Like cruises, all-inclusive resorts (AIRs) provide the perfect setting for sales incentive programs. There exists a property or chain of resorts to suit every budget, taste and style. From basic to extravagant, from family-friendly to adults-only, AIRs offer a solution for companies who want everything bundled in - food, drinks and fun - making it simple for a group to enjoy their reward without dipping outside the budget or having guests spend their own money. Some find AIRs to be the safest (and easiest) choice in destinations like Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, where guests are more likely to remain on property in the evening. AIRs have gained in popularity and sophistication from their modest beginnings with Club Med. Remember the pop-beads used to buy drinks? Basic properties include unlimited food, alcohol, some sporting activities and basic entertainment. At the most luxurious resorts expect to enjoy a stocked mini-bar, full room service, butlers,
Like their cruise counterparts, AIRs are priced based upon two guests sharing a room. Therefore, just like cruises, this may not be your best choice for a conference requiring single-occupancy accommodations. AIRs have a slight advantage over cruises at family-friendly properties - where adding in kids won't mean moving from a double to a quad room. Roll aways exist and a single bed at a resort is at least full-sized (sometimes queen). Compare that to cruises where a single bed is always a twin. AIRs make programs that allow children a bit easier to accommodate. All AlRs have dedicated meeting and function spaces, unlike cruises where few offer this amenity. Some AlRs boast full convention centers. Unlike traditional hotels, all of the space is free of charge and without F&B minimums. Now the questions:
POP QUIZ. WHAT DO ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORTS HAVE IN COMMON?
You know this one! They all include unlimited food and alcohol and are primarily located in the Caribbean, Mexico , Costa Rica and Panama. There is ONE in the United States - Club Med Sandpiper - but it's probably not your jam. There are a few in South America and in Europe - yet I don't believe many US-based companies have used them.
l'M CONFUSED BETWEEN ALL-INCLUSIVE PLAN (AIP) AND ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT (AIR). SET ME STRAIGHT!
You're not the only one. Don't feel badly.
EVERY guest has the same all-inclusive food and beverage package and most everything is included. Occasionally there is a surcharge for lobster (for example) at a specialty restaurant. At Paradisus resorts there is one Michelin-style restaurant with a tasting menu with a cover charge. You will also find one restaurant reserved only for "Royal Service" at Paradisus and "Preferred Club" at Secrets properties. VSOP (and other top shelf brands) plus wine or champagne by the bottle are additional. Minibar, snacks and room service are provided free of charge. You'll never go hungry! Non-motorized water toys are generally included. Certain resorts provide comp airport transfers (Sandals and Xcaret for example), while most do not. When transfers are included, bear in mind that they are not exclusive, and buses will wait to fill up before departing from or returning to the airport. Rule of thumb: pay the DMC and arrange for your own transfers. This is NOT a time to cut expenses!
ARE TOURS OR SPA EVER INCLUDED? YOU'D BE SURPRISED!
YES! Unico, located in Riviera Maya, includes a large list of spa services. You can have as many as you'd like and pay a 20% gratuity per treatment. Free is good! At Xcaret, unlimited tours and off-site area adventures are included. Hop on a small canal boat and you will be taken to a number of theme parks and attractions. The savings are big, as outsiders must pay for each of these tours. Some resorts, like Grand Velas - offer a $50 per person/day credit for spa services. Hard Rock and Palace offer generous room credits, as much as $1000 per room to be used for top shelf liquor, golf, excursions and spa. Secrets Resorts give you a 5% loyalty credit to the master account for your next adventure. Ask about these inclusions upfront.
IF I HOLD A MEAL EVENT OFF-PROPERTY, WILL I GET A CREDIT FOR THE FOOD AND DRINKS WE DIDN'T CONSUME?
It's a great question!! Food and beverage costs are not as high as one might think, and the credit wouldn't amount to much. But consider this... the resort cannot control what your group eats and drinks before they leave for your event. Additionally, guests cannot be stopped from eating another dinner or enjoying room service when they return. (Remember what I said above about how people order when it's included?) We have negotiated special concessions for groups who feel they are "losing out" by paying for dinner in two places. Recently, a Grand Velas Los Cabos client booked a private dinner event at Flora Farm. The hotel agreed to have a spectacular dessert and cordial buffet set up for the guests when they returned from their function. It provided the group with a "surprise and delight" and helped the client justify their expenses.
THE AIP, ALSO CALLED AN EP (EUROPEAN PLAN) HOTEL WITH AN ALL-INCLUSIVE PACKAGE:
You pay for the hotel room AND the taxes, gratuities, fees, porterage. Then you add on an AIP that covers food and alcohol. It almost always costs more than a traditional AIR. Restrictions, surcharges and limitations abound. Bar hours may be shortened. Mini bar and room service are generally NOT included. Fewer dining options are available, as these hotels are expecting guests to dine off property. You will find surcharges for luxury items such as lobster at the included venues, and some restaurants may be excluded entirely. You'll be dining in the same restaurants multiple times. EP hotel staff is used to serving their typical EP guest. Service slows down at these resorts when an AIP guest orders food and beverages as they would do at a true all-inclusive because guests order more when it's "included". Transient, Affinity and other group guests at the resort may be on different plans, which can be confusing to the staff. My advice to anyone who wants an uncomplicated all-inclusive experience is to book a true AIR. BIG exception: Curacao Santa Barbara. They get it, and they do it right!
SO HOW DO I PICK THE RIGHT HOME FOR MY ALL- INCLUSIVE INCENTIVE PROGRAM?
Examine your budget. AIRs range from less than $200 pppd increasing to upwards of $600 pppd - and trust me, you get what you pay for. Seasonality and destination factor into the pricing. Peak season generally runs from mid-December through mid-April. Want a fabulous deal? Travel August through October. Want a GREAT place at that time of year? Curacao fairs better than the others, and like her sister island, Aruba - appears to be immune to hurricanes. Aruba however, has very limited all-inclusive options. Let's save that for another discussion. I'd be happy to explain it to you.
Does your group want to party til dawn? Are they the shy and quiet type? Adults only? Kids? Do you want to be in a city like Cancun or off the beaten path down in Tulum? How far of a ride from the airport can you tolerate? How long of a plane ride can you handle, and would you prefer non-stop flights? (Who doesn't?) Is a spectacular beach the most important thing, or would you forgo amazing blue waters for a destination that has more culture and interesting off-site adventures? Must you have all ocean-view rooms or would being in the jungle seem exotic? How important is conference space? What about the spa? Where has your group been before? So much to consider. Don't be overwhelmed.
Just like EP hotel chains - such as Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, Ritz, and Four Seasons -- have a "vibe", so do AIRS.
Here are some great incentive-caliber all-inclusive brands. With careful consideration (as outlined above) one or more can be easily matched to your event.