There was a time when the stigma of all-inclusive resorts was strong enough to hurt any destination that opened one up. After all, all-inclusive resorts were widely perceived as budget-friendly, cookie-cutter resorts in the mainstream, totally on-the-beaten-path destinations.
But now that most consumers have seen firsthand that “luxury” and “all-inclusive” can, in fact, be used in the same sentence, the presence of high-end, value-packed, all-inclusive hotels now helps a destination garner a reputation for being trendy and on the rise.
“As a Caribbean specialist, I'm asked all the time about all-inclusive resorts on islands that purposefully do not offer an all-inclusive property, like Grand Cayman, or those who only have all-inclusives that target a certain market, i.e. Turks and Caicos, which could really use an adults-only all-inclusive in the mix,” said Lindsey Epperly, owner of Epperly Travel in Atlanta, Georgia. “The collective response in destinations like this, from locals and those in the tourism industry alike, is that an all-inclusive would take away from the overall luxury aspect of the island and compete with the local restaurant economy.”
TravelPulse recently chatted with Epperly and other top-notch advisors about what destinations would benefit from an all-inclusive resort and which ones need to upgrade its current all-inclusive resort offerings. Here’s what they had to say.
“I’ve lately been seeing a trend where my clients want more exotic destinations like Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, Grenada, the U.S. Virgin Islandsand St. Kitts," said Emily Bertsch, a Caribbean specialist with VIP Vacations, Inc. in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “A well-known, all-inclusive brand can really help drive business to an island. Most of those exotic destinations have some all-inclusive resorts, like the Sandals brand, but not everyone can afford a Sandals budget. I think another well-known resort brand, like a Secrets [Resorts & Spas], Dreams [Resorts & Spas], Riu [Hotels], Iberostar [Hotels & Resorts] or Barcelo [Hotels & Resorts], could really benefit from looking into some property in these destinations."
“Puerto Rico is also another destination where a lot of my clients are looking for an all-inclusive," added Bertsch, "so I’m very excited for the Dreams resort that will be opening there as I think it will be a very popular option once it opens.”
However, Bertsch might have to be a bit patient. Back in June, after years of waiting for Puerto Rico to open its first all-inclusive resort, it was announced that the traveling public will have to wait a little longer.
AMResorts planned a Dreams Resorts & Spas property that was supposed to open sometime this year in Puerto Rico joins the long list of hotels to suffer a setback due to last year’s hurricane season.
Javier Coll, executive vice president and chief strategy officer of Apple Leisure Group (ALG), the parent company of AMResorts, told TravelPulse back in June that the “project is facing a significant delay due to some permits that haven’t been approved yet.”
Coll said at the time that Hurricane Maria hitting the island in 2017 made this process more challenging because the involved government offices were closed for a long time. While ALG waited for them to reopen, one of the permits ALG already had expired and had to be renewed, said Coll. When the hotel opens, it will represent the destination’s only all-inclusive.
Although agents are excited to see an all-inclusive hotel in Puerto Rico, the Cayman Islands is arguably the Caribbean destination without an all-inclusive that can use one the most.
After all, the destination, specifically Grand Cayman, is home to some of the hottest resorts in the region from the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa to Margaritaville Beach Resort Grand Cayman to The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
This has long been a destination for the client who is willing to pay up for quality accommodations and service, so a luxury all-inclusive here would make perfect sense. Millennial brands like Karisma Hotels & Resorts and AMResorts would certainly make a nice fit.
In fact, Rosa Harris, director of tourism for the Cayman Islands, has told media in the past that the destination is actively pursuing an all-inclusive resort.
However, Harris also said at the time that the ultimate plan would be to have an all-inclusive resort on the destination’s lesser-known Cayman Brac. She also said she would like to see one on the more mainstream island of Grand Cayman.
When it comes to the U.S., Hawaii tourism officials have always taken the stance that an all-inclusive product in the destination would keep many tourists from dining around the island. In fact, this is a common concern amongst destinations that don’t have an all-inclusive and was actually Puerto Rico’s reason for not having any all-inclusive resorts before it eventually decided to go forward with the Dreams plans.
“I have seen very well-done, four-star all-inclusive properties, like the Excellence [Resorts] brand, and impeccable five-star all-inclusive properties, like Grand Velas Resorts throughout Mexico, or high-end, boutique all-inclusive hotels, like Curtain Bluff or Hermitage Bay in Antigua, that require additional education and evidence to convince a traveler that they will not be among the masses of a party scene and tainted alcohol, which I believe has now become synonymous with all-inclusives,” said Epperly.
However, as far as Hawaii goes, there are still a host of agents like Anthony Tucker, vice president and general manager at the All Inclusive Outlet in Georgetown, Kentucky, who think the all-inclusive model doesn’t fit in Hawaii or the U.S. mainland.
“I think that for the U.S. market, in general, all-inclusives work where the destination is beautiful, but also where travelers do not have a strong desire to go out of their way to explore. For example, most people are not going to rent a car in Cancun, Dominican Republic or Jamaica,” said Tucker. “That is not a commentary on safety, but with familiarity and confidence in their travels. In general, most of the time travelers going off-property are to the pre-arranged excursions such as shopping, adventure parks, dolphin swimming, etc.
“However, in a place like Florida or Hawaii, the all-inclusive concept has been tried and we've had a hard time moving considerable business, in my opinion, due to two factors: one, the price, of course, is higher for U.S. based properties, but also two, how familiar Americans are with getting out and do things elsewhere on their own.”
As far as U.S. territories go, the U.S. Virgin Islands has an all-inclusive presence on the island, but many agents are clamoring for a more high-end, all-inclusive experience.
“We always get asked for the [U.S.] Virgin Islands, but many times, when the client hears they don’t have [many] all-inclusive resorts, we look elsewhere,” said Michael McHugh, co-owner of Dream Makers Vacation Services.
Like the U.S. Virgin Islands, Aruba also has some all-inclusive resorts but the experts we spoke to would like to see more.
“As a honeymoon specialist, I would love to see Aruba step up their all-inclusive game. There are a few all-inclusives on the island, but I’d love to see a Sandals or Excellence property break ground over there," said Bailie White, owner of BE The Travel in Lansing Michigan.
And as Epperly previously mentioned, Turks and Caicos is home to arguably the Caribbean’s best family all-inclusive resort in the form of Beaches Turks and Caicos, but other advisors like her would love to see this luxury island open up a five-star, adults-only, all-inclusive hotel or even a budget-friendly, all-inclusive option for couples.
“Turks and Caicos could use more all-inclusive resorts. Families and singles who want to stay in an all-inclusive are looking for value,” said Ashley Hughes of TravelSmiths in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. “Beaches offers a ton of value, but not everyone needs all the bells and whistles that Beaches offers and has the budget for Beaches. They need something more mid-tier that singles, families and couples can enjoy.”
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.