Yves Naman opened the smallest boutique hotel in Mexico City with La Valise fifteen years ago and then turned his attention to Tulum. Under the same name, he again conjured up an exclusive paradise full of design, comfort and natural beauty. We meet him under the warm January evening sun, on the edge between mystical jungle and pearly white beach.
How did you end up in Mexico?
Yves: “After my studies at ICHEC in Brussels, I decided to study for another year in Canada. At the time, I had a small food & beverage company with a friend and we had the idea to conquer New York. Fate struck a few months later with the 9/11 attacks. We knew we could forget our Green Card then. Shortly after, we heard that Mexico was the next big thing, so we decided to take our chance there. We went there without speaking a word of Spanish. I met my wife, a Mexican, we built a circle of friends and our business started to flourish. We were devoted to this country. ”
You have 5 successful businesses in Mexico, 4 hotels and a restaurant. Was this the plan when you went to Mexico?
Yves: “Not at all. I had an office in Mexico City with one floor empty and got the idea to turn it into a hotel. A boutique hotel where I could bring three aspects together: tailor-made design, comfort and service. La Valise was born, the smallest hotel in Mexico City. We were faced with a challenge: how do you get such a tiny place known? One room in particular has taken care of that, with a bed on rails that you can roll out onto the terrace. The only place where you can sleep under the starry sky, right in the middle of the big city. La Valise's design is our showcase: eccentric, creative and authentic. All furniture is Mexican designs from the 30s to 60s. Before we knew it, we were number one on TripAdvisor and that's how the ball started to roll. Not far from Mexico City, in San Miguel, my next project is coming soon.”
And then you got the idea to build the same concept in Tulum?
Yves: “I started to miss Belgium. I missed my friends and family and had just become a dad. That's why we moved back here. I still had my business in Latin America, after a while I found traveling back and forth too exhausting and so we decided to settle in Miami. Tulum is an hour and a half flight from Miami and when I got there four years ago I immediately felt a click. Here is a very special energy, the ideal place for a new La Valise. I had been to Tulum before, in 2002. It was a mecca for hippies, with a few beach hotels that have since disappeared and otherwise only unspoilt nature. That energy was already there then. I am convinced that people still and now for that magical attraction with nature come. Everything is twice as intense in Tulum, emotions are much stronger. Here you are either deliriously cheerful or, in case of a dip, twice as depressed. In four months we converted La Valise from a house into a boutique hotel with nine rooms. We built as much as possible on pillars to minimize the impact on the habitat of the fauna and flora. The neighboring hotel Encantada, consisting of intimate cabanas on the beach, was put up for sale at some point. I also copied that and added it to La Valise.”
The Tulum Pledge, a collective for sustainability and respect
How do you want to protect Tulum from mass tourism?
Yves: “I founded 'The Tulum Pledge' in an attempt to stop mass tourism and eight hotels are already behind the initiative. Many people forget what Tulum is originally about, or rather what it lacks here and what makes this place so unique: a cinema, a Starbucks, street lighting, cobbled paths. The high season attracts a lot of holidaymakers who like to enjoy design hotels, gastronomy and casually join a party of a famous DJ. There is only no infrastructure to accommodate all that people and Tulum remains a very fragile place in terms of nature. Imagine a party with popping techno in the jungle: a jaguar that happens to be too close will flee its habitat for good. Whatever we do, we affect the environment anyway. The Tulum Pledge does not want to prohibit anyone from enjoying Tulum, but asks to do so with respect. Unlike most hotels that expand every year, success is not what drives La Valise. For me it's about giving a unique experience, a wealth of inspiring design that feels like home, located on a unique intersection between jungle and pearl white sand. A place where you can even forget who you are. Here you will find barefoot luxury in the sand, in our hotels you will not find a TV, minibar or luxury care products. For example, we offer organic sunscreen, mosquito repellent milk, soap and shampoo in refillable glass bottles. I hope hoteliers will follow in our sustainable actions, Tulum should not become the next Bahamas. ”
Yves Naman is the founder and owner of Namron Hospitality and runs La Valise, Encantada, Nest and the Nü restaurant in Tulum in addition to La Valise in Mexico City.