Tuesday,  December 10, 2019  6:47 am

PAX On Location: Canadian agents honoured at Grand Velas Riviera Maya


PAX On Location: Canadian agents honoured at Grand Velas Riviera Maya
From left: Alexandra Letellier & Caroline Boily, Laurier du Vallon; Evelyne Mayrand, Club Voyages Orientation; Sophie Raymond, Velas Resorts; Kim Paterson, Vision Travel Calgary; Lynne White, Velas Resorts.
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

It was a meeting of the travel minds...on the beach and in the Mayan jungle.  

Top-tier travel advisors from Canada and the United States gathered at Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, this past weekend (Nov. 8-10) for a “Partner of the Year” retreat hosted by Velas Resorts.

The luxurious weekend, which was organized to reward travel advisors who have supported the Velas Resorts brand over the past year, was the first of its kind, Sophie Raymond, regional sales manager for Canada at Velas Resorts, told PAX, which covered the event on location.

“We wanted to celebrate our travel advisors who have not only supported us with their bookings, but who have also been a partner by promoting us,” Raymond told PAX. “We wanted to celebrate and honour them.”

Sophie Raymond, regional sales manager for Canada at Velas Resorts, photographed on the beach at Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico.

Welcoming nearly two dozen, luxury-focused travel agents, who were allowed to bring a guest, the Mexican getaway treated attendees to an ultra-luxe, all-inclusive experience that pampered the senses.

Following a Friday morning site inspection of Grand Velas Riviera Maya, a 205-acre property that is divided into three magnificent sections – the oceanfront Grand Class and Ambassador quarters, and Zen Grand, a lavish escape tucked away in the jungle – attendees were ushered into the Zen Grand Garden for a Masterchef-inspired luncheon, where they raced to create their own guacamole dips using ingredients native to Mexican cuisine.

DIVE IN. Poolside at the family-friendly Ambassador section of Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico.

Succulent pork and lamb tortillas (which the Velas culinary team smoked for eight hours underground) were also served while a mariachi band serenaded the masses.

It was all in tribute to Mexico’s 16 denominations of origin, which denote specific locations within the country as the source of traditional ingredients, such as cacao from Tabasco or chile habanero from the Yucatan.

The Zen Garden was transformed, again, on Saturday as agents gathered for a morning mediation session (which was, hilariously, briefly interrupted by a pair curious monkeys who’d emerged from the neighbouring jungle to watch us).

REFLECTION. Travel agents participate in a morning meditation session in the Zen Garden at Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico.

“You have to live it to believe it”

Velas Resorts, a family-run business, is a collection of six luxury properties in Mexico that boast Michelin-starred chefs, award-winning spas, personal concierge services, amongst other eye-popping amenities.

Most resorts in the Velas portfolio are all-inclusive – this being Grand Velas Los Cabos, Grand Velas Riviera Maya, Velas Vallarta, Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit and Casa Velas.

Velas Resorts’ newest addition, Mar del Cabo on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, which opened in late 2018, is the chain’s first and only resort to offer a European Plan.

Collectively, the exceptionally well-maintained properties have earned more than 52 AAA Diamonds, including the prestigious Five Diamond Award.

“We’re beyond the mass market all-inclusives,” Raymond told PAX. “We have four and five Diamond restaurants, our suites start at 1,000 square feet...in Los Cabos, [for example], we have a two Michelin star-rated chef.”

The bottom line: “When agents send their clients, they know we’ll take care of them,” Raymond said.

SOAK UP THE SUN. Grand Velas Riviera Maya is surrounded by cenotes, mangroves and 1,600 feet of sargassum-free beachfront.

Grand Velas Riviera Maya is surrounded by cenotes, preserved mangroves and 1,600 feet of sargassum-free beachfront. The property is family friendly (however, adults-only sections are available, such as the Grand Class pool area).

All weekend, agents indulged in the amenities that make the property grand, such as its personalized concierge service (which spans across the suites, poolside and beach areas), premium restaurants and feel-good spa treatments.

GARDENS GALORE. Flower-filled balconies grave the oceanfront Ambassador section at Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

After all, experiencing a Velas property, first-hand, is key to the company’s trade strategy.  

“You have to live it to believe it,” Mr. Juan Vela Ruiz, vice-president of Velas Resorts, told PAX. “[Travel agents] are the number one factor around credibility when it comes to getting new clients. I need somebody who can talk to clients and say, ‘This is true. I’ve been there. I know it.’”

THE VELAS LIFE: “You have to live it to believe it,” said Mr. Juan Vela Ruiz, vice-president of Velas Resorts.

Investing in true partnerships

Mr. Vela himself joined advisors at a Saturday morning “Rise and Brain Session” to not only meet his top producers, but to also listen to feedback, answer questions, and ask questions of his own.

It’s not every day the name behind a leading luxury resort chain meets with travel agents one-on-one, and it was an opportunity agents, that weekend, jumped at without hesitation.

BRAINSTORM. Mr. Vela joined agents at a “Rise and Brain Session” on the Chaka Terrace in the Zen Grand section.

“The word ‘partnership’ is truly a real word for him,” Raymond said of Mr. Vela’s relationship with the travel trade. “Not only will he listen to travel advisors, but he will also take all feedback into consideration.”

Beyond rallying his top sellers in Mexico, Mr. Vela also visits travel agents during the year in their respective regions – Canada included, as PAX witnessed, exclusively, earlier this year. 

“He wants to be close to them,” said Raymond. “It’s very important to us.”

READ MORE: Unearthing the best of Mexico with Juan Vela Ruiz of Velas Resorts

At Saturday’s night’s white-dress, bo-ho chic gala on the beach, Mr. Vela congratulated Canadian travel agent Caroline Boily, a groups and incentives manager at Voyages Laurier du Vallon based in Quebec, who won the award for being Velas Resorts’ top groups producer.

GALA TIME. Travel agents joined regional and general managers from Velas Resorts on the beach for a

Boily successfully booked more than 1,500 room nights at Velas Resorts last year alone, PAX learned.

“It’s really an honour to be recognized by Velas,” an elated Boily told PAX. “Sophie and the team always make every effort to help us make all of our requests come to life!”

Boily also thanked her “amazing team” for their hard work. “Their dedication to making every event exceptional is ultimately why we’re having great success in this business.”

From left: Caroline Boily, groups and incentives manager, Voyages Laurier du Vallon; Evelyne Mayrand, co-owner, Club Voyages Orientation; Juan Vela Ruiz, vice-president, Velas Resorts; Sophie Raymond, regional sales manager, Canada, Velas Resorts.

“I can trust them”

A positive working relationship is what Evelyne Mayrand, co-owner of Club Voyages Orientation, a boutique concierge travel agency also based in Quebec, appreciates about the Velas brand.

“I know I can trust them,” said Mayrand, who was also invited to the partner appreciation retreat. “I know they’re going to deliver the final product to our customer. Most importantly, if a trip doesn’t go well or exactly as planned, they’ll work with me to find a solution.”

It was that synergy that helped Mayrand secure a spectacular group booking recently – a four-day culinary excursion out of Grand Velas Los Cabos that included a luxury yacht sailing and private flight (aboard Mr. Vela’s own personal jet, no less) to Valle de Guadalupe, where 13 guests toured local vineyards and enjoyed exclusive wine and food tastings.

From left: Alexandra Letellier, sales & customer experience manager, Laurier du Vallon; Caroline Boily, groups & incentives manager, Laurier du Vallon; Sophie Raymond, regional sales manager, Canada, Velas Resorts; Denys Montes de Oca, corporate director sales & marketing, Velas Resorts; Chef Nahum Velasco, Cocina de Autor, Grand Velas Riviera Maya; Evelyne Mayrand, co-owner, Club Voyages Orientation; Daniel Viau

“These experiences can be created because working with Velas Resorts is like belonging to a big family,” said Mayrand, who, notably, became the first (and is still the only) travel advisor to sell that aforementioned excursion.

Curating unparalleled experiences, combined with keeping resorts up-to-date with new offerings, is a company priority, Mr. Vela stressed.  

PAX’s own experience at Grand Velas Riviera Maya was rich with many wow-worthy moments: from when my personal concierge, upon request, unpacked my luggage and neatly hung and folded my clothes inside a spacious walk-in closet, to dinner at the AAA Five Diamond Award-winning restaurant, Cocina de Autor, which served a parade of artfully-created tasting dishes, from prawn, smoked cream and honeydew mole to lamb with honey and masala chai.

POOLSIDE. Creating experiences, combined with keeping resorts up-to-date with new offerings, is a company priority, Mr. Vela stressed.

Above all, everyone, from the reception and wait staff to the culinary and spa teams, was routinely one step ahead of guests – a rare type of concierge-level service that was consistent across the entire property.

“Investing in experiences means everything," as Mr. Vela said. "It’s our DNA.”

Want to learn more about Velas Resorts? Enroll in the company’s online training program for travel agents, Velas Experts, by clicking here!  

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