An oceanfront Jacuzzi suite at Generations Riviera Maya // © 2017 Karisma Hotels & Resorts
Feature image (above): Generations Riviera Maya by Karisma caters to multigenerational groups. // © 2017 Karisma Hotels & Resorts
The sun has set on the stigma of all-inclusives. As travel has increasingly become the norm over the last 10 years or so, the tastes of travelers and the overall quality of the industry in general has gotten a makeover. And all-inclusive resorts are no exception.
The new generation of traveler, fueled by both a millennial mindset and the recession backlash that favors experiences over things, will never know the cringe-worthy tales of deep-fried-only buffets, cheesy entertainment and the penitentiary-esque vibe of properties that wish to keep guests as close to their facilities as possible. Instead, all-inclusive resorts are riding the experiential travel wave, going decidedly boutique and niche in the process.
“The U.S. and Canadian market, which started the massive all-inclusive market around two decades ago, is certainly aging,” said Ana Gon-Ryan, a longtime veteran of Mexico’s hotel industry and currently a consultant for several hotel companies in the country. “Today’s market is more diverse, especially when we think about the millennials who are craving to ‘experience’ a destination and not be all about beach, food and drinks. This has motivated all-inclusive products to evolve and find different concepts to serve the target markets, such as adults-only, luxury, families, etc.”
The demographics of the all-inclusive market now include segments from couples and singles to families, foodies, health nuts, millennials and more. Ernst & Young’s 2014 Global Hospitality Insights trends report noted that growing competition among all-inclusive operators had “spurred a quest for product differentiation, resulting in the emergence of brands targeting specific customer types.”
As more and more all-inclusive resorts are built, resort chains are figuring out that having a niche differentiates them from the norm, says Mitch Toren, chief vacation engineer at Pennsylvania-based TripGuy Travel.
“And it also allows for optimized programming for that same niche,” he said. “They don’t have to satisfy the entire spectrum of potential clientele.”
What makes an all-inclusive a true standout today are factors including its decor, service, amenities, entertainment and activities.
“The offerings at all-inclusives have improved significantly and now include swim-up suites; terrace soaking tubs; fire pits; butler service in the upper room categories; experiential and cultural activities; mobile resort apps; a variety of high-end, a la carte restaurants and wine selections; and pool and beach waiter service,” according to “7 Trends That Have Transformed All-Inclusive Resorts,” a report from Palace Resorts.
The perception of the destination vacation has transcended beyond poolside relaxation and a weekend of sunbathing in a touristic hotel zone, says Frank Maduro, vice president of marketing for AIC Hotel Group, parent company to brands including Hard Rock Hotels and Unico 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya.
“It’s about being thrown into the culture and living that true meaningful experience,” he said. “Individuals desire a curated and culturally immersive experience with bespoke and personalized elements.”
Beyond that, a mindset of experiences over products was a rising trend that is now the norm. Consumers have come to expect specialized experiences that cater to their specific wants and needs. But with that, authenticity must also be laced in.
“You can’t just say that you are the perfect place for foodies, families or romance,” said Kelly Poling, senior vice president of marketing for Karisma Hotels & Resorts. “It’s imperative to deliver a genuine, quality vacation experience to truly impress discerning guests. And as part of this desire for authenticity, travelers today are seeking properties that are boutique in nature, offering special and one-of-a-kind touches and amenities true to the destination.”
Karisma’s range of hotel products allows different types of travelers to experience the brand, without lumping everyone together at the same resort. Its Gourmet Inclusive product caters to the foodie crowd, while Azul maximizes market share for those traveling with infants by including amenities specially made for parents. Generations Resorts by Karisma, meanwhile, is the perfect spot for multigenerational travel, and Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts caters to the preteen market.
“Karisma Hotels & Resorts is defined by the Gourmet Inclusive Experience,” Poling said. “As part of that, we’ve partnered with brands such as Jackson Family Wines, Canadian Beef, Nickelodeon and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville to create innovative guest experiences.”
Hard Rock Hotels is also differentiating by design. It has become a go-to all-inclusive brand in the market for clients who are looking to be active and have more engaging vacation experiences. Unlimited resort credit promotions for spas and tours, music around the pools, energetic lobbies and a new partnership with action-sports company Woodward gives families more inclusions and activities.
AMResorts’ adults-only Breathless Resorts & Spas brand, too, is distinguishing itself.
Breathless markets itself more as a “party” with sex appeal than traditional couples-dominated resorts. And then there are brands that take it one step further and cater specifically to sex appeal, such as topless-optional Temptation Cancun Resort and clothing-optional Desire Resorts.
When it comes to destination immersion, The Explorean — a brand from Fiesta Americana — is all about revealing sides of Mexico that most travelers don’t get to see. Its two resorts, The Explorean Kohunlich and The Explorean Cozumel, harness their locations to create truly memorable and one-of-a-kind experiences, each with a twist of luxury. All excursions are included. At Kohunlich, a highlight excursion is a day tour to Bacalar, which includes kayaking, mangrove swimming, natural spa treatments and a shoreside lunch of fresh aguachile (spicy ceviche) and grilled meat, along with an open bar.
Meanwhile, AIC Hotel Group’s Unico 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya debuted in March, positioning itself as the new wave of luxury all-inclusive experiences. The luxury all-inclusive concept is one the travel industry has heard before, but Unico 20°87° aims to take it to the next level, with 90 percent of its rooms featuring ocean views and the smallest measuring 624 square feet. All first-floor rooms feature swim-up pools, while floors two through five offer double hydro spa tubs on their terraces. Pair that with a partying pool scene; gourmet restaurants; complimentary fitness offerings, including everything from spinning and yoga to Pilates and bikini boot camp; and included spa treatments and excursions, and there is very little left to be desired.
“We’re targeting the aspirational traveler who wants to experience the unexpected and form a genuine connection to the region,” said Maduro of AIC Hotel Group. “This can be an older traveler or a millennial who’d rather spend their disposable income on experiences. It can also be anyone from a couple to a mother and daughter, someone looking to plan a girls’ getaway or bachelor party, or even a corporate meeting or incentive group.”
And as clientele ages or passes through different life phases, several hotel parent companies are establishing core values across their brands, so that while today a client might prefer the party scene from one brand, in a few years, he or she will be able to enjoy the family-style properties and receive the same level of service and amenities. For example, Karisma’s Gourmet Inclusive is company-wide, stretching across all its brands. Similarly, AMResorts promises its Unlimited-Luxury at each of its different brands.
“Consumer expectations are constantly evolving, which is why we feel that establishing and maintaining a core identity centered on defining pillars will help to ensure our properties are lasting rather than trendy,” said Karisma’s Poling.