For some travelers, all-inclusive hotels and resorts conjure up images of cafeteria-style food served in exotic settings where guests never actually leave the confines of the property.
That image is changing, as hotel companies expand their offerings, and provide a fresh take on what all-inclusive means.
Many hotel companies are adding all-inclusive properties, that allow guests to pay a single fee for their accommodations, use of resort amenities and activities as well as food and rink, to their portfolios. For example, Hyatt's acquired Apple Leisure Group in November 2021, making it one of the largest owners of luxury all-inclusive resorts in the world.
Hyatt now owns luxury-focused AMR Collection, with beachfront properties in Mexico and Central America. There are now more than 100 new resorts for visitors — and where World of Hyatt members can use their points — up from about a dozen before the deal.
Just weeks before Hyatt's news, Marriott had also expanded its all-inclusive portfolio by adding 20 properties under a new brand called "All-Inclusive by Marriott Bonvoy."
Leaning toward luxury
With these new all-inclusive offerings, hotels are emphasizing luxury. At Hyatt's Zoetry Montego Bay Jamaica, all accommodations come with a dedicated in-house concierge. Some rooms come with private pools.
"The Zoetry Wellness & Spa Resorts brand is all about exceptional amenities," said AMResorts senior vice president Miguel Oliveira. "There are no check-in or check-out times, unlimited top-shelf spirits and 24-hour concierge."
Marriott CEO Anthony Capuano said in a March 2021 earnings call that luxury rooms account for more than 10% of Marriott's pipeline.
"Leisure demand has led the recovery, and we are well-positioned to continue growing our lead in resort destinations, including in the high growth all-inclusive space," he said. For example, Marriott's recent additions include the Royalton Antigua, where visitors can stay in Antigua's only glass-floored, overwater bungalows.
And while the rooms are luxurious, more all-inclusive resorts are encouraging visitors to venture beyond the resort area.
Twin Farms in Vermont offers ski equipment and fat-tire bikes for use on its private slopes. A partnership with Volvo allows guests to explore Vermont's countryside by taking a drive in vehicles made available by the resort. Nightly rates sometimes run close to $6,000.
Baja Expeditions offers a "glamping" experience at San Ignacio Lagoon in Mexico. Guests stay in windproof, heated tents with en suite bathrooms, and head out on whale-watching excursions during the day. The four-day experience costs about $5,000 for two guests and includes a charter flight to the lagoon.
Walt Disney World Resort this year opened a Star Wars-themed hotel, called Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser.
"The Galactic Starcruiser experience is part dinner mystery theater, part high-production show, part escape room, part video role-playing game, part cruise, and part resort stay — all rolled into one," says Beci Mahnken, founder and CEO of travel agency MEI-Travel.
Vacations there run between $1,500 and $2,400 per person for two nights, including valet parking. Rates include activities such as lightsaber training, tickets to the theme park, plus themed food like bantha dumplings, a beef-based dish named after "bantha," a fictional "Star Wars" mammalian beast.
Why is all-inclusive travel become more popular?
For travelers who care about costs, all-inclusive deals can simplify trip planning and budgeting.
When pricing an a la carte vacation, travelers have to account for hidden costs like mandatory gratuities and resort fees. Then, they have to factor in minor expenses for beverages, snacks, parking and more.
While the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is far from a budget vacation, Mahnken said that when you compare individually priced theme park tickets, entertainment and meals with the cost of the all-inclusive experience, then $3,000 can be worth it.
"Is it for everyone? No," she said. "However, when you look at each element of the experience and what you would pay for each experience separately, the price is a very good value."
Mahnken encourages guests to look closely at what's covered under the all-inclusive fee. Particularly when booking a cruise, it's common to see similar rooms and itineraries offered at dramatically different rates because some include gratuities, alcohol and fine dining, while others don't.
For some more travelers, the convenience is worth the price.
"The ability to pre-pay and not have any surprises or a bill waiting for you at the end removes many aggravating factors of travel," Mahnken says. "It's easier to budget."
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