Everything Goes

All-inclusives add ease to Mexico vacations


By: By Dawna L. Robertson

The pool at the Iberostar Grand  Hotel Paraiso // (c) Iberostar hotels & Resorts
The pool at the Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso

While staying at a modest Corsica tent village in 1949, two-time Olympic medalist Gerard Blitz had a vision that impacted the way people would travel for generations to come. Blitz’s revolutionary concept was to create a new vacation style designed to "cross social boundaries through activities and sports." He ordered 200 tents and soon launched the first Club Med (www.clubmed.us) on Alcudia Beach in Mallorca, Spain.

Fast forward to 1974, when this all-inclusive pioneer introduced its trendsetting style to Mexico with the opening of Club Med Playa Blanca. While that property closed in 2001, the company’s Cancun Yucatan and Ixtapa Pacific resorts are still going strong.

Today, wristbands have replaced the iconic "bar beads." And all-inclusive pleasures have ballooned to encompass elegantly appointed accommodations with 24-hour room service, multiple theme restaurants beyond standard buffets, lounges serving premium beverages, daily activities and festive evening entertainment.

Some resorts fluff the category up a notch with unlimited dining at gourmet restaurants, upscale in-room amenities, comprehensive kids club programs and even complimentary golf. And smaller boutique properties often go full guns by covering airport transfers, the use of cars and niche activities, such as cooking lessons, diving excursions and cultural treks.

Why does a vacation concept with its roots so deeply planted in Europe work so well in Mexico? According to Xavier Mufraggi, CEO, Club Med North America, U.S. travelers are extremely receptive to all-inclusive vacationing in Mexico, particularly now that value plays a more critical role.

"Guests are seeking a no compromise vacation where they can reconnect with their families and rediscover their own interests," said Mufraggi. "They know how much they will pay for their vacation when they book it, and they know that everything is included."

Especially important when booking your clients into an all-inclusive is determining whether they’re better suited for a family resort or an adults-only facility, and if they prefer recreation included or simply available. Space is another consideration, so determine whether a regular room or suite will better accommodate their needs.

Iberostar Hotels & Resorts
With one property in Cozumel and seven in the Riviera Maya, Iberostar Hotels & Resorts has recently introduced its Grand Collection brand that defines a higher all-inclusive level. Its first offering is the Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso in the Riviera Maya, an adults-only, all-suite property based on the concept of upscale vacationing that’s stylish and relaxed. An additional Grand Collection hotel is currently in the works for Puerto Vallarta.

Lapping the shores of Playa Paraiso, Iberostar’s 312-suite newcomer has upped the ante with personalized butler and concierge services, classes, clinics, VIP preferred reservations to the resort’s 32,000-square-foot spa, unlimited a la carte dining and a complimentary round on an 18-hole P.B. Dye championship golf course.

"Families tend to gravitate toward our Paraiso, Tucan and Quetzal properties due to the kids’ programs and activities for all," said John Long, vice president, sales and marketing. "Plus, Paraiso Lindo and Paraiso Maya are the only hotels in Mexico that offer wave pools."

He added that with the launch of the Grand Collection in 2007, Iberostar has been able to capture a greater share of the couples and adult travel market.

Late next year, the company will welcome Iberostar Playa Mita in Riviera Nayarit, marking its inaugural property on Mexico’s Pacific coast — the first in a complex that will eventually house three hotels and a championship golf course.

This year, AMResorts (www.amresorts.com) has broadened its Mexico presence with new properties in Huatulco, Nuevo Vallarta, Punta de Mita and La Paz. Tagged as its Unlimited-Luxury category, the company’s premier all-inclusive brands are the adult-oriented Secrets Resorts & Spas and the affluent family-friendly Dreams Resorts & Spas. With the additions, the AMResorts roster will feature three Secrets and eight Dreams properties in coastal destinations.

By December, Secrets Capri Riviera Cancun will relaunch as a complete Preferred Club Resort, providing enhanced service to every guest. Luxury amenities, dedicated concierge services, private airport transfers, 24-hour room service menus, a new spa and private check-in and check-out are among the indulging highlights. Over the next two years, AMResorts is also investing in existing properties to provide guests more upscale dining options, upgraded amenities and unrivaled spa facilities.

Karisma Hotels & Resorts
A favored collection of inclusive resorts strung along the white-sand beaches of Riviera Maya, Karisma Hotels & Resorts (www.karismahotels.com) features three Azul Hotels and three El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels that range from boutique to grand properties. The company’s enhanced approach addresses every detail of the guest experience — from decor and atmosphere to the variety and quality of services, amenities and cuisine. Smaller in size and more intimate in appeal, several Karisma properties are reserved for adults only.

The new Karisma approach incorporates a food and beverage director who ensures each resort serves truly innovative cuisine that’s distinctive from more typical, all-inclusive fare. Services and programs are considered a cut above — including quality entertainment, activities and sports.

Barcelo Hotels & Resorts
As a European hotel company operating resorts throughout the Mediterranean, Barcelo Hotels & Resorts (www.barcelo.com) entered the Mexico market well familiar with the benefits of the all-inclusive vacation option.

According to Claudio Zboznovits, vice president of sales and marketing for the U.S. and Canada, an all-inclusive experience is an exceptional value for vacationers, even at the luxury level.

"In our larger multiple-property resort complexes such as the Barcelo Maya Beach Resort, we are able to provide a variety of experiences that enable a guest to enjoy what they want, from family friendly to exclusive upscale," he said. "But by bundling five hotels together on a mile of beach, we are also able to offer some 20 dining experiences and a full-service spa, plus other comprehensive amenities that really do provide a very complete vacation experience — even for guests who stay for a week or more," said Zboznovits.

He added that Barcelo’s larger properties feature areas that are geared to families, while also preserving the couples’ experience with exclusive restaurants, a beach and lounge areas.

Among its 12 Mexico all-inclusives, Barcelo Los Cabos is receiving a major upgrade scheduled for completion next year. Renovations are complete at the Barcelo La Jolla de Mismaloya hotel, and the company recently opened the Barcelo Maya Palace Hotel at the Barcelo Maya Beach Resort.

It also added Barcelo Premium Club Service, which is available to guests staying in suites or larger guestrooms. This added convenience provides a more high-end experience with private check-in, late check-out, additional guestroom amenities, childrens’ services and a private lounge serving cocktails, food and snacks throughout the day.

Sol Melia’s Paradisus Riviera Cancun
Situated midway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, upscale Paradisus Riviera Cancun (www.paradisusresorts.travel) is Sol Melia’s only all-inclusive brand in Mexico. Removed from the destination’s crowded hotel zone, the 496-room resort is situated on a 5,000-foot private beach running along the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean.

Paradisus takes the all-inclusive concept to a higher level with its Life Enriching Classes that include tango lessons, wine tasting, candle making classes and cooking classes. It also puts a premium on recreation and romance by offering non-motorized aquatic sports, horseback riding, bicycling tours and sunset cruises all a part of the all-inclusive rate.

As an upgrade, the Royal Service is an adults-only category that indulges clients with a personal butler who handles preferential reservations for the spa, restaurants and activities. Royal Service guests also enjoy privileges to a private lounge and business center providing complimentary cocktails, snacks and Internet access.

Real Resorts
With a pair of all-inclusives in Cancun and three in Playa del Carmen, Real Resorts (www.realresorts.com) features a 24 Hour All-Inclusive Plan that covers accommodations, all meals, around-the-clock snacks with beverages in the 24 Hour All-Inclusive Club, activities, entertainment, non-motorized watersports and the supervised Oki Kids Club for ages 4 to 12 (at select properties).

As an added bonus, Real Resorts guests staying at Gran or Royal brand properties may take advantage of exchange privileges to experience all the facilities and restaurants at a different hotel in a different locale.

Guests of the Gran Resorts in Cancun and Playa del Carmen enjoy reciprocal privileges between these two sister hotels. Guests staying at the Royal resorts may use the facilities, restaurants and spas at all Real Resorts in Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

Riu Hotels & Resorts
Cutting its teeth with all-inclusives in the Caribbean and Europe, Riu Hotels & Resorts (www.riu.com) jumped into Mexico’s all-inclusive market in 1997 with the Riu Yucatan.

"We tested the all-inclusive concept and found it to be what guests want," said CEO Luis Riu. "So, we have been opening all-inclusive hotels in the Caribbean and Mexico since then."

Taking benefits up a level, the All Inclusive By Riu allows guests unlimited dining at intimate, themed eateries with advanced reservations. And international and national brand drinks are available in all bars and in-room dispensers.

With the Riu Palace category, all-inclusive is elevated to cover 24-hour room service and full bottles in the minibars.

"With each guest, we learn more about wants, desires and needs, and we work to fulfill and exceed their expectations," said Riu.

As the top destination for Riu in terms of arrivals and revenue, Mexico is currently home to 14 Riu resorts with a total of 7,382 rooms. Newest to the group is the 445-room Riu Palace Pacifico in Riviera Nayarit. And set to open next May in Mazatlan is the Hotel Riu Emerald Bay, a five-star beachfront property with 716 suites, three specialty-themed restaurants, five bars and three conference rooms.

Tesoro Resorts
Tesoro Resorts (www.tesororesorts.com) covers all the basics with its family-friendly, 203-room Tesoro Ixtapa and 331-room Tesoro Manzanillo. The company especially plays up its Corsarios Kids Club, with a slew of gifts, recreation and menu selections for children ages 4 to 12. To top off the fun, the Manzanillo property features an elaborate kids-only waterpark.

Pam Streeter, vice president of marketing, feels that in Mexico, the resort itself tends to become the vacation destination.

"People are comfortable with the idea of staying and doing everything on the property," she said.

Streeter added that since Mexico is still considered an exotic vacation destination for U.S. travelers, the all-inclusive concept provides an added sense of comfort.

Casa de Mita
While the all-inclusive image is often linked to large properties with all the bells and whistles, there’s a softer side with boutique options that create more intimate escapes. Some are all about doing nothing, while a growing number focus on niche experiences like cooking schools, scuba certification and unlimited golf.

The eight-room, villa-style Casa de Mita (www.mexicoboutiquehotels.com/casademita/index.shtml) lies on a secluded white-sand beach within the Riviera Nayarit in upscale Punta de Mita. Void of high-energy activities and opulent buffets that tend to define larger properties, this intimate escape caters to discriminating clientele with a focus on privacy, gourmet cuisine and distinctive service.

The menu changes daily, showcasing dishes that favor organic, locally grown produce, fresh-caught seafood and the finest grades of meat and poultry. Going beyond the call, the property provides a complimentary car for guests wanting to explore the neighboring villages.

Isla Mujeres Palace
The newest addition to the Palace Resorts chain of all-inclusive hotels, the 62-room Isla Mujeres Palace (www.islamujerespalace.com) is located just off the coast of Cancun. A blend of luxury and quaint refinement, it combines an intimate small island feel within reach of Cancun’s vibrant nightlife.

Appealing to those who prefer to avoid mega hotels, the property indulges with top-flight service, ample activities, premium libations, complimentary wireless Internet, fine dining, non-motorized watersports, 24-hour room service and the Palace Passport package of outside excursions. Guests also have access to other Palace Resorts in Cancun, Riviera Maya and Cozumel as part of the all-inclusive plan.

La Villa Bonita
One of the oldest cooking schools in Mexico, the all-inclusive La Villa Bonita (www.lavillabonita.com) is situated an hour south of Mexico City in Tepoztlan.

The La Villa Bonita program is a combination of hands-on instruction, and informative culinary and cultural field trips in and around Tepoztlan and Cuernavaca. Classes are designed to provide students a full working knowledge of how to prepare traditional and nouvelle Mexican dishes, salsas, condiments and beverages from simple to elaborate. Naturally, cuisine is included during the stay, whether prepared by the staff or by guests during their classes.

Also check out Casa Velas Hotel Boutique (www.hotelcasavelas.com), Ceiba del Mar Spa Resort (www.ceibadelmar.com) and Xpu-Ha Palace (www.xpuha-palace.com).

Other major players in Mexico’s all-inclusive line-up include Bahia Principe (www.bahiaprincipeusa.com), El Cid Resorts (www.elcid.com), El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels (www.eldoradosparesorts.com), Excellence Group Resorts (www.excellence-resorts.com), Oasis Hotels & Resorts (www.hotelesoasis.com), Palace Resorts (www.palaceresorts.com) and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts(www.wyndham.com).