All-inclusive hotels can help guests get in touch with local culture, finds Katie McGonagle
It’s well known that all-inclusive holidays are becoming increasingly popular, with a fifth of Brits, including a quarter of families with young children, planning an all-inclusive break this year, according to Abta’s latest travel trends report.
Yet that same report also picks up on another trend dominating the holiday market: the desire to ‘live like a local’ and really get under the skin of a destination.
Taken at face value, those two ideas might seem to be polar opposites, with all-inclusive hotels commonly criticised for cutting guests off from the local area by encouraging them to spend most of their time within the confines of the resort.
But a new wave of properties is finding a way to bridge the divide, combining the convenience of an all-inclusive package with a chance to delve deeper into the local culture.
One such initiative has just been introduced by Elegant Hotels in Barbados: with 99% of staff (all save the chef in their Italian restaurant) hailing from the island, the group’s three properties have brought a little of Barbados into the hotels with a programme dubbed Elegantly Bajan, covering everything from rum-tasting and road tennis to steel pans and shopping tours – mostly at no extra cost for all-inclusive stays.
Like a man and his stomach, food is the quickest way to the heart of the culture: not only do market tours or cooking classes throw guests straight into the hustle and bustle of local life, but increasingly, hotels are also helping to support neighbourhood restaurants by offering dine-around packages within the all-inclusive price.
At Ikos Resorts in Halkidiki, the ‘dine-out experience’ allows guests to have dinner in a nearby Greek taverna during their stay. In Saint Lucia, the Bay Gardens Beach Resort lets guests eat away from the resort three nights a week in one of seven restaurants in Rodney Bay, all of which are within walking distance of the hotel.
The latter is new to TravelCube’s growing portfolio of beach resorts, along with Attitude hotels in Mauritius, which include lessons in whipping up Mauritian dishes (plus dancing to sega music and shopping at the in-resort craft bazaar, where all profits go back to the community) in a programme called Otentik Attitude.
Cooking classes crop up on many all-inclusive packages, no matter what the cuisine. At Maritim Crystals Beach Hotel, also in Mauritius, head chef Sylvio leads three complimentary classes a week making dishes such as samosa and chicken curry with prawns, while Cretan hotel Aldemar Royal Mare teaches guests how to prepare the island’s signature seafood dishes.
Jamaica’s most prominent food ambassador, Levi Roots, is even making an appearance at Sandals Ochi Beach Resort in January, to give guests a masterclass in making his famous jerk chicken wings, along with a trip to a food market and even a few songs at a private gala dinner.
In Barbados, Crystal Cove’s Elegantly Bajan programme includes plenty of tasty – and complimentary – experiences: from Oistins Night, which brings all the fun and food from the famous Fish Fry into the hotel, along with a DJ playing calypso and reggae, to a Rum Shop initiation where guests learn to ‘lime’ like a local and pick up tips on rum shop games such as dominoes.
Sister properties Turtle Beach and Tamarind also get their guests in on the foodie action. The former runs a Pepperpot Culinary Tour to Speightstown fish market, with a tour through historic Holetown and an authentic Bajan lunch at well-known restaurant Scotch Bonnet. Tamarind’s Tamtastic Rum Shop Crawl Tour visits some of the island’s most popular watering holes, taking in the main sights en route (£34).
Jumby Bay in Antigua also provides guests with a slice of island life through foodie excursions (at a supplement). They can choose from a tour of Black Pineapple Farm, accompanied by executive chef Sylvain Hervochon; an Insider Rum Experience visiting local sugar cane fields and the distillery where English Harbour Rum is made; or Susie’s Hot Sauce Tour, during which visitors can meet the eponymous maker of the island’s famous pepper sauce.
Image courtesy of Sandals
Feel the rhythm
Music is a sure-fire way to help clients get into the local groove, and nothing could be more quintessentially Caribbean than steel pans.
Crystal Cove includes hands-on lessons in classic calypso from some of the island’s best players, while guests at sister property Turtle Beach can sit back and enjoy the in-resort dance show Caribbean Goes Global – showcasing calypso, soca, reggae and gospel music – and regular performances by professional calypso dancers and trumpet player Ricky Braithwaite.
Kids can get in on the action too, making their own Kadooment costume and showing it off in the resort’s mini-carnival.
Done well, these shows can be a great way of helping clients connect with local culture without having to expend too much effort. Even international brands such as Riu vary their in-house entertainment to suit the locality, with flamenco dancing in Andalucia, mariachi in Mexico, sega in Mauritius and punto panameño in Panama.
Guests also get the chance to get up and have a go themselves, with daytime classes in salsa, merengue and local dance funaná in Cape Verde.
Even a chilled-out beach holiday can be brought alive with a splash of local culture. Premier Holidays says its clients love the traditional flower arranging and Balinese cultural show at Sol Beach House Benoa Resort, while those who upgrade to the resort’s silver package can even get a Balinese blessing ceremony at the hotel temple, all as part of the all-inclusive package.
A little bit of effort with the native language – even just knowing how to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ – can help visitors spark up a conversation with staff or locals, which is why so many all-inclusive properties are beginning to offer language lessons. Forget dusty old textbooks though – these lessons are more about making the most of a visit than getting your verb conjugations spot-on.
AM Resorts offers tuition in Spanish and Mayan, so guests can learn the meaning of the staff’s traditional greeting ‘bix a bel’ and a few other fun phrases.
Funway Holidays marketing executive Rebecca Evans says: “I visited Secrets Capri Riviera Cancun and signed up for the Spanish lesson. It lasts an hour and they offer beginner to advanced-level classes.”
Even seemingly more complicated languages such as Arabic are on offer in resorts including Club Med La Palmeraie in Morocco, as well as in Riu’s Moroccan and Tunisian hotels.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing stopping all-inclusive guests from escaping the hotel to explore the surrounding area, and many resorts actively encourage it with organised excursions.
These include the nature-focused tours at Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa in Mexico, where guests can learn about native bird and flower species in the resort and surrounding area (at no extra cost). Also in Mexico, Club Med operates a Connecting with Culture excursion from its Cancun resort to Mayan site Chichen Itza.
Not only do customers get 10% off Club Med tours if they book in advance, but agents also earn commission on every element of the booking, so it’s worth flagging these up.
If clients are more interested in learning about everyday life, suggest visiting a local community. JA Manafaru in the Maldives hosts a Local Island Experience for $95, while the exclusive Song Saa Private Island Resort in Cambodia invites guests to take part in the work of its Song Saa Foundation, with trips such as visiting a Khmer fishing village or helping staff survey the surrounding rainforest included in the package (nightly rates start at $1,440 per villa).
Similarly, the Sandals Foundation encourages guests to take part in lessons at schools in Jamaica, Antigua, Saint Lucia, Exuma in the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos Islands.
The weekly Reading Road Trip takes volunteers to participating primary schools to work on youngsters’ literacy, listening, reading and comprehension skills, at a cost of $20 (donated to the foundation’s education fund) or free for children between eight and 12 who want to see what life is like for their Caribbean counterparts – as long as they don’t mind spending a bit of their holiday back in a classroom.
Sandals’ Rum, Rhythm & Roots package, at the Ochi Beach Resort, starts at £1,599, departing on January 6. The price includes seven nights’ Luxury Included accommodation in a Poolside One Bedroom Butler Villa Suite, Virgin Atlantic flights, No.1 Traveller Lounge passes, transfers, two cooking classes, a market visit, cocktail reception and gala dinner.
Seven nights’ all-inclusive at Secrets Capri Riviera Cancun, departing November 17, starts at £1,449 with Funway Holidays. The price includes flights and transfers.
A week’s all-inclusive at Ikos Oceania starts at £5,991 with Sovereign, departing on July 25. The price is for two adults and two children staying in a Junior Suite Sea View and includes easyJet flights from Gatwick and private transfers.
News from all-inclusive resorts
Grand Lucayan resort on Grand Bahama has added an all-inclusive concept, Lighthouse Pointe at Grand Lucayan. The 198-room resort is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation to update its rooms and public spaces, and to add a kids’ club.
The Paradise Cove Boutique Hotel in Mauritius will become wholly ‘premium all-inclusive’ in February 2017. All packages will include premium brands, in-room breakfast and a complimentary massage.
Dominican Republic resort Casa de Campo is offering free nights for travel before September 30. Valid on elite and superior accommodation, two or three-night stays will earn one extra night, while five-night bookings qualify for two.
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