The New Mandarin Oriental

Generally known for its informal style of hospitality, the Riviera Maya, a tourism corridor that stretches for 100 miles along the Caribbean coast, from south of Cancun to the Maya ruins of Tulum, is rapidly turning into an upscale destination. Following a wave of "luxury all-inclusive" that have opened during the past 10 years, this lovely region bordered by the Caribbean Sea, is ready to target the high-end U.S. market with a number of exclusive international chains poised to open high quality EP resorts.  A breezy bedroom of the Mandarin Oriental Riviera Maya

Of note is a new Mandarin Oriental that's scheduled to open early 2007 in a 36-acre environment that combines jungle and water, 30 minutes from the CancunInternationalAirport and close to the town of Playadel Carmen's shopping venues and ferry station to Cozumel. The resort fronts a pristine beach of emerald blue waters, which is protected by the second largest reef in the world. It also overlooks a fresh water lagoon fed by streams spewed from underground rivers.

An impressive cenote, a freshwater reservoir also filled from subterranean sources, dominates the center of the resort. In addition, there's a protected mangrove forest that runs along this coast, lending more enchantment to the property, which sits just outside Mayakoba, said to be the first planned tourism development in Mexico.

The Mandarin spreads out in 128 huge villas, offering an exceptional view of the sea, the lagoon or the cenote. Each villa features its own private terrace or garden, some enhanced with their own individual plunge pools and all with secluded garden bathrooms. Native woods and stone decorate exquisite interiors in a blend of Maya and Asian styles with much attention to detail. Twenty Cenote villas offer the best view of the sunset. Paddling in canoes through the property's waterways, including the secluded canals that wind through the mangrove forest, is an added attraction.

The resort's freshwater lagoon

The resort's villas and spa are almost completed and ready for travel agents to get an idea of what the property will offer (all can be booked through GDS). "In addition, plans are so well designed, agents can already gauge how the product will appeal to their clients," says Alan Love (alove@mohg.com; call 818-483-0938), director of sales and marketing for the Mandarin. He also notes the hotel plans to work with upscale travel agents such as Virtuoso, American Express and Signature. Patrick-Dennis Finet (patrickf@mohg.com; call 011-52-984-206-4000) is general manager and can take care of your VIP clients.

Love recommends the 3,500 square-foot Presidential Villa with two master suites as the best choice. "It sits right on the beach and is ideal for families," he says. "It also comes with full kitchen and private butler service."

Five one-bedroom villas also face the beach. Most remarkable, however, are 16 "palafito" villas split into two level structures that sit on stilts on the lagoon. Eight in the lower level have a boardwalk embarcadero (or dock) and eight, built on a second floor, present a roof terrace or sun deck. Villa prices start at $600 per night.

The 25,000-square-foot Mandarin Spa, adjacent to the cenote, will offer a variety of water-based therapies, complemented by a specially designed health oriented cuisine. Spa treatments and ambiance are set to reflect aspects of Maya philosophy, mixed with Asian rituals that stimulate mind and spirit. Guests will be guided in their spa choices by an expert team educated in wellness and dedicated to serving the individual needs of each client. The Mandarin Oriental will operate the spa, but a director is still to be appointed.

Food and beverage highlights are a Beach-Front Restaurant and Bar offering panoramic ocean views with both indoor and outdoor dining options; the Mandarin Oriental Signature Restaurant, offering innovative international cuisine with sophisticated Mexican accents and views of the lagoon and cenote; Spa Café, open daily for guests seeking healthy fare; and the Lobby Lounge.

In addition, the hotel has three pools, a fully equipped gym and meeting facilities for small groups, and incentive travel events. Six courtyards feature valuable sculptures created by Mexican artists.

Guests will also have access to two 18-hole championship golf courses, located within five miles from the resort. Three swimming pools will front the ocean, spa and cenote, in addition to stretches of sandy white beaches also await guests.

The clear ocean waters are fringed with abundant coral reefs alive with colorful fish, offering ideal conditions for those who snorkel and dive, while the mystery of Maya ruins are within easy reach from the resort for your clients to explore and compare this ancient culture with its descendants living along many small towns in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Plans are to assign a leisure travel sales director that will most likely be based in New York, Love says. Other Mandarin Oriental properties are scheduled to open in Boston (2007), Chicago (2009), Grand Cayman (2008 and Las Vegas (2009).

Reservations: 800-526-6566; web site: www.mandarinoriental.com