The benefits for meetings and incentive travel programs at all-inclusive resorts are ample, from no-surprise budgeting and a high degree of flexibility to a care-free environment where attendees don’t have to worry about incurring personal expenses during their stay. 

These attributes, and others, are also proving to be a boon during the COVID-19 pandemic, when groups want a highly controlled environment and thorough sanitation protocols to ease the safety concerns of guests. 

“An all-inclusive resort is a controlled environment,” said David T. Schwartz, an all-inclusive meetings property veteran who is director of group and incentive sales for Haven Riviera Cancun, a 333-all-oceanfront-suite property that is part of the Hipotels luxury brand. “We’re on 250 private acres, and there is not access from the highway to the beach. At any all-inclusive resort, guests are going to be identified in some way, either by a bracelet or a key, so there is not public access.” 

Even one of the basic features of an all-inclusive resort—everything included in one price—provides a contactless interaction benefit. 

“There’s not a lot for the individual guest to pay for, and they’re not exchanging credit cards anywhere on property, so that’s a great control unit as well,” Schwartz said. “And at an all-inclusive resort, you have on-property activities that are included in the rate, and these often include watersports, cooking classes and wellness classes that don’t require a bus to get people to and from, which decreases interaction.”

Haven Riviera Cancun reopened October 2 and features an open-air concept that works well for social distancing, and because of its relatively small size (333 suites) it is very amenable to a full-resort buyout. Because it’s privately owned, Schwartz said, the resort can also be very creative with branding on the property.

While the pandemic has certainly put a priority on social distancing, Schwartz said groups are still very keen on creating interaction between attendees when it can be done safely.

[Related: Here’s What Hotels and Resorts Are Doing to Enhance Health and Sanitation Standards]

“What I’m seeing is these companies are still looking for interaction between their employees so they can exchange ideas about what’s made them successful,” he said. “Many are dividing them into groups and having these meal functions in two places rather than one, just to make sure they’re properly spaced. Because there are so many dinner choices at an all-inclusive, you can space groups in smaller blocks so it will allow people to spend some time together. 

How One All-Inclusive Company Has Adapted 

One of the largest operators of all-inclusive resorts, Posadas, which includes the Fiesta Americana brand among its more than 180 hotels and resorts throughout Mexico and the Caribbean, has instituted many safety, sanitation and social distancing protocols to combat the pandemic. 

Posadas started reopening its properties in early June in stages until the process was complete in August. 

“Were were closed for two months, and we had to relook at everything we did for safety,” said David J. Manzella, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Posadas USA. “We launched the Travel With Confidence health and safety protocols, and reimagined what the all-inclusive experience is, because you can’t just grab dinner or lunch from a buffet like you could, say, six months ago. Food no longer comes out of the same kitchen; now it’s all curated events and very highly elevated. 

“It’s more of an elegant experience,” he continued. “We still offer the plated meals at restaurants, and all the buffet restaurants are attended now. Everything is individually wrapped, so there are no longer big trays of food, and that goes right across the board to everything we do—the check-in, the bars, the lounges. Everything’s a little more elevated and everything needs to be looked at from a safety perspective.” 

[Related: What Will Incentive Travel Look Like in 2020 and 2021?]

Manzella echoed Schwartz’ comments about the additional safety benefits of not being a public environment and requiring guests to be easily identified by wearing wrist bands or other identification methods. 

“Our hotels are not open to the public,” Manzella said. “It’s a very strict, controlled environment, and we took that even a step further with our safety protocols. Even at the beach and pools, guests are socially distanced, with attendants taking orders. Guests used to go grab a burger, etc., but now if you’re hanging around the pool the attendant will bring it to you, individually wrapped.” 

Manzella added that his properties encourage the use of face masks in common areas and requires them for guests upon entering the resorts. All staff wear face masks and other personal protective equipment.

“Even the coffee breaks now you have to reimagine,” Manzella said. “Everything is individually wrapped and all served by team members, and all of our staff are wearing visors, face masks and gloves and in stations.” 

Covid safe food distribution
Photo: Individually wrapped snacks served by staff wearing protective equipment. Credit: Fiesta Americana Grand Meetings Mexico & Beyond

Manzella said that at publication time, Mexico was operating under a “flag” system that determines maximum occupancy, and major resort locations were preparing to move from Orange (30% occupancy) to Yellow (50% occupancy). A Green flag signifies that all operations can return to normal occupancy levels. 

To help prime the booking pump, Fiesta Americana Grand Meetings Mexico & Beyond is offering a Revival Promotion that focuses on 2021 and beyond. Following a tiered master account rebate model, the offer includes the following and is valid for bookings made by the end of 2020: 

  • 30-200 total room nights receives a 2% master account rebate 
  • 201-500 total room nights receives a 3% master account rebate 
  • 501-plus total room nights receives a 5% master account rebate 
  • Flexibility on attrition, cancellation and rebooking terms 
  • Additional incentives depending on the group 

[Related: Coastal Mexico Destinations Set to Reopen; Bridge Gap with Virtual Experiences]

Fiesta Americana is also offering a Recognition program targeting the incentive travel segment. Features include: 

  • Group rates for recognized individual travelers 
  • VIP check-in and status 
  • A welcome letter and amenity 
  • Complimentary VIP roundtrip airport transportation 
  • A 20% discount on all spa services 
  • 20% off public rates for additional room nights and/or guest rooms for family and friends 
  • Relinquished certificates may be applied to a future group 

Traditional Benefits of an All-Inclusive Resort 

While meetings at an all-inclusive resort present the ability to greatly control the environment for safety reasons during the pandemic, especially for a buyout, the evergreen benefits of holding a meeting at an all-inclusive are also impressive. 

  • Meeting planners typically work with a stable pricing model that includes all activities, meals, drinks and other amenities, without “surprise” charges for additional fees. 
  • Guests can virtually “leave their wallets at home,” in that nearly everything at the resort—such as meals, drinks and activities—is included in the base price, so they can relax and not worry about the cost of anything while on-property. 
  • Most all-inclusives include Wi-Fi in the basic price, along with international phone calls to the U.S. and Canada when in popular all-inclusive destinations such as Mexico. 
  • Because of the variety of food and beverage options, guests can select from a wide range of cuisine options, which can also translate into multiple cuisine options for meetings F&B programs. 

The new generation of luxury all-inclusive resorts also features much more refined dining options, as well as nightclubs and activities such as watersports, wellness features, pool activities and cultural education programs, that can be incorporated into meetings programs.

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