Mary Gostelow heads for Cannes (ILTM and the sumptuous Martinez)

GirlAhead reviews 17th ILTM Cannes and Hotel Martinez

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It’s that time again: ILTM Cannes time. This year (3–6 December 2018) it attracted 1,880 exhibitors from 101 countries, plus 1,816 invited ‘buyers’ – travel advisors from one-person through to billion-dollar companies – from 80 countries.

It could, indeed, well be said that ILTM offers top-end owners and operators the best annual networking opportunity (if Marlene Poynder, GM of The Conrad New York, could only do one show a year, this would be it). The program is specifically timed to allow hosted breakfasts, lunches and evening events; it is the norm to make cameo appearances at perhaps four cocktail parties and then, probably, a seated dinner.

Since the sun shone brilliantly all week, those calling in at events on rooftop terraces saw such hosts as Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Shangri-La Hotel & Resorts and Swire Hotels’ The House Collective retaining guests for at least a few more minutes.

The parties had, in fact, started on Sunday night [2 December]. Swire Hotels’ House Collective held an open house, in a seventh-floor rue d’Antibes apartment they had taken for the week. Clever move – in the gal’s short time there she ran into lots of GMs, Nihi Managing Partner James McBride and Remote Lands’ Co-Founder Catherine Heald (who organises all Aman’s private jet tours).

This may be the 17th annual event but, like travel and tourism in general, the sector of the industry ILTM serves is evolving. “Today’s luxury travellers have done their own research on the web, so our job now is to dig so that our concierges still know more than anyone else”, said Luca Virgilio, MD of The Dorchester Collection’s The Eden Rome. Echoing this, Pierre-Louis Renou, MD of one of Cannes’ base hotels, Majestic-Barrière, already created a second Conciergerie, back of house, to fulfil exact requests made by guests.

The need to stay relevant was echoed everywhere. As part of the evolution, for the first time ILTM’s opening educational Forum, on the Monday afternoon, was themed, for health and wellness. Anna Bjurstam, Wellness Advisor Pegasus Capital Advisors – majority owner of Raison d’Etre spa consultants and also Six Senses Hotels, Resorts & Spas – pointed out that about 25% of travellers are already interested in wellness and latest figures show those choosing a vacation that is wellness-oriented spend an additional 40%.

Another speaker, National Geographic fellow, author and lifespan specialist Dan Buettner, shared details of the world’s five healthiest locations. “At Loma Linda CA, USA, where, despite living right next to a freeway, a Seventh Day Adventist community which devotes one day a week to networking has male life expectancy of 87 (versus the 76-year US norm) and female expectancy is 89, up from the 80-year US average,” he said.

Geoffrey Gelardi with his award, Mary Gostelow, Matthew Upchurch and Alison Gilmore
Geoffrey Gelardi with his award, Mary Gostelow, Matthew Upchurch and Alison Gilmore

Networking at ILTM seems more relevant than ever. As always for the last three years, Alison Gilmore wrapped up the opening Forum with the presentation of this year’s award for contribution to all those involved in luxury travel. The recipient (fortunately among the 3,000 who had managed to squeeze into the auditorium of the theatre venue, Palais des Festivals) was Geoffrey Gelardi, until July this year, 28-year veteran MD of The Lanesborough London. Among those applauding was the initial recipient, after whom the award is permanently named, and the 2017 winner, Virtuoso Chairman Matthew Upchurch, who had brought 349 Virtuoso-accredited advisors to ILTM.

Then followed three days of hard-work 20-minute meetings, culminating in the final night’s let-our-hair-down party, with freeflow Taittainger Champagne and a revolving dance floor at Hotel Martinez, now sumptuously redesigned by Pierre-Yves Rochon as Hollywood-type member of Hyatt’s Unbound Collection.

Hôtel Martinez has been Cannes’ answer to Hollywood since it was opened by Emmanuel Martinez, son of a Sicilian aristocrat, in 1929. He was Chairman of the Société des Grands Hôtels de Cannes and, deciding he wanted his own hotel, converted and expanded what had been the exiled King of Naples’ Villa Marie-Thérèse.

Now coming up to its 90th birthday, it was, to be honest, ready for a massive facelift. It reopened on 5 March 2018 to reveal sumptuous opulence that is absolutely right for the glamour that is associated with the annual Cannes Film Festival, with other events and, well, just being in town any time of the year. You feel special even arriving at the hotel, particularly in the evening when the Croisette main entrance, covered with a nearly-360-degree circular overhead platform, is floodlit for yet another evening extravaganza.

Inside the 409-room hotel, Pierre-Yves Rochon has worked the design magic that he does so brilliantly (think of Four Seasons George V in Paris and, in London, The Savoy). The lobby is now a masterpiece of marvellous off-white marble. Inset to the left is an eco-smart inset gas fire. Look forward to the magnificent oval staircase, 177 steps, now clad with tight-fitting grey-mottled carpet, ground to the top (seventh) floor. Up there, en route to the L Raphael beauty salon and the upgraded 24-hour Technogym with outdoor rooftop patio, you can look down through the stairwell for a beautiful and somewhat Escher-type effect.

I was in front-facing room 325, looking out over the Croisette and the Mediterranean. The room was just as beautiful as the public spaces, with lots more white marble and white paint and shelves over the long wall-set table that bore blue and white sculptures (and white sculpture ‘books’).

There was blue, too, on the bed, in the form of cushions and throw (I was told later that some north-facing rooms are yellow-hued rather than blue). An all-wall window looks from bedroom through to bathroom; you can soak in sweet-smelling Bergamot for Fragonard, especially for the hotel, and look right across the bedroom and living space to the view outside (if you prefer, a modesty panel, silver with lots of fishes, easily slides across the inner window).

Another enhancement is the hotel’s dining. There is still the Michelin-starred La Palme d’Or but what was the ground-set brasserie, opening off the Croisette, is now an evening-only bar, with skilled mixologists and live music. The former bar and sitting area, dark if I remember correctly, led off the lobby; today, this has metamorphosed into a light-and-white Version Originale, with open kitchen. Come here for such simple (and really tasty) dishes as creamy burrata with salad, a Buddha Bowl Caesar or a French-beef grill with your choice of sauce and side.

I would expect many to accompany a meal here with a glass of house champagne, still Taittinger, in honour of the house that owned ‘The Martinez’ for a time. Yes, this is one of the ultimate luxury hotels and you feel like a star – but avoid booking anything May 8–19 2019, as that is when actual Hollywood names are in town for Cannes Film Festival.

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