At the 17th annual MLT University recently held in St. Paul, MN, MLT Vacations announced a partnership with the Globus family of products that would allow the operator to get its feet wet in South America offerings. With an already expanding Central American portfolio, the new partnership makes MLT Vacations a go-to option for agents looking to sell all things Latin American. Travel Agent takes a closer look at where the MLT’s Central and South American Vacations stand at the moment.
South American Breakthrough
The South American offerings are a brand-new venture for MLT and the focus is mostly on the Globus family of brands (Globus, Cosmos, Monograms and Avalon Waterways).
These encompass escorted and independent tour products, with just a handful of hotel properties currently on board. But we are told this is just the tip of the iceberg as more announcements could be on the way soon.
MLT unveiled three South American destinations in September: Argentina, Brazil and Peru. The choices of hotels in these countries include Best Western, Choice Hotels, Marriott and Starwood Hotels & Resorts and airports in Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
And next year, the company’s capacity in these destinations will increase with the addition of United Airlines seats, following another new partnership to manage United Vacations.
Currently, the company’s most reliable product in South America are Legacy of the Incas, a 10-day tour focused on Peru, and the South America Sampler, a 12-day tour through Peru, Argentina, Brazil and the Amazon, along with a stop at Iguazu Falls.
MLT has also developed an array of Monograms tours in South America for 2011. These allow for endless combinations of various destinations to fit anyone’s schedule. “Most of our customers who travel to South America are experienced travelers, yet they want the convenience of getting around the continent to see the top sights like Iguazu Falls, the Amazon jungle, the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu,” says Brian Hegarty, MLT’s senior director, product development, Mexico, Caribbean and Latin America. “Our escorted programs in partnership with the Globus family of brands offer dozens of itinerary options to connect these destinations in one easy itinerary.”
MLT’s Grip on Central America
Although MLT is new to South America, its Central America product is very competitive and robust. In fact, the company continues to see strong demand for Costa Rica, Belize, Roatan, Guatemala and Panama. It was only last year that the company introduced several of these destinations to its program, which then featured only Costa Rica.
The official launch of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama was on September 29, 2009. These four destinations are known for their multi-day tours throughout the country apart from just the shorter day tours.
The company’s program in Guatemala has roped in six properties between Guatemala City and Antigua, with the majority of them being in Antigua. MLT works with only one chain property in Guatemala, the Barceló Guatemala City hotel. Antigua’s Hotel Casa Santo Domingo could be another popular MLT option. Originally built as a monastery in 1495, it lives on today as a luxurious hotel.
MLT’s Guatemala program includes day tours and multi-day tours similar to Belize and Panama. However, for Guatemala, there are also shorter-stay, multi-day tours, including the one-night/two-day Guatemala Weekend Tour, the two-night/three-day Maya Highland Tour along with its longest, the seven-night/eight-day Land of Eternal Spring tour that comes with visits to the ruins of Tikal, Guatemalan markets, colonial villages and villages surrounding Lake Atitlan.
MLT’s Belize sales have been increasing steadily over the past year and hold promise for the future. Its program covers 14 hotels at the moment but a new property is being added for travel in 2011 to the Ambergris Caye region. The program has been expanded to include areas such as Ambergris Caye, Placencia, Belize City, San Ignacio and the Cayo District. The hotels in Belize are smaller, with a more boutique feel, and none of them are part of a chain.
In addition, Belize has several dive options through Discovery Expeditions and tours from Ambergris Caye properties as well as day tours from mainland Belize. The program has a six-night Belize Adventure Tour featuring popular areas such as Mayan ruins of Caracol, underground caves and rainforests as well as activities like ziplining, cave tubing, and snorkeling in Ambergris Caye. Unique touch: Guests can opt for either a golf cart or boat for the company’s transfers to hotels in Ambergris Caye.
While Costa Rica has long been the most popular destination in Latin America, the last two years have especially seen significant growth. Historically served only with intermittent, seasonal Northwest Airlines’ service to Liberia, the country has figured in the MLT Vacations portfolio for several years. Now, it sells under both the Delta Vacations and Continental Airlines Vacations brands, each with year-round service.
MLT works with 21 hotels in various locations in Costa Rica with brands such as Riu Hotels & Resorts, Barceló Hotels & Resorts, Occidental Hotels & Resorts, Sol Meliá, JW Marriott Hotels, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Hilton Hotels. In March 2009, it expanded its program to cover such areas as Mount Arenal, Monteverde, Puntarenas and Jaco. The hotels in Monteverde and Mount Arenal are boutique, mountain-style lodges. Previously, MLT offered only a few hotels in Guanacaste and San Jose.
Like Belize, Costa Rica also has a dive program through TAM Tours. MLT’s new partnership with Globus has enabled two escorted tours throughout the country which opened for sale on September 1. MLT’s most popular tours in Costa Rica are the Mount Arenal tour, canopy tours and white-water rafting tours.
MLT launched its Panama, and Honduras and Roatan programs in October 2009. Although its sales to both Panama and Roatan have been small so far, it has opportunities for growth as it continues to extend its reach over flights to both destinations. “For the traveler who has explored the top tourist destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean, Central America offers the next frontier in tourism development,” says Hegarty. “Places like Costa Rica, Belize and Roatan offer experiences comparable to what you would find in Mexico 20-30 years ago in terms of value, culture and adventure—without the commercialization.”
Argentina is one of three new MLT destinations in South America; pictured here is the Moreno Glacier.