Arnie WeissmannThere are hotels on the French Riviera (among other places) that, in addition to the premium nightly rates they charge, ding guests with fees to use their pools and beaches. Breakfast included? Dont even ask.

I suspect that even the uber-wealthy resent seeing these charges on the bills. On the other end of the hospitality scale are the all-inclusives, which, over the years, have included more and more options for whats included in all.

Especially in the last year or two, all-inclusive companies have made specific attempts to appeal to a higher and higher economic demographic. Sandals The Butler Did It campaign indicates that the types who might normally spend a week in St. Tropez are targeted somewhere in that companys business and marketing plans.

The nature of all-inclusives also has evolved in other ways. When they first came to notice, all-inclusives were about brands rather than destinations. You were sold on the concept of Club Med, Sandals or SuperClubs as much as the destinations where they arose.

But that, too, has changed, most noticeably in Cancun. There, the destination and the term all-inclusive have become almost synonymous. Cancun, a totally planned resort area, wasnt developed with all-inclusives in mind. And when they first started appearing, there was great skepticism that they would get even a toehold in Cancun sand.

Part of that skepticism was based on the idea that all-inclusives thrived in places that were considered attractive but dangerous. When they started appearing in Jamaica, the island was best-known for beautiful beaches, Marxist politics and drugs.

All-inclusives were enclaves where you didnt have to venture out of the gates even to find a restaurant or souvenir store. (And by paying for everything in advance, you werent even tempted.)

But the resort area of Cancun has always been viewed as safe. Theres little on the peninsula reminding you that youre in a developing country. All-inclusives are attractive there because, it turns out, the concept is attractive.

A critical turning point in the concept of all-inclusives might have been reached in 2005. Every year at Travel Weeklys Hawaii Leadership Forum, I ask wholesalers whether all-inclusives will ever take root in the islands beyond whats found at the Kona Village Resort on the Big Island. And every year the idea has been dismissed out of hand.

Until last week.

A panel of wholesalers I moderated that included representatives from Pleasant Holidays, Apple Vacations, Continental Vacations and MLT Vacations did not embrace the concept of all-inclusives for Hawaii, but for the first time they acknowledged Hawaii needs to answer the challenge. They have seen a huge rise in their all-inclusive business elsewhere and recognize that the islands need to respond.

Part of their protest that Hawaii does not need all-inclusives may be political in nature. Hawaiians are proud of the culture and beauty of the islands, and it would be a brave wholesaler indeed who suggests that one property owner could successfully monopolize control over a travelers Hawaiian experience.

But a political shift may have already occurred. Wholesalers might be looking over their shoulders not only at all-inclusives, but at the entry of Norwegian Cruise Line into the Hawaiian market.

Tim Irwin, CEO of Pleasant Holidays, wondered aloud whether NCL is primarily offering a Hawaiian experience or a typical cruise experience. Ken Pomerantz, MLTs vice president of sales and marketing, noted that the question may be irrelevant -- with NCLs 100% occupancy, it is demonstrating that theres a big market for travelers looking for alternatives to typical Hawaiian offerings.

The evolution of all-inclusives leads me to believe they can be viable in any beautiful destination. And NCL has shown the marketability of Hawaii may be more elastic than previously thought.

Aloha, all-inclusives?


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