When Amy Abbott, owner of Amy Abbott Events, orchestrates a meeting or event for a financial or insurance audience, one type of destination she always considers is the all-inclusive resort.
Here’s why: All-inclusive resorts offer a full range of restaurants, activities, gyms, spas, shopping and, in many cases, excellent food. Meeting rooms are adjacent to the resort, there is no need to leave the property, making it easy on the event planner to keep all of the activities contained in one space.
However, many of the resorts offer offsite excursions, as they are a great way to tour the town or country being visited.
Abbott recently planned a retreat at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, where the goal was to garner overall morale and teambuilding within the company. “We structured our day with ‘mini-meetings’ each morning that mostly consisted of quick goal strategizing for the new year. The team showed up for an hour and then went to a teambuilding activity. They were able to choose between several offsite and onsite excursions based on what most interested them,” she says.
“We chose an all-inclusive resort, as the leaders wanted their team to feel pampered and to have everything they could desire right on the property — from food, beverages and amenities with a stunning ocean view.” — Amy Abbott
One of Abbott’s favorite events for the retreat was a “kermes night,” which in Mexico is a strong family tradition and has a bit of a carnival flare.
They had a Mariachi band, Mexican folklore dancers and excellent Mexican street food that included a grill station with carne asada, grilled baja shrimp and lobster and grilled pulpo in an ajillo pepper rub. Churro stations, aguas fresca station and a mezcal and margarita station allowed the team to mix and mingle and have fun in an authentic regional environment.
“We chose an all-inclusive resort, as the leaders wanted their team to feel pampered and to have everything they could desire right on the property — from food, beverages and amenities with a stunning ocean view,” Abbott says.
Michael Butler, meeting planner and director of strategic accounts at Brightspot Incentives & Events, says that all-inclusive resorts offer conveniences aplenty to both financial meeting and event planners, as well as the clients they serve.
“Planners have the convenience of knowing what their bill is going to be at the end of the program long before they get there,” Butler says. “There is no surprise $10,000 bill from a group that congregated in the pool all day and ran up a big tab. For attendees, they can leave their wallet or purse back in the room’s safe and enjoy their experience without thinking about how much a fancy drink at the bar costs, as well as convenient choices of different restaurant outlets where there is no figuring out a tip or signing a check.”
Brightspot uses all-inclusive resorts and properties for many of the company’s clients’ meeting and event trips each year. As such, they’ve seen a rise in the number of clients converting, or at least considering, all-inclusive options during the past five years.
“All-inclusive brands have become savvy in meeting the needs of more corporate groups, which have different needs than leisure travelers,” Butler says.
For example, many now offer a room credit that can be used for an additional activity during the program. Others handle services like VAT rebates that put money back into the program.
“Most of the resorts are new, so they’re attractive properties in desirable destinations,” Butler says.
Deven Crane, director of travel services at Incentive Solutions, says the all-inclusive is a no-brainer because the total budget is put in front of the prospective buyer; whereas, at a hotel with a European Plan (EP), food and beverage is an additional cost.
“The problem with EP hotels, from the budgetary side, is that the managers from the host organization find themselves ‘picking up the tab’ at any bar or restaurant, and thus, the organization gets 10 to 15 T&E reports, which wasn’t in the budget,” Crane says. “All-inclusives make it easy for meeting planners to stay within budget. For attendees, the answer is simple — put the wallet in the safe and forget about it without missing anything at the resort.”
Approximately 90 percent of Incentive Solutions clients go to all-inclusive properties because of the ease to work with and the consistency of the product.
“We last planned a group of 200 at a property in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and it ran perfectly,” Crane says. “We chose this so that the audience could strengthen their relationships with management of the hosting company without having the worry to pay for anything. Everything was included.”
The pool bar is the No. 1 amenity guests of all-inclusives enjoy. At night, there are lots of free entertainment options to keep the fun going.
“Also, the days of fly-infused buffets are over,” Crane says. “Now, these five-star all-inclusives have award-winning a la carte restaurants to enjoy.”
Chelsea Wing, group event management buyer at ITA Group, has hosted many events at all-inclusive resorts.
“The attendees rave about the inclusions and once they’ve experienced the all-inclusive concept, they expect it,” she says. “It is not possible to provide the same all-inclusive experience at an EP hotel within the same budget. Financially, this drives decisions to continuously use all-inclusive resorts.”
According to Tiffany Clark, strategic account buyer at ITA Group, the all-inclusive nature also allows attendees to enjoy networking with colleagues at the numerous restaurants and bars without worrying about who is picking up the tab.
“Some resorts are not only including non-motorized watersports, but now the salon, spa or nearby attractions are included in the rates,” Clark says. “With the value that an all-inclusive adds, planners can even offer additional events, such as an afternoon pool party or higher-quality amenities, only enhancing the participant experience even more.”
For more than 20 years, Sandals Resorts has welcomed groups of every size to the Caribbean.
This all-inclusive resort provides groups with service tailored to their specific needs, offering personalized event expertise and support for meetings, galas, seminars or conferences.
Sandals provides a broad range of meeting facilities from expansive ballrooms to intimately exclusive boardrooms at any one of its 16 locations on six different islands.
In addition, Sandals Resorts offers industry-leading programs and services that feature a variety of inclusions and activities.
Every function and meeting held at Sandals is tailored to a group’s specific needs and requirements — from the complimentary use of state-of-the-art equipment and facilities to the exhilarating teambuilding activities that bring groups closer together.
This may include dining at up to 16 gourmet restaurants and up to 12 bars per resort, motorized watersports including waterskiing, wake boarding and scuba diving, and Robert Mondavi Twin Oaks Wines exclusively for Sandals Resorts.
There also are endless ways for groups to be entertained at Sandals, including live shows, beach parties, themed nights, piano bars, swim-up bars, bonfires and more.
Hotel Xcaret Mexico is another ideal all-inclusive resort, especially for financial and insurance companies who might be interested in celebrating the natural beauty and eco-integrative architecture of this unique property. Companies with a focus on sustainability may embrace the sensible approach that Hotel Xcaret México takes to protect and conserve its surrounding magnificent environment.
Meeting attendees can see the Xcaret México Espectacular show, explore the hidden wonder of Xel-Há and its inlet or visit the underground world at Xplor Park.
Others may enjoy venturing along the jungle trails in the Riviera Maya at night in Xplor Fuego. At this park, visitors can drive amphibious vehicles through torch-lit paths, paddle along “lava” rivers and fly above the trees on the highest zip lines of the Riviera Maya.
Or perhaps being a part of the unforgettable Mexican floating fiesta at Xoximilco would appeal to the group. And still other attendees may love the sensory experiences available at Xenses Park.
Not surprising, Club Med’s all-inclusive concept throughout its 65 resorts worldwide bodes well for meetings and events.
In addition to dining options for groups of all sizes, Club Med’s all-inclusive packages for meetings and events include unlimited premium beverages. When meetings and work-based sessions are completed for the day, attendees can participate in Club Med’s extensive land and watersport activities, including sports programs — from golf, tennis and flying trapeze to waterskiing, sailing and fitness classes.
Groups can also book spa and wellness treatments, including use of the Turkish bath and sauna in a few of Club Med’s resorts. For evening entertainment, attendees can enjoy live bands and nightly shows.
While corporate meetings and events often have their own spaces for business, they may not have their own areas for activities.
But Club Med prides itself on offering a variety of luxury spaces, including private pools, bars and concierge services.
What’s more, Club Med also provides teambuilding activities that inspire collaboration and build group unity.
For those looking for a more private affair, Club Med offers full resort buyout options, whereby meeting planners can set the schedule, choose the menus and select and organize the activities for the entire group.
The team at the all-inclusive Hard Rock Resorts also understands the benefits that all-inclusives provide meeting and events, especially as a great way to get participants excited about the topics at hand.
Hard Rock offers guests access to luxury accommodations and gourmet food and drink (without reaching into their pockets) and provides a way for meeting and event hosts to make attendees feel well-cared-for.
Currently, Hard Rock has five all-inclusive properties in exotic locales like Cancun, Riviera Maya and Punta Cana. These oceanfront resorts boast white-sand beaches and exclusive saltwater snorkeling.
Accommodations include private balconies and hydro spa tubs, in-room service around-the-clock and a top-shelf liquor.
And each resort offers its own unique amenities. For example, Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya encompasses pools, a splash park and waterslide, the Playacar Golf Club and nightly entertainment; whereas, Hard Rock Hotel Punta Cana has nine restaurants and 15 pools. Golf aficionados can enjoy the rolling greens of the resort’s Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.
If hosting a financial or insurance meeting or event at an all-inclusive is an option, meeting planners should consider the different brands and what they offer.
“Picking the right destination and property is the first critical success factor,” Butler says. “Also, some all-inclusives are adults-only, while others are family-friendly. Know which your client prefers.”
Before booking the space, it is recommended to have the meeting planner or someone from the company visit the property. That way, they can experience the resort to make sure the food and beverages are on par with their level of expectations.
If a meeting planner chooses an all-inclusive, be sure to take advantage of the food and beverage to its fullest.
Consider giving attendees an extra day around the property or pool to get their fill instead of taking them off-property for another day’s activity.
“If you’re not already using all-inclusive, consider showing your client this option next time. They’ll love knowing the final cost is not an estimate they have to stay up worrying about onsite,” Butler says.
It’s also important to remember that you get what you pay for. If the cost of the all-inclusive is absurdly low, and a meeting planner has high expectations, prepare to be disappointed.
“While all-inclusives are fantastic, some are a bit pricey,” Crane says. “But add up all that you get at the five-star all-inclusive, and the value precedes itself. Consider also additional setup fees and additional offsite activities — these definitely add to the budget and need to be accounted for up front.”
And planners should have a clear understanding of what is included in the all-inclusive rate and where there are additional costs. Some resorts include taxes in the rate, whereas others don’t.
“A common mistake is assuming that all costs are covered in the one fee; however, in many cases, they do have nominal fees for upgrades or added amenities,” Abbott says. “It is essential to add those in on the bottom line before a resort is selected. The planner will need to make sure to budget for rentals and décor, as what the hotel provides is not always enough to create the ambience the planner and the client are looking for.”
Another slip-up planners make when it comes to hosting an event at an all-inclusive is not scheduling enough downtime for the attendees.
As Crane explains, the real benefit to an all-inclusive is to enjoy the resort. If attendees find themselves constantly going offsite to explore the area, they will miss out on what is right in front of them. And, it’s free.
“There are many activities at the all-inclusive that are included, plus the activity team’s job at the all-inclusive is to entertain attendees,” Crane says. “Use them to stay at the resort and have fun. Again, don’t forget about the setup fees and additional costs involved in group functions. Décor, entertainment and setup fees are not included and must be budgeted for.”
Wing advises meeting planners to determine if all-inclusives are always the best fit for the group.
“All-inclusives are limited to a handful of destinations and depending on the size of the group, if you need a larger ballroom, you may be even more restricted,” she says. “Furthermore, some destinations may offer an all-inclusive package, but due to the labor rates/taxes in the destination, they may not be able to offer the same level of service as you may find in other destinations.” I&FMM