So you think you know... all-inclusive?

So you think you know... all-inclusive?

Take a fresh look at all-inclusive breaks, says Katie McGonagle

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Will we be stuck drinking cheap local booze? Isn’t the food all canteen-style mass catering instead of gourmet grub? Will we end up staying in the resort and miss out on the area around us?

Even though hoteliers seek to stand out in an increasingly competitive field, with better dining or added extras, some travellers still have rather outdated ideas about what all-inclusive means.

Despite these misconceptions, this sector of the market is booming as price-conscious consumers seek the reassurance of a pre-set budget and a hassle-free holiday.

Reveal the truth about all-inclusives and you could convince your clients to give them a go.

WON’T THE FOOD BE CHEAP AND CHEERFUL BUFFETS?


Nandita Patel, Funway Holidays product administration executive, says: “All-inclusive packages have become much more sophisticated with hotels offering a variety of options to suit all taste buds.”

Patel recommends the five-star Anantara Golden Triangle Resort & Spa in Chiang Rai, Thailand. “Anantara proves real foodies can enjoy all-inclusive – the resort includes two restaurants offering rich northern Thai cuisine and homemade Italian eats. “What’s more, guests can eat wherever they desire: choose from the lower terrace overlooking the Mekong river, rice paddies or alongside baby elephants in bamboo forests at the Elephant Camp.” From £329 per night.

Thomson Sensatori’s signature ‘gourmet inclusive’ features the resorts’ à la carte restaurants, with branded drinks and a daily-restocked minibar. At Sensatori Mexico, choose from tapas, Mexican, Italian and cutting-edge cuisine at Le Chique, where an eight-course menu is included. Thomson’s Karisma all-inclusives also include à la carte dining.

Food doesn’t have to be repetitive either. Kev Coles, Travel 2 Caribbean product and purchasing manager, says: “A new concept is emerging with hotels that have more than one property in a destination. Brands such as Palace and Dreams Resorts in Mexico and the Dom Rep, and Elegant Hotels in Barbados, now offer inter-hotel dining where customers have the freedom to stay in one but eat at all.

“This gives the customer a wider selection of dining experiences.” Guests at Crystal Cove in Barbados, for example, can dine at fellow Elegant Resorts hotel Turtle Beach.

WON’T DRINKS BE LIMITED TO LOCAL SPIRITS?


Holidaymakers want to kick back and relax with the tipples they know and love, so it’s crucial to know which hotels upgrade to premium brands.

Olympic Holidays commercial director Photis Lambrianides says: “Over the last few years, some all-inclusive hotels have taken the not-insignificant step of offering branded alcoholic drinks rather than local options.

“Knowing they can get their favourite brands has encouraged people to book all-inclusive.”

The five-star Baron Palms in Sharm el-Sheikh is one of many making premium drinks available on all-inclusive.

Le Blanc Spa Resort in Mexico, new to the affordable C by Caribtours programme, offers free-pouring bottles of premium-brand spirits in its minibar, while the operator also picks out the East Winds Inn in Saint Lucia for those who like the finer things in life – the property offers champagne each evening – and Constance Moofushi in the Maldives, where even connoisseurs would be content with the 80 wines on offer.

Sandals, meanwhile, offers Beringer wine from the Napa Valley plus premium liquors as standard.

ISN’T FOOD AND DRINK ONLY SERVED AT RESTRICTED TIMES?


No one wants to get peckish mid-afternoon only to find dinner isn’t for hours, but with the rise of 24-hour all-inclusive, guests can do what they want when they want.

Nearly all Riu’s resorts in North America, Mexico and the Caribbean offer 24-hour food and drink as standard, along with a handful of European hotels including Riu Garoe in Tenerife and Riu Gran Canaria.

Jet2holidays.com also highlights the four-star Sandos Papagayo Beach Resort in Lanzarote for its 24-hour snack bar.

Similarly, Sandals offers any-time dining and drinks across its resorts, with beachside grills and pizzerias serving between lunch and dinner while Mexico’s Cozumel Palace adds 24-hour room service to its range of inclusions.

DON’T THEY TIE GUESTS TO THE RESORT AND HARM THE AREA?


This has caused controversy in recent times, but operators and hoteliers are starting to take these concerns seriously.

Abta spokesman Sean Tipton says: “All-inclusives have come under criticism from some quarters for taking business away from local bars and restaurants. This is part of the reason many travel companies insist the hotels they work with sign up to sustainability initiatives such as Travelife, which commit them to using local suppliers and providing good working conditions for their staff.”

Abta research found customers within all-inclusive hotels are actually more likely to go on excursions than those in non-all-inclusive properties, with 61% booking day trips compared with 57% elsewhere.

Red Sea Holidays points out the free shuttle service from many of its hotels into each resort, making it easier to explore, plus pre-bookable excursions available from £26, including a family learn-to-dive package and desert safari.

The shuttle is available from the Sharm Plaza and Grand Hotel in Sharm el-Sheikh, and the Makadi Spa Hotel and Sunwing Waterworld Makadi Hotel, among others.

DON’T ACTIVITIES ALWAYS COST EXTRA?


Not necessarily. Sandals and Beaches resorts include a huge range of land and watersports – from waterskiing, windsurfing and scuba diving (up to two dives a day) to golf with complimentary green fees.

Club Med resorts offer sports academies in tennis, golf, sailing, windsurfing, waterskiing and flying trapeze as standard.

Mark Warner guests, meanwhile, enjoy free mountain bike hire and guided tours, plus kayaking, scuba diving taster sessions and stand-up paddle boarding across its four Greek resorts, plus windsurfing tuition at all beach resorts except Portugal.

Activities don’t have to mean getting active, though. All-inclusive guests at Anantara Golden Triangle Resort are entitled to an activity from a choice of spa treatment, mahout (a person who rides elephants) training session, countryside tour or cookery class, while the Evason Hua Hin – new for Hayes & Jarvis – provides a head-and-shoulder or foot massage, plus 10% off further treatments in the resort’s Six Senses Spa.

All-inclusive

ISN’T ALL-INCLUSIVE ONLY IN THE CARIBBEAN AND THE MED?


While these destinations certainly have all-inclusive down to a ‘T’, they don’t own the concept. New destinations such as Thailand, Vietnam and Dubai are growing their all-inclusive offering, while cruise and safari can offer many of the same advantages.

Luxury operator If Only has extended its all-inclusive offering to Dubai. Managing director Brendan Maguire says: “The all-inclusive option gives some first-time visitors, who may have misconceptions about the cost of eating and drinking, the confidence to try Dubai.

“All-inclusive sits well with families, and since Dubai is a super family-friendly destination, why not combine these two products?” Options include the Mövenpick Ibn Battuta Gate, Jebel Ali Beach Hotel and Palm Tree Court & Spa.

The cruise sector has always been one of the most inclusive holiday options around, with activities and dining paid within the fare, but many lines are introducing new drinks packages to tap into this trend further.

Royal Caribbean has new classic and premium drinks packages, with the former offering beer, wines and non-alcoholic cocktails at $45 a day, and the latter adding premium brands at $55. MSC Cruises also offers a drinks supplement of £20 per night, or £37 for a wider selection with premium brands and minibar items.

Similarly, high-end safaris aren’t the first to spring to mind for an all-inclusive break, but with camps providing food, drink, game drives and activities, they can offer the same peace of mind knowing everything is provided.

The Selous Safari Company has three properties in Ruaha, Selous and Ras Kutani, where all food, domestic flights and transfers are covered, plus a pre-bookable drinks supplement of $40 per day.

A nine-night Explorer Itinerary costs from £3,800 with Africa Odyssey, including meals, drinks, international and domestic flights and transfers.

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