Misconceptions About the All-Inclusive Experience

Online Editor Monica Poling shares her family’s misconceptions about all-inclusive travel By: Monica Poling
The outdoor massage cabin at Club Med Ixtapa proves to be a worthy retreat for the writer // (c) 2010 Monica Poling
The outdoor massage cabin at Club Med Ixtapa proves to be a worthy retreat for the writer // (c) 2010 Monica Poling

“Imagine the dim sum in the New Territories,” I can still remember my father saying as he booked a remote, out-of-the-way hotel as part of our Hong Kong trip. During my youth, family travel planning usually focused on the food we would experience in a destination.

After the food, we would choose destinations where there were a lot of “things” to do. Even a beach getaway had to be booked at a beach that was close to a historic district, theatres, attractions and shopping.

A trip to an all-inclusive resort was pretty far off the radar for us, largely because our perceptions that this type of travel would never meet our most important travel-planning requirements.

My first experience at an all-inclusive resort was well after I started writing for TravelAge West Magazine. As my education grows, however, I realize that I still carry many of my family’s misconceptions. With each new trip I learn that the all-inclusive experience can offer so much more than my family ever realized it could.

The Food
Naturally my family’s first concern in booking an all-inclusive resort would have been concern over the quality of food. The idea of eating buffet food prepared by the same resort every day for a week would have gone against the grain of everything my family ever believed travel should be.

Today, a travel agent could assuage those concerns just by listing the sheer variety of restaurants offered by most all-inclusive resorts. There are few resorts these days that don’t offer at least three or four sit-down restaurants in addition to the grand buffet. Most offer dining options that include some form of local cuisine, a fine-dining establishment and usually an Asian kitchen as well. Most also offer locations for quick bites, from hamburgers and salads to pastries and deluxe coffee drinks.

In addition to variety, quality, too, is on the rise. Obviously the quality of food varies from resort to resort, but all-inclusive resorts are catching on to the fact that food is important to travelers, and are upping their culinary game.

This is another area where a knowledgeable agent can flex their power. By telling their foodie clients about the top dining options at their favorite all-inclusive resorts, they have the potential of converting a client who might never before have considered this form of travel.

Favorite Meal: Kobe beef rib eye steak in The Steakhouse. Secrets Sanctuary, Cap Cana, Dominican Republic

Nothing to Do
Although our family did enjoy beach days, with pails and snorkels at the ready, this activity alone would never have been enough to constitute a vacation. The idea that all-inclusive resorts aren’t much more than giant tan fests by day and beach parties by night may be true of some resorts, but most resorts these days offer a huge variety of included and optional activities.

Going well beyond yoga and the included morning walk, activities are plentiful and diverse. Most resorts offer a variety of traditional programs, such as cooking classes, snorkeling programs, even visits to local villages, while others also include a more diverse set of offerings ranging from arts program to trapeze schools.

Guests will be hard pressed to find an all-inclusive resort that doesn’t include a tour desk, tempting them with programs that explore the local area. (Of course the intrepid travel agent can both convert a non-believer and make additional commissions by letting their clients know what optional activities are available to them in advance of departure.)

Favorite Activity: Swimming in a cenote (a fresh-water filled sinkhole), then snorkeling along the connected a freshwater river until it terminates in the ocean. Hacienda Tres Rios, Riviera Maya, Mexico.

Too Noisy
The image of the perky poolside DJ shouting instructions via bullhorn to guests, who would move en masse to the next pre-scheduled activity, would have been another big negative for my family in booking an all-inclusive resort. So too would have been the all-day pool party, with the sounds of loud music blaring into all corners of the resort.

Today there are as many resort personalities as there are types of travelers. While there are certainly resorts that cater to the party atmosphere, there are many others that offer a more laidback atmosphere. Whether a traveler is looking for a family-friendly experience, golf travel, a spa getaway, or indeed a raucous party, a travel agent can be an excellent resource making sure their client’s personality matches the personality of their resort.

Favorite Sound Profile: Enjoying a massage in an outdoor cabana at Club Med Ixtapa, Mexico. I could hear the surf on one side of me, birds chirping in the trees on another side, the distant sounds of the kids club on another and the Latin rhythms of the Zumba class on the other, making for an incredibly low-key, relaxing experience. Club Med Ixtapa, Ixtapa, Mexico.

Too Expensive
While many travelers like the idea of paying one price and being able to leave their credit cards at home, it has always been our family’s perception that travel like this actually is more expensive. We tend not to be heavy drinkers, so the idea of paying a flat rate for an alcohol package would seem not to be a good value.

The reality, however, is resorts offer unique, complex packages and there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all pricing. Each resort’s rates are highly dependent on what the resort offers. Club Med, for example, includes airfare in their packages, while other resorts offer higher and lower level alcohol packages.

The issue of resort pricing is where travel agents can really shine. The agent who can quickly match their clients’ budget with a resort that also meets the client’s other requirements can be the best advocate for encouraging a first-time client to try all-inclusive travel.

Great Deal: Paradise Resort Taveuni offers a 5-night package for $1715 (for two people), that includes accommodations, meals, airport transfers and a 30-minute massage. Add-on pricing is available for alcohol packages. Paradise Resort Taveuni, Taveuni Island, Fiji.

All-Inclusive Does Not Always Mean All-Inclusive
One thing I have learned as I started experiencing all-inclusive resorts is that all-inclusive means different things to different resorts.

Travel agents would be wise to make sure their clients understand just what they are (and aren’t) getting for their money.

While most resorts include all food, many offer a VIP dinner experience at an additional cost. Often this dinner is an over-the-top, worth-the-cost experience, but clients who have already spent every cent of their budget may miss out.

Premium label alcohols are not always part of the all in all-inclusive. This policy varies significantly from resort to resort, so it if your client is used to top-shelf brands, a little research into the resorts policies would be wise.

Spa treatments and golf excursions are generally only included in specially booked resort packages and are not a de facto part of the experience.

Day-trips are usually excursions offered by outside companies, which means extra money out of your clients’ pocket.

Tipping, while generally considered included, is something that varies hugely from property to property. While some resorts are very strict about not accepting tips, many also look the other way if guests give special consideration to their favorite employees.

The problem with weighing all-inclusive travel with a one-size fits all mentality is that today’s resorts are plentiful, unique and complex.

The only thing that all-inclusive resorts really have in common is that the travel agent can be the consumer’s best friend in finding the right match for their desires. The travel agent specializing in this niche can provide a valuable education to consumers, even those who have previously considered and discarded the idea of all-inclusive travel.

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