answer differently but I would say for all those involved in luxury travel, especially the hospitality side of it, it is UNAVOIDABLE. Everyone who truly is anyone was in Cannes, 2-5 December 2019. Just as with Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas every August, the mother-ship International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) is a must fixture in top agendas.

This year there were, admittedly, a few hurdles. The weather right up to the start was appalling, soaking some stalwarts and leaving others stranded, unable to get cabs. And the feared-and-promised French national strike caused some to leave Cannes early, and others saw departures delayed. Another hiccup was that J.W. Marriott is closed for botox, which put pressure on beds, and Marriott’s top brand leader Tina Edmundson had to hold meetings in La Californie brasserie. But, like any good race, hurdles are there to be overcome…

The positives were overwhelming. The opening Global Forum, introduced by ILTM Portfolio Director Alison Gilmore, was the best-ever, with incredibly relevant presentations by zany Swedish economist, Dr Kjell Nordstöm, Wunderman Thompson global chairman Tamara Ingram OBE and Canyon Ranch top medic Dr Richard Carmona, the 17th Surgeon General of the USA.

Thereafter followed three days of computer-generated meetings between 1,884 exhibitors from 96 countries and 1,848 buyers from 76 countries. These buyers (travel advisors) meet with the products (exhibitors) that interest them, and vice versa. Pre-meetings, during the lunch breaks and all evening long the buyers are entertained until the heels of their Louboutins fall off. Yes, the sensible, who know the form, wear sneakers, as long as they are Gucci or similarly stylish. And many, too, discovered The Retreat, a relaxation area to unwind, and/or have a quick treatment – Alison Gilmore, who conceived The Retreat, had her business office there.

The parties are legendary. Just to give a tasting of the flavour, Leading Hotels of the World and Travel+Leisure hosted breakfasts in Majestic-Barrière’s glass-sided year-round Beach Club. One of the most worthwhile lunches was Kempinski’s designer-canapé affair atop Five Seas Hotel. Evening events ranged from Aman and Jumeirah super-yacht venues, to Lungarno in the Ferragamo boutique, and Le Cheval Blanc, aided by a roving jazz band, inviting guests to fill named string bags with delectable edibles from all the brand’s ‘maisons’, including Paris. Later-night events included an IHG supper, with a short and entirely useful panel on challenges making sustainability work.

My record, one evening, was four cocktails (parties, not drinks), one supper and one post-prandial party. When it was all over I was like a zombie for 24 hours but it was worth every iota of adrenalin used. I was also so personally proud that the Gostelow Award was presented, by ILTM, to Valerie Wilson, of that eponymous agency – who better to follow last year’s recipient, Geoffrey Gelardi, and his predecessor, Virtuoso Chairman Matthew Upchurch? And to illustrate the importance of ILTM, he, Matthew Upchurch, stayed the entire show… ..

My tip: make sure ILTM Cannes is in your diary now – it is 7-10 December 2020. http://www.iltm.com

Mary Gostelow

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