Why all-inclusive resorts are more attractive than ever following the pandemic


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All-inclusive resorts are a traveler’s version of pressing the easy button.

As the name implies, everything is (usually) included in the resort rate — from your room to your meals and your experiences, which typically involve lounging by a pool or sunning on a beach. Much like cruises, all-inclusive resorts are a way to neatly package up your vacation from start to finish with few surprise charges at checkout. One of the only differences is, obviously, you stay in one spot.

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All-inclusives have endured some stigma over the years as being uninspiring, inauthentic or, in some cases, hedonistic party spots. But after a year of pandemic ups and downs, and with most cruises still on hold, pressing the easy button looks more attractive than ever.

“All-inclusives are the next hidden gem,” said Brian King, president of Marriott International’s Caribbean and Latin American region. Marriott recently entered a partnership with Sunwing Travel Group’s existing Blue Diamond Resorts to add 19 all-inclusive resorts under the Autograph Collection portfolio. King said Marriott will also offer more well-known Marriott brands in the all-inclusive space, with Ritz-Carlton and Luxury Collection properties aimed at luxury travelers and families and W Hotels for adults-only retreats.

“Our customers are super excited about this,” King said, citing feedback from Marriott Bonvoy members who wanted more all-inclusive options, particularly for family vacations. “The bottom line is all-inclusive eliminates planning and gives you more time for experiences.”

Increasing demand for all-inclusive stays

Before the pandemic, all-inclusive resorts around the world had a steady occupancy rate of about 70%, according to Smith Travel Research. In 2020, those numbers dropped to an average of about 35% as the entire travel industry screeched to a halt.

But Carter Wilson, an analyst at Smith Travel Research, said demand for all-inclusives will rebound as travel resumes, particularly since many all-inclusive resorts are clustered in the Caribbean and Latin America, a near-enough jaunt for many U.S. travelers to make comfortably.

“The next couple of years, all-inclusive resort destinations are primed to be the benefactor of the demand for leisure travel,” he said. “If you haven’t gone out of the country or if you were still scared to travel, the easiest thing to do is go to an all-inclusive. That’s like dipping your toes in the water.”

Erika Doyne, senior vice president of marketing and communications at AMResorts (which partnered with Choice Hotels in 2019 and counts the all-inclusive Dreams, Secrets and Zoëtry brands in its portfolio), said an all-inclusive resort’s ability to control the entire experience from a health and safety standpoint will also appeal to cautious travelers.

AMResorts has installed a quality, safety and hygiene program called CleanComplete at every resort that covers all aspects of the stay from check-in to the kids clubs, dining areas and pools. Plus, Doyne said, all-inclusive properties are spread out by nature and therefore make social distancing easy to maintain.

“We have the advantage of expansive beaches, and the wealth of space, in [the] open air, and our all-inclusive safety protocol is controlling all that,” she said, compared to a traditional hotel or resort where you have to head off the property for dining and experiences and therefore leave the resort’s protective bubble.

AMResorts, along with many other all-inclusive brands in the Caribbean and Mexico, even offer free on-site COVID-19 viral antigen testing for guests since a negative test is required to return back to the U.S. If a guest does test positive at the end of their trip, AMResorts will offer a free quarantine stay up to 14 days.

Next-level luxury

The ongoing evolution of luxury in the all-inclusive space will also be a welcome option for travelers who have shied away from all-inclusives out of concern they aren’t luxe or bespoke enough.

Velas Resorts, a brand of luxury all-inclusives in Mexico, is setting itself apart from competitors with its all-suite, residential-like options at its Grand Velas properties. At the Grand Velas Los Cabos, suites start at 1,100 square feet and come with private terraces. The property also boasts five gourmet restaurants, three pools, a kids club, a teen lounge and a 35,000-square-foot spa (although treatments are not included in the room rate).

“We have more options and more design elements,” said Juan Velas, vice president of Velas Resorts. “It feels like home. And you never feel crowded.”

And, similar to the exclusive club level at hotels or the ship within a ship on cruise lines, some all-inclusives also offer a resort-within-a-resort experience, such as the Zoëtry Impression Club. This gives travelers a way to make their stay feel even more private while still being able to access main resort amenities.

Even resorts that aren’t technically all-inclusive properties are giving guests the option to add an all-inclusive package to their stay. This tends to be done in popular tourist areas including Los Cabos and parts of Hawaii where there’s already a well-established all-inclusive culture. It’s also a popular option for wellness retreats or more isolated properties such as the Lodge at Blue Sky in Utah.

In 2016, for example, Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo first launched its all-inclusive package for guests. Now, according to Hyatt, it’s more popular than ever. The 2021 package is being booked three times more than it was in 2019.

The reason? Guests are now staying at the resort more and venturing out less, making all-inclusive packages more appealing. Even though you can book it in advance, guests can also decide to add it on to their stay when they check in.

New to all-inclusive travelers

So, who’s more likely to give all-inclusive resorts a try this year?

With die-hard cruisers still not able to set sail just yet, an all-inclusive resort may be the next best thing. Indeed, Doyne of AMResorts said it’s a natural transition for cruisers to make.

“They have everything they need, they know what they are paying for up front and [they] have the entire experience in one spot,” she said. But she suggested that all-inclusive resorts have more advantages than a cruise.

For instance, some luxury all-inclusives offer 24-hour room service, which isn’t always an option for cruises — or it could come at an extra cost. At resorts, guests can dine wherever and whenever they want, whereas some cruise ships still enforce set seatings in the main dining room. Liquor and other high-end amenities and services are already often baked into an all-inclusive rate, compared to a cruise where you usually have to spring for a premium package.

Depending on your travel style, an all-inclusive stay could seem like a better value.

But it’s not just cruisers who may find an all-inclusive stay appealing.

Hyatt’s Ziva and Zilara all-inclusive brands have attracted a growing number of first-time guests who would not have considered an all-inclusive resort in the past, said Gregory Maliassas, chief operating officer of Playa Hotels and Resorts, a division of Hyatt. And Hyatt will continue to lean on their brand reputation to attract more first-timers.

“Most all of us desire a stress-free, no surprises vacation, but subpar levels of quality and service from resorts with little to no awareness quickly discredit all-inclusive as a viable option for many consumers,” he said. “That is our target, that is our market: consumers looking for an all-inclusive experience that only Hyatt can deliver.”

And Marriott’s Brian King said more people are considering all-inclusive resorts compared to five and even 10 years ago. And now, Marriott plans on convincing more of those travelers to actually book an all-inclusive resort.

“The Marriott brand name will lift the experience and the perception,” he said, echoing Maliassas. “If Marriott is doing this, you know it’s good.”

Featured photo by Colin Anderson Productions pty ltd/Getty Images.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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