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.
Karisma Hotel and Resorts’ 15th annual Gourmet Inclusive Vacation Consultant (GIVC) conference came to a dazzling close Tuesday night (Nov. 1) in the ballroom of El Dorado Royale in Mexico’s Riviera Maya with an opulent chandelier and minilight-illuminated awards dinner, which recognized the brand’s top travel agent producers.
A handful of esteemed Canadian travel advisors and entrepreneurs were called to the stage for their sales achievements.
The night’s winners included DestaWed’s Aiksimar Singh, who received the award for top growth in Canada. Singh was also celebrated for being a top 10 producer in selling Generations Resorts.
Suri Pillai’s company, Wed in Destination, made Karisma’s top 10 list for selling Azul Beach Resorts. It also achieved Karisma’s “Diamond Level 2” status, which is reserved for those who sell at least 240 room nights (which is also the qualifier for attending GIVC).
Travel advisor Brenda Moran of Tripcentral.ca was recognized for being a top seller of Nickelodeon Hotels and Resorts by Karisma. Moran, too, achieved “Diamond Level 2” status.
Karisma returns to Canada
The uplifting evening capped off an exciting three days of property updates, site visits, meetings, parties and breaking news – this, notably, relating to Karisma announcing plans to invest in Canada once again with an on-the-ground sales team.
Karisma pulled out of Canada in 2019, eliminating two BDM positions that covered territories in Quebec and the Maritimes and Western Canada.
Operations were, in turn, streamlined through Premier Worldwide Marketing, the exclusive worldwide representatives for Karisma.
Nearly three years and one global pandemic later, the brand is back with a commitment to restore face-to-face business with Canadian travel agents and grow relationships on a local level.
Frank Maduro, president of Premier Worldwide Marketing, told PAX on Monday (Oct. 31) that Karisma will hire two business development managers in Canada – locations TBA – “as soon as we find them.”
READ MORE: “Travel is back”: GIVC 2022 kicks off in Mexico with Day of the Dead bash
“We're here to make a commitment to investments in [Canada] because we realize how important it is,” said Maduro, who joined the team in June after a 12-year tenure at AIC Hotel Group as vice-president of marketing.
The yet-to-be-named BDMs in Canada will work alongside Karisma’s current regional sales manager for Canada, Playa del Carmen-based Marisol Calderón, who joined the company in February this year.
The news was shared as Karisma’s sales out of Canada – which, like all resorts, have slumped in recent years due to the strict travel and border restrictions Canadians faced during COVID – return to healthy levels.
In her opening remarks this week, Marilyn Cairo, vice-president of global sales at Premier Worldwide Marketing, said 2022 was Karisma’s “biggest year ever” with Canadian tour operators.
READ MORE: Karisma outlines plan to reinvest in Canada, will hire two regional BDMs
Speaking to PAX on Sunday (Oct. 30), when a Day of the Dead welcome party was held, Cairo said she was “immensely proud” of the Canadian agents who made the list to attend this year’s GIVC.
“They had to work a lot harder than U.S. agents due to the strict border and lockdown restrictions they faced,” said Cairo. “They've got strong production on the books."
Just six travel advisors from Canada attended this year’s GIVC conference, which welcomed roughly 400 travel pros from the United States and Latin America as well.
In addition to learning about modernization and expansion plans at Karisma’s “gourmet-inclusive” hotels, agents were also treated to high-production events, including a “Halloween Horror” costume party Monday night (Oct. 31) at El Dorado Maroma, an intimate, adults-only, all-inclusive resort.
Guests also shared moments with Sra. Dolores Lopez Lira and Sr. Jose Luis Martinez, the highly-respected founders of Mexico-based Grupo Lomas, which owns several properties in Karisma's portfolio.
Not just hotel rooms
Sharing takeaways from this year’s GIVC, Ontario-based Clara Power and Power Travel expressed her delight over Karisma’s decision to restore BDM support in Canada.
Power was also excited to learn more about the brand’s product enhancement strategy.
“They’re keeping legacy brands [like El Dorado Resorts], but evolving them to meet today's demands,” she said.
She appreciates Karisma’s focus on developing experiences – as opposed to just hotel rooms.
One of the newest offerings is at El Dorado Seaside Suites, where guests can discover “Balam,” a Mayan experience that includes a blessing and cleansing ceremony, as well as a gastronomical experience, told through storytelling.
“The brand, especially in Mexico, is staying true to its Mexican heritage, which is really important,” said Power, whose business, as of late, has picked up so quickly, she’s had to hire two more people to keep up with the demand.
Karisma’s evolution of its all-inclusive Margaritaville Island Reserve and Nickelodeon resorts – two brands with immense influence in the market – is also “very exciting,” Power said.
Karisma, for one, is now selling its first Margaritaville Beach Resort on Ambergris Caye in Belize (set to open in March 2023).
There’s also the adults-only, purpose-built Margaritaville Island Reserve Riviera Maya, which will have its own Landshark brewery. It’s also on sale now and opening soon.
READ MORE: Good vibes at Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana, where everybody has a “license to chill”
PAX took a hardhat tour of this resort, which is still under construction. It’s not quite ready yet for pictures, but its ocean-facing main pool (among many other amenities) will likely be a hit.
We also toured Margaritaville Island Reserve Riviera Cancun, where palm tree-laden pathways, margarita-infused popsicles, Instagram-worthy activations (like a margarita-blending bicycle) and tropically-decorated rooms offer everyone a license to chill.
The all-new Margaritaville St. Somewhere Holbox Island is also now open. This is a boutique EP-plan hotel (that has a meal plan add-on) on a small island north of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.
And since opening last year, the luxurious all-inclusive Margaritaville Island Reserve Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic has brought the “it’s 5 o'clock somewhere” message to ultra-luxe Juanillo Beach.
The big news at this property, which PAX visited last year, is that it now has separate sections for families (“Wave”) and adults (“Hammock”).
SpongeBob lives here
Full of punchy colours and nostalgia, Nickelodeon Hotels and Resorts Riviera Maya opened last year.
The brand's first all oceanfront swim-up suite resort, the upscale, 280-suite property is a nod to all things fun and Nickelodeon, including character experiences (watch for sightings of SpongeBob SquarePants and his buddy Patrick Star) and 90s elements that both kid and adults will love.
Every 581-square-foot room accommodates families of five, complete with two full bathrooms and views of the Caribbean Sea from an oversized balcony, which has access to an infinity plunge pool.
There’s also three specialty suites, including the two-bedroom Big Kahuna Suite, which has custom pieces, such as a sideboard inspired by the signature purple glasses of Chuckie from Rugrats.
The Lair Suite is a rooftop penthouse paying homage to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that can accommodate up to seven guests.
And the Pineapple Suite, which is also featured at the inaugural Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts property in Punta Cana, is the resort's signature dwelling.
The nearby Aqua Nick waterpark, an award-winning six-acre attraction, has fun Nickelodeon-inspired experiences, like “slimings,” 20 waterslides and a sprawling lazy river.
One thing to look out for at the Nickelodeon property in Punta Cana, in particular, are renovations that will extend the hotel’s appeal to multi-generational audiences.
Immersive hotel experiences like this are “really going to make the difference” in Karisma’s performance in the marketplace, Suri Pillai told PAX.
“They’re reinventing the traditional all-inclusive,” said Pillai, adding that his destination wedding business is currently “off the charts.”
Pillai also applauded Karisma’s decision to invest more in Canada.
“They're making the right decision,” he said, noting the high demand for all-inclusive vacations across the country. “They’ll reap the benefits in a very big way.”
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