There are many reasons for planners to consider all-inclusive resorts as a setting for meetings, events and incentives. Today’s all-inclusives are not the typically downscale properties of yesteryear. All-inclusives today can be found in every hotel category, including uber luxe with amenities enough for upscale incentive programs and in every type of lodging and destination, from traditional and historic resorts to guest ranches and from Arizona and Michigan to the Caribbean and Mexico.
Perhaps best of all, all-inclusive resorts inherently take some of the work of planning an event off the shoulders of meeting planners, which is especially nice when a company’s planning department consists of a staff of one.
Cathy Vestrand, owner of Vestrand Consulting Services, has set her company’s annual dental meeting at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan, every year since 2012. Like other grand, historic resorts, the Grand Hotel runs primarily on a Modified American Plan — meaning breakfast and dinner are included in the room rate even for meeting guests — but other packages are also available. The Grand is also a great choice for meetings to which attendees bring family along, and Mackinac Island serves up a special ambiance as no cars are allowed.
“The ranch reinvests in the property every year, upgrades rooms and amenities and the service is world class.” John Severson
“This is an historical, iconic destination meeting place for Michiganders who return year after year and make the meeting a tradition,” Vestrand says. “The quality of lodging is superior and with all of the lovely color and touches, just sitting in the lobby watching people dressed for dinner listening to the harp is a treat.”
Vestrand says attendance at her meeting has increased each year “because of the value of the rooms with our discount and what the island has to offer visitors in the early fall. Mackinac Island is a wonderful, magical place with only horses and bicycles, so people come here to experience another place and time.”
A plus for Vestrand is that the resort includes A/V, a champagne reception, coffee and tea as part of the meeting package. “Grand Hotel is top-notch as far as customer service and treating the meeting planner with grand appreciation.”
Vestrand’s group uses Brighton Pavilion, part of the resort’s Woodfill Conference Center. “Our function was held mostly in the Brighton Pavilion, complete with colorful chairs and chandeliers, where we had a champagne welcome reception with hors d’oeuvres on Friday and coffee and pastries on Saturday morning,” Vestrand notes. “One year we were in the Theatre, also part of the conference center, and had a small orchestra play during our reception. In the Brighton Pavilion we have had a piano playing — all very nice details to create a wonderful event.”
Vestrand says her attendees appreciate starting the day with the included breakfast. “That’s the package I buy, which includes hotel guest rooms at a special discount and the meeting room. You could have breakfast and dinner but I prefer to let them be on their own for dinner. There are restaurants in the Grand Hotel or they can walk 10 minutes into town and find a place to eat on the island. Or if they prefer, they can take a carriage ride to The Woods, a lovely old hunting lodge with wild-game entrees.”
Vestrand doesn’t buy lunch either because the timing doesn’t work with her seminars. “People are OK with that,” she adds. And she calls the planning “easy.” For one thing, she points out, “So much is here on property — regardless of the weather — it’s always lovely inside.”
Developing relationships at preferred hotels is always the goal for planners, and Vestrand has that at the Grand. “Jane Thomas is super to work with. She really cares about me as a planner and thinks about ways she can assist. She has even linked me with other dental sales people who have attended my classes. Ashlea Flores is a top-notch meeting planner who executes my events with every detail and also anticipates my needs and makes it easy for me,” Vestrand says. “The Grand Hotel staff have this down to a science. I’ve done this meeting for so many years it runs like clockwork. I don’t have problems up there. One time I left my laptop power cord at home. They bent over backward but we couldn’t find one to fit.”
Vestrand’s advice to anyone planning a meeting at Grand Hotel is to advertise early so attendees can plan for it. “I have them pay separately for the meeting and the Grand handles the hotel reservations,” she says. “Have the hotel reservation form handy for attendees in all emails to make it easy to make a reservation. I also got the Grand to create a very cute postcard to advertise my meeting and I send it out to all of my clients every year.”
Vestrand says Once they experience the Grand Hotel, “People will come back. It’s a ‘bucket list’ kind of place.”
White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, is also a place people return to year after year. John Severson, president of Severson Compass & Associates, has set his annual Structural Connections conference at the ranch every October since 2001.
Severson describes the ranch as a “great environment. It’s very different — it feels like another world,” he says.
Among other things he likes is that the Tucson area is warm in late fall and that the city is easily accessible. And there’s White Stallion Ranch itself. “The ranch reinvests in the property every year, upgrades rooms and amenities and the service is world class.”
Which is not to say that he’s normally a fan of the all-inclusive model. “I hate most all-inclusives,” Severson says. “They inflate choices and what’s offered really are watered-down options of the real thing with too many guests all competing for the same resources. But the ranch does things differently. They’re after an experience for each guest. You never feel hurried, rushed, crammed or have to wait in line. It’s quite remarkable.”
And the planning is easier. All meals are set at the ranch. Although it’s on the outskirts of Tucson, White Stallion feels a world away as there’s nothing conveniently close for attendees to go to on their own — and why would they want to?
That doesn’t mean a lack of choices. “There are lots of choices with F&B,” Severson says. “You just have to be vocal and active about your dietary needs. The kitchen can accommodate you, you just have to speak up.”
The ranch’s function and conference space is also included in the package and there are folks on staff who can lighten the burden for planners. Carol Moore is one staff member who stands out for Severson. “She knows how to make things simple and reliable for your group. Sometimes staff can’t facilitate every request because they have to balance your needs with the needs of the rest of the guests,” he says, “but if they can work with you they will.”
Really, Severson adds, “It’s all about the environment. You want to work with this amazing environment not against it. Work with Carol and with Russell True, one of the owners, at the ranch. Let the ranch do what it does best — your guests will be pleased.”
Mexico and the Caribbean are well known for all-inclusive resorts, so it’s no surprise that Cancun, on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, is often a first-choice for corporate and incentive groups looking for a tropical destination.
Nell Nicholas, senior director, global accounts, with HelmsBriscoe, calls Cancun a terrific destination, “for so many reasons — breadth of airlift both domestic and international, affordable airfares from all major origination points, a variety of properties from boutique to large and a plethora of beachfront properties.”
Moreover, she adds, “You can always count on great value for money in Cancun, which has something for every budget and every type of program from large-scale incentives to small board retreats.”
The DMCs in Cancun, Nicholas notes, “are also top-notch professional and priced appropriately. And contrary to what some may think,” she says, “the food and beverage possibilities onsite are excellent. The food is very fresh. Much of our U.S. ‘off season’ fruits and vegetables come from Mexico, so a U.S. winter program in Mexico will offer your attendees some of the freshest ingredients.”
Nicholas brought an annual incentive trip to the Paradisus Cancun in 2018 with approximately 70 in attendance. While she says attendees at all-inclusives typically stay on property, this group was a bit different. “Our group likes to venture out primarily on a group catamaran ride or perhaps an afternoon shopping trip. Cancun is unique in that there are also multiple cultural choices for excursions as well, including the Mayan ruins at Tulum; Rio Secreto, a natural park featuring an underground river; and Xcaret, a park combining nature and culture.”
Paradisus Cancun was the client’s choice. “The client chose Paradisus Cancun for the access of the destination, proximity to the airport and value for money,” Nicholas says. “We were able to upgrade all attendees at the highest category of room product at Paradisus. If we did the same program in Playa Del Carmen, for example, our attendees would not have been able to enjoy a high-end room product.”
Additionally, she says, “I particularly enjoy the added service of an onsite DMC. It eliminates the guessing game of DMC selection.”
Nicholas has several clients that prefer all-inclusives, in part because setting a meeting or program at an all-inclusive makes their job a bit easier. “Many corporate meeting planners are a one-person department, so anywhere we can one-stop shop, as at an all -inclusive resort, the better from a planning standpoint. One company I work with doesn’t have the budget to send the planner to the incentive, but with a quality all-inclusive she has peace-of-mind that attendees will be well cared for. The best part? No meal planning for the attendees.”
While some program details are taken care of in the all-inclusive model, planners still have to be on top of things. “Ask about the liquor brands in the package you’re purchasing for the attendees,” Nicholas advises. “I find I need to upgrade the liquor brands for my clients from call brands to top shelf.”
Nicholas says she had no real challenges in the site-selection process for her 2018 group. “My NSO, Beatriz Kazusky, for Meliá Hotels, always does a great job and is always on top of the negotiating and contracting process.”
That said, she does have a strategy suggestion for planners looking at Cancun for their corporate meeting or incentive program. “Send the RFP to several brands across the board to show your stakeholders the variety of options,” Nicholas says. “Your stakeholders may never have considered an all-inclusive, but when you put an EP hotel bid and all-inclusive bid in front of the stakeholder, you can show tremendous value for money.”
Heidi Stevenson, global sales manager, CIS, with Destinations Inc., also went to the Riviera Maya for a February 2019 incentive trip with 188 in attendance. The chosen hotel was UNICO 20° North 87° West, just south of Cancun in Puerto Morelos.
Stevenson says the area has many benefits. “The Cancun/Riviera Maya area is a fabulous destination for groups with year-round favorable weather and a wide range of properties to select from. Most of the attendees for this program come from the West Coast and the lift to Cancun is ideal. The area has countless properties that can accommodate incentives and meetings, including many of the large all-inclusive properties.”
There’s also ample meeting and function space. “All of our events were handled onsite at UNICO 20° North 87° West,” she says.
The choice of UNICO 20° North 87° West was ideal for this program. “It’s a newer property only having been open for the last two years,” Stevenson says. “And it is without a doubt one of the higher-end, all-inclusive properties in the area. The service, lodging and food are all top-notch. The resort has great event space that can accommodate large groups.”
Like other planners, Stevenson says working with an all-inclusive property can be easier, especially on the F&B front. “There is not as much to contend with,” she says, adding that many all-inclusive properties also don’t charge extra fees for group functions, which can be a great cost savings for a group. That is the case with UNICO.
“Our CSM was amazing,” Stevenson says. “This resort does not charge fees for group events or meetings. It was part of the all-inclusive price.”
And the property works well with groups. “From the sales process all the way through execution of the program, this property is great with groups,” Stevenson says. “They’re extremely detail oriented and quick with responses and planning.”
While there were no bumps in the road in the planning process for this program, Stevenson advises planners to see the property firsthand. “Definitely include a site visit so that you can map out your group’s needs. This property really can accommodate most any group and it will also do buyouts. This should absolutely be in your considerations,” she says, “especially for an incentive program.”
Another ultra luxury all-inclusive Riviera Maya resort in Mexico for meeting and incentive planners to consider is the Grand Velas Riviera Maya, set on 206 acres of pristine jungle and mangroves and within the finest white sand beach. All 539 designer-like suites are exceptionally spacious, all with balconies and some with private plunge pools.
The AAA Five Star resort recently unveiled new meeting offerings for groups that puts an emphasis on the history, gastronomy and culture of the region. Groups can pick and choose among the options a la carte or opt for the entire experience in a Mexican fiesta program. Locally made tequila, a tasting of another ancestral drink, cooking classes, a showcase of traditional pottery and a curated welcome amenity of an Olinalá box and amber bracelet — traditional artisanal crafts — are among the possibilities.
Velas Resorts has catered to planner’s needs for over 25 years with resorts that feature excellence in service, world-class hospitality, beautifully appointed accommodations, signature luxury all-inclusive superb facilities and expansive convention centers.
Another resort operator with a proud history of satisfying meeting and incentive planner’s needs is Barceló Resorts. With the opening scheduled for December this year, the adults only Barceló Maya Riviera is perfect for meetings, conventions and incentive programs.
The resort offers 850 rooms that are junior suites and full suites, all fully equipped. The crown jewel of this resort is its convention center, which is the largest in Riviera Maya with 190,000 sf of meeting space and a capacity for 7,000 people. Additionally a 3,400-sf terrace is available for gala receptions. With a wide range of excellent facilities, the resort will offer a choice of restaurants, bars, pools, spa and gym. The resort also has its own theme park, Ventura Fly & Ride Park, offering high altitude and other rides. Attendees will discover everything the new Barceló Maya Riviera all-inclusive resort has in store. Located only 47 miles from Cancun International Airport and its amazing surroundings on a more than 1 mile beach make it a perfect resort to host any type of event.
Another exciting new destination resort in Mexico is Hotel Xcaret Mexico, which has an exceptional approach to architecture. Meeting and events attendees can enjoy spectacular views of the turquoise sea, white sand beaches, underground caves and rivers among the Mayan Riviera. The meeting spaces include an impressive convention center, useful for both large and small groups, and a Mexican Hacienda. Multifunctional rooms and venues, private beaches and the spectacular events room located in the hotel’s pyramid-shaped hill provides everything necessary to achieve a successful event.
Xcaret offers unparalleled outdoor facilities that are perfect for team building and other activities, including new product launches. Outdoor venues such as Hacienda Henequenera in Xcaret, a unique venue, will make events stand out. The hacienda has a sliding roof and its patio can accommodate 500 attendees for cocktails, dinners and endless function possibilities. The hacienda also has a room with a capacity for up to 1,420 attendees divided in to four spaces.
Hotel Xcaret Mexico has everything to make for a successful event. The resort’s experienced team specializes in coordinating everything for planners, perfectly covering every detail to make events memorable.
Whether a group prefers U.S.-based grand hotels, a rustic but amenity-filled ranch stay or a sojourn in the tropics, all-inclusive resorts should be in the mix of considerations. For some groups and planners, they are in fact the perfect answer for a meeting or incentive program. C&IT