Ultimate All Inclusive Travel
If you remember last month we took a look at the in-depth definition of a true all inclusive resort. This month we are going to look at the destinations where all inclusive resorts are located. Let’s start with the fact that there are no true all inclusive resorts located in the U.S. There are resorts with a meal plans but but not true all inclusive resorts. True all inclusive resorts are located in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America.
The 3 locations for the majority of all inclusive resorts are going to be Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. There are a few all inclusive resorts spread throughout some of the outer islands of the Caribbean. Central America is one of the areas that is seeing a considerable growth in all inclusive resorts, particularly in Costa Rica and the newest area Panama, 5 new all inclusive resorts exist or are planned over the next year in Panama.
Let’s take a look at the locations of all inclusive resorts, country by country, starting with Mexico. We will have in-depth articles about each country in future articles. Today will be an overview of each country and island. Mexico has the the largest number of true all inclusive resorts, in excess of 500, located on both the East coast and the West coast of Mexico. This works in the clients favor. Because of the number of all inclusive resorts in Mexico, the competition creates a situation where the biggest bang for you dollar is going to be in Mexico.
There is every level of all inclusive resort located in Mexico, everything from 1 star to 5 star. This brings up an interesting point. Star ratings in both Mexico and the Caribbean can be very subjective. There are a few of the larger chains that are rated by services such as AAA but, for the most part the ratings are dictated by client reviews, and the owners of the resorts themselves so one must be very careful when looking at resort ratings. The best resort rating can be formed by visiting the resort in person or, better yet staying at the resort. Our company forms ratings by our client reviews combined with us visiting and reviewing the resort ourselves.
Now back to Mexico. The majority of all inclusive resorts in Mexico are located in the following areas, Cancun, Riviera Maya and Cozumel on the East Coast of Mexico or what is known as the Yucatan Peninsula, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas on the Baja Peninsula, Mazatlan, and Mexico’s newest tourist area, Hualtuco, south of Acapulco. Acapulco only has 1 true all inclusive resort and has decreased in tourist popularity since it’s heyday of the 60s and 70s. There are a few all inclusive resorts located on the West coast in smaller areas such as Manzanillo, Ixtapa/Zihuatenejo
The East Coast and West Coast of Mexico differ greatly in both culture and terrain. The tourist areas located on the East Coast of Mexico, particularly Cancun, were designed, primarily, for tourism, with resort locations cut out of the jungle along the 160 mile coast. The only fishing village areas on the East coast were the town of Playa Del Carmen located in the middle of the Riviera Maya, it has now developed into a mini Cancun, and Cancun proper located away from, what is known as, the hotel zone.
On the West coast of Mexico, tourism grew up in already established Mexican towns and fishing villages giving the West coast resort areas more of a true Mexican feel than the East coast of Mexico. The towns still have the town square with the church located at one end and cobblestone streets and a Malecon or pedestrian walkway by the ocean where families gather in the evening or on Sunday. The only exception of this could be Cabo San Lucas. Cabo did start out as a small fishing village and does have a Malecon along the marina but, it has been taken over by the American tourist trade to the point that the Mexican and American population is just about even in the Cabo San Lucas area. A little known fact is the top 4 nightclubs in Cabo San Lucas are all owned by Americans.
As far as terrain, the East coast of Mexico tends to be a lot flatter with low growing jungle and mangrove areas, while the West Coast of Mexico tends to be more mountainous and lush dense jungle. The water on the East coast is that turquoise blue color. This is because it sits in the Caribbean. The West coast water tends to be more of the dark blue water you would find in Hawaii. The sand on the East coast is the fine pure white sand. A little known fact is the sand in Cancun and Riviera Maya unlike the sand in say, Florida, does not burn your feet when you walk on it. That is because of the makeup of the sand and the animal shells the sand comes from. The sand on the west coast tends to be more of the light brown color. While still very comfortable to walk on it does have a different feel and color than the East coast sand. I feel the beaches on the West coast have more of a Hawaii feel while the beaches on the East coast more of a Caribbean feel.
A major point here, make sure you understand what type of Mexican vacation your clients are looking for. The East coast and West coast are two different vacation experiences in the same country. If your client says they are tired of going to Mexico but they go back to the same place every year, let them know you can provide a totally different vacation experience without them having to give up their comfortable feeling about Mexico.
Let’s move on to the area that has the second highest number of all inclusive resorts, Dominican Republic. Because it has the second highest number of all inclusive resorts it will, next to Mexico have the second best value for a clients dollar. Dominican is one of the relatively newer Caribbean areas for tourism becoming a force in the all inclusive resort area over the last 30 years. The largest attraction in the Dominican Republic is it’s beaches. People travel from all over the world to experience them. It is a very large European and Canadian vacation spot because it is one of the few Caribbean areas with non-stop flights from these destinations.
The Dominican Republic has 3 main tourist areas. The main tourist area and the location of the majority of all inclusive resorts is Punta Cana. It is set on beautiful white sand beaches with everything from 1 star to 5 star all inclusive resorts. It is also home to a large number of American and Canadian retirees. The next most popular tourist area and probably the fastest growing area is La Romana. This area is growing because it is the main tourist area that sits on the Caribbean coast, Punta Cana sits on the Atlantic. The water in La Romana is quite a bit calmer and more of that turquoise blue color. beaches in both areas are very flat white sand and not only perfect for swimming but for walking. The newest tourist area is the area around Puerto Plata. Puerto Plata was known more as a historic city destination than a beach destination. That is changing as some of the outer areas and even some of the islands in the area are being developed by a number of all inclusive resort chains. One of the main things that has slowed the development of the La Romana and Puerto Plata areas is airlift. You can get to both by flying into Punta Cana but the transfers can be anywhere from 1 hour to 2 hours. They do have flights directly into La Romana and Puerto Plata but the air schedule to these areas from the U.S., at this time, is not on a daily basis. I expect this will change as the areas grow.
The Dominican Republic sits on a very large island which it shares with Haiti. This has caused some concern with tourism but the tourist areas of the Dominican sit more than 1,000 miles from the border of Haiti.
The final major area we are going to look at is Jamaica. Other than Club Med, Jamaica has been known as the birthplace of the all inclusive resort. In the beginning, because most of it’s tourist areas and best beaches sat in rather remote areas, all inclusive resorts became very popular since, when you traveled to Jamaica, the resort tended to be your destination, they, for the most part, had to be self-contained as far as entertainment, food, drink, and water sports. This has since changed, but the all inclusive resort concept took off like wildfire not only in Jamaica but to other areas of the Caribbean and Mexico. Jamaica does have less all inclusive resorts than Mexico or Dominican Republic so it tends to be more expensive than the other two areas. Until recently the resorts in Jamaica tended to have an older feel but that is changing with a number of other resorts and resort chains opening new resorts in Jamaica offering a newer product but also pushing the older resorts to completely up-date their properties.
The major all inclusive resort growth in Jamaica was prompted by two families, Butch Stewart and his family as well as the Issa family, both Jamaican families. Butch and his family founded the Sandals and Beaches resorts and the Issa family founded the SuperClubs resorts as well as the Couples resorts. They pretty much ruled the all inclusive resort product in Jamaica for a number of years. Since then a number of other resorts and resort chains have discovered the beauty of Jamaica and have built a number of new all inclusive resorts. Although there are Family, adult only, and couples only all inclusive resorts in Jamaica the number of Adult Only and Couples only all inclusive resorts still outnumber the family all inclusive resorts making it a hotbed for the romantic marketplace.
The three main areas of Jamaica, that have all inclusive resorts, are Montego Bay, this area is a fairly large city and it is where the major airport is located to get to the 3 main tourist areas. Montego Bay has some great beaches and all inclusive resorts but is also known as a shopping and party area. There are a large number of duty free shops and “The Hip Strip” is a section of town where some of the top Jamaican nightclubs are located.
About 1-1 1/2 hours West of Montego Bay is the town of Negril. Negril’s big draw are it’s beaches. It has the best and longest beaches on Jamaica. At the top of the list is 7 mile beach, where the majority of all inclusive resorts reside. Negril was one of the top destinations of the hippy crowd back in the 60s and 70s. It is now home to a number of upscale all inclusive resorts. The Terrain is relatively flat but the beaches face due west so it is one of the best places to view the sunsets.
About 1 hour East of Montego Bay is the town of Ocho Rios, or “Ochi” as the locals call it. This area is totally different than Negril. It is more mountainous and the resorts sit on smaller more half-moon shaped beaches. This area has a more lush jungle feel to it than Negril as it tends to get more rain that the west coast of Jamaica. This area is home to Dunn’s River Falls. It is also home to a large number of up-scale all inclusive resorts.
There are two other areas of Jamaica that are tourist areas. On the South coast there is the town of Whitehouse where there is one all inclusive resort. East of Ocho Rios is the area known as Port Antonio. This area is more villa rentals and is home to Ian Flemming’s winter home, Golden Eye, where he wrote a number of the James Bond novels. It is now a rental villa.
One of the fastest growing all inclusive resort markets is Central America, particularly Costa Rica and Panama. In Costa Rica the majority of all inclusive resorts are located in the Guanacaste area. This is in the North West corner of Costa Rica on the Pacific Ocean. We now have everything from 3 star all inclusive resorts to 5 star all inclusive resorts in Costa Rica. You have to look at Costa Rica as a totally different vacation experience than the Caribbean or even Mexico. It is more of an ecological destination than a beach destination. Resorts have activities like watching the monkeys in the tree right off your balcony. Beaches are OK but not like the beaches in the Caribbean and Mexico. 38% of all land in Costa Rica is set aside as national parks. People go to Costa Rica for the rain forests, jungle parks, the volcano, the coffee plantations and to relax at resorts in a lush jungle environment. Resorts are not located on the Caribbean side as of yet due to the fact that the Caribbean side is still undeveloped and pretty wild. There are a few remote fishing camps on this side of the country
Panama is the newest all inclusive tourist destination to emerge in the last few years. Again most of the all inclusive resorts are going to be located on the Pacific side just north of Panama City. At this time there are 4 all inclusive resorts open with 3 more in the planning stages. Panama is a very diverse country with everything from miles and miles of dense jungle, to beautiful mountains, and fantastic beaches. Oh and I hear they have a canal also. I view Panama, as far as tourism, where Costa Rica used to be about 10-15 years ago. Panama is a very wealthy country being one of the major banking centers of South America.
In the Caribbean there are other Islands that have all inclusive resorts. The number does not come close to the three areas we discussed. The major problem with a number of the smaller islands is the airlift availability and the cost. Antigua, Aruba, St. Lucia, Grenada, Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, St. Thomas, Barbados, and St Martin. all have a few all inclusive resorts. We will discuss these, what I call, outer islands in a separate report.
Next month we will start looking at these destinations in more detail starting with Mexico. In today’s market I feel it is as important to understand the destinations as well as the resorts. We will cover resorts in future articles.
I hope everyone enjoys the articles. If there are any other aspects of the All Inclusive resort world you would like me to cover please let the editor know.