Original article appeared in Mansion Global.
Luxury beachfront lodging and residences should put local culture and nature front and center, says Borja Escalada of RLH Properties
Mexico is riding the wave of branded residences, or turnkey units with all the amenities and marketing of a famed hotel chain. As the CEO of RLH Properties, Mexico City-based Borja Escalada, 42, oversees the city’s Four Seasons along with lodging and residential properties on both of Mexico’s coasts and in Madrid.
Mr. Escalada is putting his spin on branded residences in an ultra-luxury development called One&Only Mandarina Private Homes, located in a rainforest landscape overlooking the Pacific Ocean about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, or a three-hour flight from Los Angeles.
Studio Rick Joy architects, the team behind the exclusive Amangiri Resort and Spa getaway in Utah, designed Mandarina with a similar ethos: One of seclusion and the utmost in luxury design. The 55 low-density villas blend into the surrounding jungle flora and the Sierra del Vallejo mountains. Pricing for the private homes at Mandarina range from $4.4 million to $16.25 million.
On Mexico’s east coast, 30 miles north of Cancun, RLH Properties also owns Mayakoba, a resort collection made up of lodging, villas, condos and fractional real estate. It’s a departure from Mandarina’s ultra-luxury hideaways. Regardless, buyers can expect turnkey units and concierge service.
Originally from Madrid, Mr. Escalada recently opened Rosewood Villa Magna, a boutique hotel with 154 rooms, including 53 suites, there. Mansion Global chatted with Mr. Escalada about prioritizing local culture in luxury travel and real estate in Mexico.
Mansion Global: What’s the luxury market like in Mexico right now?
Borja Escalada: In the Riviera Nayarit, Riviera Maya and worldwide, the luxury market is being developed wider and wider as a consequence of many things. Even before Covid, new generations were spending much more money on experiences and owning real estate. This means that for all these experiences, the luxury market satisfies the demand. Covid has accelerated part of this new environment in which older generations—which have been typically more focused on having things—are finding that memories are what we have the most appreciation for.
MG: What does this mean for companies like yours in the real estate and travel industries?
BE: The focus is to become more specialized and answer the real demands over offering luxury for luxury’s sake. Usually, the luxury market creates new needs, whereas now it’s more focused on answering needs.
MG: Let’s talk about your vision to develop areas with varying levels of density. At your east coast resort, Mayakoba, what went into the decision to split up the residences into villas, condos and fractional real estate?
BE: One of the most important things is to create community. In order to create a sense of community, we have to offer different products that appeal to a variety of people’s needs. There are those who want to own a standalone villa, along with many other things including the maintenance of the villa, while others would prefer to have a condo, and perhaps a very large condo. Having those products will give us a larger and broader community, which creates a satisfying sense of residency.
MG: How important are these luxury developments for the region?
BE: When you consider Mandarina, for example, we will have around 100 new residences, which means we’ll generate a huge amount of employment, both direct during construction and indirect during full operation. Many people will be spending holidays there, and the economic impact will be significant. In the city where Mandarina is, El Monteón, which is not a big city at all, those 100 new residences will be contributing taxes.
MG: Where do you draw inspiration as a developer?
BE: I’ve been inspired to build on what similar communities to ours have been doing. Punta Mita is very popular in Mexico, and they’ve been able to build a community, but one that we think is too large. You can also think of Kasiiya Papagayo in Costa Rica, or La Romana or Punta Cana [resort areas in the Dominican Republic]. But, these are too large. They are not as exclusive as what we are planning to do. In the end, we want to have a community very well connected to the destination and very respectful of the environment. We want to create a home for our homeowners.
MG: How can developers build homes that are respectful of the natural environment?
BE: Mandarina is about 265 hectares with two hotels totaling 245 rooms, more or less, and 100 residences. The density is very, very low. All our residences are in connection with nature, meaning they’re open with a lot of outdoor spaces. In the indoor spaces, we have huge windows and walls that connect the indoors with the outdoors. The architect was able to preserve the environment, connect our guests with the environment and integrate those villas with the environment. We wanted to respect what the land used to be, not only the location, but also how the homes are designed. Also, in this segment in luxury and ultra luxury, part of what our guests want is to be in touch with the local community. Our homeowners will feel as though Mandarina is their real home, and ready to explore what the surrounding area has to offer them. They can walk to an ancient tree called La Abuela, go sailing, whale watching and surfing, and enjoy the gastronomy that Mandarina has to offer.
MG: How do you personally define luxury?
BE: Luxury is time. It’s spending time with your loved ones in an environment in which you feel connected. Especially for those who live in big cities and have stressful jobs, what really makes a moment special is when you can spend it with your loved ones and feel relaxed… Obviously, if you take that aspect of luxury and you can also be connected to nature, and enjoy the slower moments with your loved ones, that’s all the better.