James Shillinglaw | June 29, 2015 5:05 PM ET
The All-Inclusive Revolution
If you read this column last week you’ll know just how much I embarrassed myself on the trapeze and acrobatic bungee at Club Med Punta Cana’s new Creactive by Cirque du Soleil facility. Now I really didn’t perform these tricks very well, but that wasn’t the point: At least I tried and there was a certain satisfaction and fulfillment in just trying.
Whether my attempt to become the next great aerialist succeeded or not, the real reason I was at this Club Med resort was to see for myself just how different all-inclusive resorts are today. Indeed, back in the 1990s, when I first began covering the all-inclusive resort market, there were really just four companies in the space—Allegro, Club Med, Sandals and SuperClubs.
Starting in the late 1990s and throughout the first decade of the 21st century, however, the all-inclusive market has expanded exponentially. In our most recent chart of all-inclusive brands, in our sister publications, Agent@Home and Vacation Agent magazines, we listed nearly 40 different all-inclusive brands (and unfortunately we missed a few, so look for that list to come out again in the very near future).
All-inclusive resorts now serve almost every vacation market you can think of, from singles to couples, from small families to multi-generational groups, from honeymoons to destination weddings, from incentive groups to company meetings. Indeed, over the past few years we’ve had our own company meeting at all-inclusive properties on the Riviera Maya and in Jamaica.
For the most part, all-inclusive resort development has been focused in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Latin and South America. But some companies, such as Club Med, have properties in Europe, Asia and Africa.
More to the point, all-inclusive resorts have evolved from bare bones (the first Club Med back in the 1950s was in a tented camp) to the luxury-included properties introduced by Sandals. Indeed, I recently visited Sandals Ochi Beach Resort in Ocho Rios, which has undergone a complete renovation to transform itself with luxury-included features.
The rise of large all-inclusive companies based in Spain and Mexico, offering resorts throughout the Caribbean and in Mexico, has led to dramatic growth and more competition in the market. These include Barcelo, Iberostar, Palace and others (and again this is by no means a column offering a comprehensive list of all-inclusive brands).
Other players, including AMResorts, sister company to Apple Vacations, have developed multiple all-inclusive brands to serve every market imaginable. And last year a major U.S. hotel and resort chain got into the act when Hyatt launched its Hyatt Zilara and Hyatt Ziva brands with Playa Resorts.
There just seems to be no end to the creativity and imagination of all-inclusive resort developers. Even at Club Med, considered by many to be an early originator of the all-inclusive concept, I found a resort catering to families, couples, wedding groups and more, set on a property that included some of the most impressive sports and recreational facilities I’ve ever seen. Accommodations range from mid-range to near luxury, and soon, at least in Punta Cana, Club Med will offer spa suites catering to couples only.
Today there is an all-inclusive resort to suit almost any taste—and more are being built every day. And that’s good for travel agents, since the idea of an all-inclusive is not just to offer accommodations, dining and activities for one price, but to pay commission to agents on that entire price as well. Many agents today specialize in the all-inclusive resort market, which is fast approaching cruising as a key profit center for the travel agency trade.
Now all-inclusive vacations may not be for everyone, but increasingly time-impoverished and fiscally sensitive Americans have turned to such resorts to relax, rejuvenate and refresh. Yes, there is certainly a new emphasis on experiential travel and cultural enrichment. When all is said and done, however, it’s also sometimes nice just to sit on a beach, recline around a pool, or try out all the sports, activities and dining options available at an all-inclusive resort. And that’s true even if it means hanging upside down on bungee cords or braving the heights of a trapeze platform.
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