All-Inclusive Is the New Luxury Travel
Bland buffets, cheap cocktails and canned experiences used to be par for the course. But thanks to a new breed of all-inclusive travel, luxury and convenience can now go hand-in-hand.
All-inclusive travel skeptics have long considered the frictionless vacation a devil’s bargain: trade away the hassle of planning your own getaway, they say, and you’ve committed yourself to watered-down "luxuries" like bottom-shelf booze, endless buffet lines and inauthentic experiences.
Industry pros are well aware of how that argument goes — they’ve read all those scathing posts and reviews, too. They’re also confident that all-inclusive resorts are an integral part of the future of luxury (yes, luxury) travel, and they’re putting their money where their mouths are. Massive global hotel brands like Hyatt and Hilton are now adding all-inclusives to their portfolios, and others are expected to follow suit.
Why the confidence? As Xavier Mufraggi, CEO for Club Med North America and the Caribbean, puts it, “In general, people misperceive the quality that an all-inclusive resort can provide. Most people see all-inclusives as a value proposition, but we have found that it is now one of the top assets requested by the affluent demographic because of its convenience and the ability to act as a hub for different experiences.”
Erica Doyne, VP of Marketing for AMResorts (a group of brands that includes adults-only, adult-oriented and family-friendly resorts, including Zoëtry), echoes those observations: “Some travelers may avoid all-inclusives because they don’t think it fits their idea of an ‘authentic’ and immersive destination experience, when in fact all-inclusive luxury and experiential travel enhance one another,” she says. “Guests seeking a well-rounded destination experience can enjoy options included in their stay, plus have peace of mind that they won’t spend their entire vacation doing research, being guided into tourist traps or spending extra money on excursions to fill the days.” A thoughtfully curated experience, in other words, doesn’t have to be an impersonal or sanitized one.
That all sounds marvelous in theory, but how does it hold up in practice? Well, consider these takes on contemporary and all-inclusive luxury travel.
The New Gourmets
While powering through a lukewarm appetizer platter might sound like the best you could hope for in an all-inclusive experience, some resorts are aiming higher for their guests. Kelly Polling, Executive Vice President of Marketing for Karisma Hotels & Resorts, notes that Le Chique (a modern Mexican eatery at Karisma’s Azul Beach Resort Riviera Cancun) offers diners a 12-course tasting menu featuring molecular-gastronomy techniques — and was just named one of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2018. Guests at several Club Med properties, in turn, enjoy offerings developed by Michelin-starred chefs. Health-conscious guests at Zoëtry Wellness & Spa Resorts find organic, locally-sourced dishes that are meticulously personalized for any allergies or dietary restrictions (adios, old-school buffet remorse).
“Over the years,” Mufraggi reports, “we have seen a big rise in multi-generational families traveling together to [Club Med] resorts.” What his team calls “3G families” — that is, groups with at least three generations — are now prioritizing the quality time now-retired baby boomers sacrificed during their working years. “The trend lately is to take a family vacation together versus trying to organize a family get-together in one home, which puts a lot of pressure on the hosts and requires extensive planning.”
Enter the all-inclusive resort, where lodging and activities can accommodate larger groups (and no one has to prepare dinner for a dozen people). It’s a style of vacationing that’s growing in popularity with millennial parents as well, he says. “They want to continue experiencing the world and traveling to new locations, but are seeking the formula of how to effectively do this with their children.” Club Med’s Baby Welcome program is tailor-made for harried parents: they’re greeted with age-appropriate amenities like cribs and beds, baby baths, high chairs, bottle warmers, and customizable jars of food that are blended on-site. They can even have diapers shipped ahead of them to save luggage space.
Resorts have notoriously large footprints, and resorts with unlimited indulgences have the largest and heaviest footprints of all, right? Look again: Adam Stewart, Deputy Chairman of Sandals Resorts, notes with pride that his organization is the only hotel chain in the world in which every resort is certified by EarthCheck (an international advisory group that promotes sustainable and energy-efficient travel). El Dorado Royale by Karisma is home to the largest greenhouse in the Yucatan (which produces veggies and herbs for the chain’s Mexican resorts and its neighbors) and Kan-Kanan, the world’s longest artificial reef (which protects the coastal environment and supports an estimated 13,000 species). Responsible tourism is a growing concern in all sectors of the travel industry — the United Nations declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development — and providers of all shapes and sizes are learning how to be better neighbors.
Guests at Zoëtry Agua Punta Cana are invited to book a complimentary 20-minute "wellness experience" or fitness consultation, as well as a 45-minute horseback ride along the pristine beachfront. Other diversions are offered on a rotating basis: “A lot of time is spent in the spa, and taking advantage of activities like yoga, meditation, cooking or cocktail classes and beach bonfires,” Doyne says. Frette linens envelop resort guests at the end of each day, and Bvlgari bath products wash away the outside world. Not to be outdone, Sandals Royal Bahamian in Nassau and Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay offer guests transportation to offshore private islands, and their attendants receive training from the Guild of Professional English Butlers.
Jacuzzi enthusiasts with a taste for Alpine views can curl up with a cup of cocoa on the terrace space overlooking France’s Tarentaise Valley at Club Med Les Arcs Panorama, and oenophiles at Karisma’s resorts enjoy the fruits of its partnership with El Cielo Winery, an award-winning vineyard in Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe that produces 15 unique grape varietals. Have a look at your folks’ grainy old photos from that wacky resort they visited in the '80s, then have a look at what all-inclusives are offering in 2019; surprising you is very much their thing.