All-inclusive resorts can get a bad rap. The business model is associated with warm-weather locations and the type of vacation, like honeymoons or college spring breaks, where a guest travels from afar to lie still on a beach chair. In this stereotype, the food is typically uninspired and served buffet-style, and the drinks are fruity, frozen, and possibly watered-down. Even as the offerings change—and die-hard travelers can find all-inclusives that allow them to safari in southern Africa, ride horses in Patagonia, helicopter tour across Alaska—the prospect of choosing the right one, and feeling like you’re getting your money’s worth, has just gotten more daunting.
It helps to grasp how an all-inclusive makes money. Any business is based around predictions of human behavior, and these resorts survive by making calculations and adjustments. “It’s trial and error, and you just change to accommodate people’s needs wherever you can,” says Michael Overcast, the owner of the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge in Alaska. “What’s important to us is that people feel that they get value, and that really comes out with the comments at the end of the trip, and the tip out for the employees.” Keyboard warriors can have a wild impact across the industry, but particularly in this sector, says Elizabeth Fettes, chief marketing and sales officer at Karisma Hotels & Resorts. “All-inclusives rely heavily on reviews,” she says. “[With] the higher review, you’re naturally going to have a higher premium rate, and that’s going to affect your bottom line.”
In some ways, these venues operate like any other hotel. “You have your overheads and you have your calculations and you know roughly what your annual percentage of food is going to be for x, y, and z, and that’s what you base your rates on and you work from there,” says Rebecca Platt, corporate director of sales and marketing for BodyHoliday and Rendezvous resorts in St. Lucia. Guests just need to beware of hidden charges. “Although it doesn’t apply to my resort here in St. Lucia, I have worked with resorts in previous lives where… you don’t see where there are different levels of all-inclusive packages,” she continues. “You will look at a fantastic rate to start but then when you actually get to the resort—well, yes, you can include that, for the extra x amount of dollars.”
In addition to tiers of inclusivity, food and beverage upgrades are another spot where resorts can cash in. “When they buy some special food or a bottle of wine, this is where the all-inclusives make money, because they don’t consume what [they were] supposed to consume. Or when they go out for dinner in town,” says Claudia Perez, corporate director of sales and marketing at Marquis Los Cabos Resort & Spa. Her colleague Casandra Luna, associate director of sales at the resort, points to one-time promotions, which encourage guests to return at full price and packages where hotels can make extra money. “Packages with transportation, romantic services incentivizing going to the spa—everything that is not part of the all-inclusive, that’s where we receive the revenue,” she says.