Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

What's up with the recent surge in all-inclusive resorts? The proliferation of this category of vacation accommodations, long a staple in the Caribbean, seems at an all-time high.

Resort brands are jumping into the fray and making inroads into the upscale and luxury end of the sector. At the same time, established all-inclusive properties are innovating and upping their game with makeovers, conversions and expansions. Traditional hotel companies have added their products and properties to the mix, with more to follow. Resorts are also offering all-inclusive options alongside the noninclusive, or "European Plan," model.

In the early years, most of the all-inclusive resorts were located in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. But today, portfolios have expanded to Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia and St. Maarten, among others.

The portfolio of Playa Hotels and Resorts, for example, currently comprises 21 all-inclusive resorts in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Mexico.

Just in the DR alone, Playa's extended partnership with Hilton now includes the Hilton La Romana, which opens its family-friendly section to complement its adults-only resort in November.

Also under Playa's all-inclusive umbrella in the DR is the sister resort complex of Hyatt Ziva and Zilara Cap Cana, slated to debut in November.

Marriott International is growing its all-inclusive footprint under several of its luxury flags, including the Autograph Collection, Ritz-Carlton and the Westin and Marriott brands.

A 650-room Autograph Collection resort is planned for Punta Cana, as well as four separate resorts in Mexico's Riviera Nayarit. All five are slated to open between 2022 and 2025.

The company made further inroads into the all-inclusive market in mid-October when it agreed to acquire the Elegant Hotels Group, owner and operator of seven Barbados properties.

"There is a strong and growing consumer demand for premium and luxury properties in the all-inclusive category. The addition of the Elegant portfolio will help us further jumpstart our expansion in the all-inclusive space," said Arne Sorenson, president and CEO, in a statement announcing the acquisition.

Although Club Med operates more than 70 resorts in 30 countries around the world, its all-inclusive footprint in the Caribbean currently stands at five. However, that will change next month when the Club Med Miches Playa Esmeralda opens on the northeast coast of the DR. It's the brand's first Exclusive Collection resort in the Americas and its first resort opening in North America in more than 25 years.

For a perspective on one company's evolution and marketing of its all-inclusive product, I spoke with Adam Stewart, deputy chairman of Sandals Resorts International, whose 18 Sandals and Beaches properties span seven Caribbean islands, including the flagship Sandals Montego Bay resort, which was opened in 1981 by his father, Sandals founder Butch Stewart.

"All-inclusive resorts are often stigmatized as having underwhelming accommodations, cookie-cutter experiences and subpar food and beverage offerings," Stewart said.

But of course, that's not the case, as today's upscale all-inclusives demonstrate.

To shatter the industry's perception of what an all-inclusive experience can be, Sandals launched a yearlong, multimillion-dollar marketing and ad campaign called How We Earn Our Stars, to showcase the company's five-star guest experiences, products and services.

Components of the campaign include TV spots, consumer and trade ads as well as banner ads across social media platforms.

"We intend to break the sea of sameness that has plagued the all-inclusive category," Stewart said. "Our biggest challenge always is to exceed expectations and keep pushing forward and upward."

One element of the campaign designed for travel advisors is a digital brochure that highlights Sandals' inclusions and innovations and visually demonstrates all aspects of the Sandals' vacation experience, including accommodations in suites, villas and over-the-water bungalows; dining venues; entertainment; land and water options; butler services; and its pools and beaches. Agents can access the digital brochure at www.sandals.com/earn-our-stars/.

Corrected: This report was corrected to note that Club Med operates five resorts in the Caribbean, not two. Also, the Hilton La Romana is an adults-only property and will open a family-friendly section in November. In addition, the Hyatt Ziva and Zilara Cap Cana complex is slated to open in November, not December.

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