‘The first step toward travel’: All-inclusive resorts are back by popular demand
If you’ve been browsing travel-booking sites in earnest since the Government of Canada lifted its advisory against non-essential travel last month, you’re far from alone. And if you want a break from having to painstakingly plot out a full itinerary, chances are you may be considering an all-inclusive, especially for family vacationing.
Travel agents are noticing growing interest in all-inclusive resorts, too, says Richard Vanderlubbe, director of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies and owner of Hamilton, Ont.-based travel agency tripcentral.ca.
Beyond trips to reunite with family for possibly the first time since the pandemic, all-inclusives are “the first step toward travel,” he explains. “These resorts are designed for the person who wants to chill out. You spend a lot of time on-site and there’s a lot of room to spread out. Having that space is probably the best thing for travel right now.”
Plus, with many all-inclusives quick to implement COVID-safe practices — such as rigorous cleaning, masking and testing — it’s easier to feel like you’re in a safe, relaxing bubble, he adds.
But even pre-pandemic, demand was on the rise: according to the hotel data firm STR, in the first six months of 2019, all-inclusives brought in US$8.8 billion in sales worldwide, up from $5 billion in the same period in 2014.
Hoping to win over these travellers are the major hotel companies that have expanded in this segment: Wyndham recently announced their new brand devoted solely to all-inclusives, Wyndham Alltra; the launch, a partnership with Playa Hotels & Resorts, encompasses 22 locations across Latin America and the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, Marriott International teamed up with Blue Diamond Resorts to add 20 all-inclusive properties, in locations like Jamaica and Costa Rica, to its Autograph Collection. And in August, Hyatt Hotels Corporation announced it would acquire Apple Leisure Group, a deal that would give Hyatt the largest portfolio of luxury all-inclusive resorts in the world.
As the typical work grind gets longer and harder, people’s desire to get away, and have everything taken care of, has only become stronger — as has their willingness to spend more on luxury experiences, says Nino Montagnese, vice-president at Air Canada Vacations. And these newer all-inclusives are rising to the occasion.
The key differences are all in the variety and versatility. “All-inclusives are different now from what they were a few years ago,” says Montagnese, pointing to more diverse dining options as an example. “It used to be all buffets, but now they’ve got specialty restaurants.” Whatever you fancy — steak, sushi, spaghetti — is often readily available. “Each night you can go somewhere different.”
There’s also the appeal of family-friendly hotel design and programming, which may not be entirely new, but remain a big draw. It’s not uncommon to find larger accommodations with separate children’s bedrooms, giving adults more privacy. Features keeping kids entertained range from massive water parks (at places like Beaches Turks & Caicos) to junior horseback riding lessons (at select Club Med resorts), while parents will appreciate the option of on-demand nanny services (complimentary at Fiji’s Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, for instance).
Beyond kid-pleasing attractions, you’ll also find high-end resorts investing more money into sprawling gyms and wellness centres (like the 14,000-square-foot fitness facility at Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana), and entertainment venues (see the bowling alley in Punta Cana’s Ocean El Faro), says Montagnese.
Staying at an all-inclusive used to mean having only one kind of travel experience, comfortable but predictable: check-in for a weeklong stay, roam the property, head home. Now, people can adapt the experience as they wish, and venture off-resort to explore the sights, dine at buzzy restaurants and experience the local culture, says Montagnese. Travellers may do it only one day of their trip — or not do it at all — but having the option, all while knowing the resort has your needs covered, is important.
“All-inclusives have evolved,” says Montagnese. “They’re all about the choices. We want to see our destinations, we want to be a part of them, and resorts are only going to get better as they adapt to incorporate them.”
What’s new in family-friendly all-inclusives
Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda (Michès, Dominican Republic)
One of the newest locations from the company that coined the whole concept of all-inclusives, the 93-acre Club Med Michès Playa Esmeralda opened in December 2019 as the first Exclusive Collection (five-star) resort in North America. The 335-room property is built around four boutique villages, including Explorer Cove, a section tailored to families, with kid’s activities and clubs close by.
Wyndham Alltra Cancun (Cancun, Mexico)
As part of Wyndham’s new all-inclusive brand, the Alltra Cancun is slated to relaunch next month following renovations. A stay at the 458-room resort, set on the beachfront of the Yucatan Peninsula, could encompass dining at more than 10 restaurants and bars, bringing your little ones to the pirate-themed splash park or unwinding at the full-service spa.