NOT SO LONG AGO, all-inclusive vacations conjured up visions of down-market resort guests standing in long buffet lines, Spartan rooms devoid of amenities and a generally raucous atmosphere due to guests taking advantage of the open bar. While budget-priced all-inclusive resorts still exist, the trend has definitely swung upward and the marketing cry from many new all-inclusive resorts is "luxury, luxury, luxury." Instead of volleyball in the pool, guests now have the option of full-service spas, suites with plunge pools, butler service, cigar bars and wine tastings. A variety of resort brands provide a great choice of amenities and programs for couples and families.
From Honeymooners to Teens
It's a bright new day for upscale all-inclusive resorts, with shifting trends in customer profiles showing all-inclusive guests as being more wealthy. As the all-inclusive resort product grows more sophisticated, it's pinpointing target markets such as families, couples, spa enthusiasts, golfers, divers and honeymooners.
Practically every all-inclusive resort company offers destination weddings and honeymoon packages. With the cost of a wedding in the U.S. averaging $27,000, the pure economics of an all-inclusive destination wedding becomes attractive. Agents going this route have the added incentive of netting group commissions. The wedding guests will enjoy the range of options at the resort, and the bride and groom have the option of honeymooning at the same resort after their guests have flown home.
Families have definitely become a bigger part of the mix. During the '70s, Club Med cultivated a swinging singles image. This has gone by the wayside as the company began marketing itself to families. In fact, this November, after $24 million in renovations, a new Club Med Cancun Yucatan will open. The Cancun property used to be for adults only, but upon reopening, it will welcome families. Club Med's family properties are well known for their outstanding children's clubs, which cater to children from four months to 17 years old. Up until recently, teens received short shrift at all-inclusive resorts, but last year, Club Med Punta Cana premiered The Ramp, a facility exclusively for teenagers.
Beaches has childrens' clubs that incorporate the extremely successful Sesame Street live shows, while teenagers have been brought into the fold with the creation of Xbox Game Oasis Centers featuring state-of-the-art video games that can be played free of charge.
AMResorts, Karisma Resorts and Palace Resorts are representative of companies still offering adults-only resorts, although the ambience is far from the spring break party atmosphere that all-inclusive companies used to capitalize on. The majority of adults at these resorts are couples looking for a sophisticated environment. Dining options have also kept pace with the demand for quality and expanded choices. In days past, buffets were de rigueur, with a Mexican or Chinese night representing a weak attempt at variety. Now, guests can expect teppanyaki restaurants, sushi bars, Italian trattorias and French bistros, as well as à la carte dinners and premium wines and liquors. Select resorts, including Sandals and Beaches, Palace, Karisma and AMResorts even include 24-hour room service as part of all-inclusive packages.
High-end all-inclusive resorts are also investing in additional staff, with some companies such as Sandals and Beaches, AMResorts and five-star all-inclusive Royal Hideaway Playacar boasting a staff-to-guest ratio as high as two-to-one. Butler service (even on the beach) and expanded concierge service can also be found at select all-inclusive resorts. Sandals butler service, introduced in 2005, is reserved for guests vacationing in the highest level of suites.
Most upscale all-inclusive resorts have a strong spa component. For example, the 18,039-square-foot spa at AMResort's Secrets Excellence in the Riviera Maya has a 14-station hydrotherapy circuit, which includes three sets of whirlpools, a Turkish steam bath and a temazcal, a traditional Mayan sweat lodge, complete with a shaman.
Where to Find Them
Decades ago, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic led the way as destinations offering the largest choice of all-inclusive resorts. These two Caribbean destinations are still going strong, although other Caribbean islands such as Barbados, Antigua, Turks & Caicos and St. Lucia have also welcomed the development of all-inclusive resorts.
In Mexico, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and the Riviera Maya are success stories; the Riviera Maya especially has embraced the high-end all-inclusive concept. The new resort chain Tesoro Resorts (formerly Costa Real Pacific hotels) launched in January 2006 with three all-inclusive Mexico properties in the Pacific coast resort destinations of Los Cabos, Manzanillo and Ixtapa.
The all-inclusive concept has never really taken hold in the U.S., although Club Med operates two, Sandpiper in Florida and Crested Butte in Colorado. Both of these resorts are family-friendly, while Sandpiper has strong appeal for golfers and Crested Butte is attractive for skiers. This year, Club Med debuted boutique upscale properties, the foremost of these being the Marrakech le Riad in Morocco.
As an example of all-inclusive resort companies widening destination choices, The Divi Group recently announced plans for Bonaire's first all-inclusive resort. The 275-room beachfront property is slated to begin construction next spring, with a scheduled opening in late 2008. The Divi group currently operates nine resorts on six Caribbean islands, as well as two all-inclusive resorts on Aruba.
Classic all-inclusive destinations such as Jamaica are still seeing impressive growth, with Couples Resorts recently announcing plans for a fifth property in Jamaica, estimated to cost $57 million and to open in 2008.
AMResorts has 10 properties in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, and recently announced plans to double its portfolio by 2008, and enter new markets such as Jamaica.
Bolongo Bay Beach Resort on St. Thomas reports that all-inclusive guests account for fully one third of their year-round sales mix. Guests enjoy the family-owned ambiance of the property, as well as the option of dining à la carte.
Karisma Resorts is on the verge of reinventing the all-inclusive as a stylish boutique property with the November opening of its Azul Blue Hotel + Spa. The 96-suite Riviera Maya hotel will have butler service, a full-service spa, in-suite iPods and will be "gourmet-inclusive," with five-star chefs, renowned sommeliers, top-shelf liquor and a sleek restaurant design.
Reap Higher Commissions
The new all-inclusives will thrill your clients—and earn you more
A typical vacation has your clients paying à la carte for meals and recreation—they're dipping into their wallets time and again, at no benefit to the agent. With an all-inclusive vacation, clients pay one price up front for everything. In many cases, this includes luxury accommodations, gourmet dining, premium brand drinks, roundtrip airport transfers, land and watersports including equipment and instruction and entertainment. Not only is it an easy way for your clients to plan and budget their vacation, it's also profitable for travel agents, since everything in the vacation package is commissionable. According to Sandals, a sample vacation with elements such as dinner on the beach and spa treatments can net an agent well over a thousand dollars in commissions.
In many cases, it's possible to book a spa package for your clients. For example, agents booking a Sandals & Beaches Resorts vacation can make advance Red Lane Spa treatments reservations for their clients, commissionable at 10 percent.
Below is a partial checklist of all-inclusive resort companies:
•Almond Resorts: 877-942-8232, www.almondresorts.com
•AMResorts: www.amresorts.com (Three brands: Secrets Resorts & Spas: 866-GO SECRETS, www.secretsresorts.com; Dreams Resorts & Spas: 866-2 DREAMS, www.dreamsresorts.com; Sunscape Resorts & Spas: 866-SUNSCAPE, www.sunscaperesorts.com)
•Barcelo Hotels & Resorts: 800-BARCELO, www.barcelo.com
•Club Med: 800-CLUB MED, www.clubmed.com
• Couples Resorts: 800-COUPLES, www.couples.com
•Divi Resorts: 800-367-3484, www.diviresorts.com
•El Cid Resorts: 800-525-1925, www.elcid.com
•Iberostar Hotels & Resorts: www.iberostar.com
•Karisma Hotels & Resorts: 866-KARISMA, www.karismahotels.com
•Occidental Hotels & Resorts: 800-858-2258, www.occidentalhotels.com (Five brands: Caribbean Village, Allegro, Occidental, Occidental Grand and Royal Hideaway Intercontinental)
•Palace Resorts: 800-635-1836, www.palaceresorts.com
•Riu Resorts: 888-666-8816, www.riu.com
•Sandals & Beaches: 800-BEACHES, www.beaches.com
•Sol Melia Hotels & Resorts: 888-95-MELIA, www.solmelia.com
•SuperClubs: 877-GO SUPER, www.superclubs.com
•Tesoro Resorts: 866-99TESORO, www.tesororesorts.com
•Viva Wyndham Resorts: 877-999-3223, www.wyndham.com
WHOLESALERS & TOUR OPERATORS
Below is a partial list of wholesalers and tour operators offering all-inclusive vacations. Agents are advised to contact the companies to liaison with a regional representative.
• Apple Vacations: 800-727-3400, www.applevacations.com
• GoGo Worldwide Vacations: 800-229-4999, www.gogowwv.com
• Funjet Vacations: 888-558-6654, www.funjet.com
• Unique Vacations: 888-SANDALS, www.sandals.com
• United Vacations: 800-328-6877, www.unitedvacations.com
• Spirit Vacations: 888-450-0076, www.spiritvacations.com
• Delta Vacations: 800-654-6559, www.deltavacations.com