Welcome to the New All-Inclusive

Goodbye, buffet lines and colored wristbands. Hello, butler service and yachts. Making the case for a different type of luxury resort.

Two small square dining tables for four each on wood deck, with ocean in background

At Alila Ventana Big Sur, all meals are included in the daily rate, as are in-room snacks and standard property experiences.

Courtesy of Alila Hotels and Resorts

It was late fall, and the sun had already slipped below the horizon in Big Sur, that iconic 90-mile stretch of California coast, when a friend and I pulled into Alila Ventana Big Sur. Within 15 minutes, we had been whisked from our serene, wood-paneled cabin by a purring electric golf cart up a narrow road through the redwoods. Almost as quietly, we were then ushered to a sprawling patio above the Pacific with 40 or so other adults, surrounded by heat lamps and stars overhead, the quiet efficiency of waiters, the clink of cutlery, the murmur of conversation a soundtrack, the review of a dinner menu our only task. Our waiter, tall and affable with an easy laugh, did not seem to know the word no. Could we have a blanket each? Absolutely. Would it be possible to get three appetizers? Absolutely. Oh. He turned, smiling, hand flat against his chest, and nodded toward the 13-year-old Australian shepherd mix at our feet. Does the dog have any allergies?

An adults-only property for guests over 18, Alila Ventana Big Sur was originally opened as the Ventana Inn in 1975 on 243 acres by Larry Spector, an entertainment producer; after a multimillion-dollar renovation, it reopened as Singapore-based Alila Hotels & Resorts’ first U.S. property in 2017. Today, it is part of the Hyatt empire, and in 2021, postpandemic, it relaunched as an all-inclusive property, offering guests the opportunity to book a room, experiences, and food and drink in one neat sum.

Those experiences and food and drink are far from what might come to mind with the words “all inclusive.” In addition to free meals and in-room snacks, Alila Ventana Big Sur offers morning meditation, yoga, tai chi, daily hikes, foraging, bike tours, afternoon tea, wine tasting, astrology readings, forest bathing, chauffeur service within three miles, access to two pools and Japanese hot baths. There’s a daily happy hour with cocktails and snacks, and first-come equipment for exploring the surrounding forest and oceans—Yeti coolers, Patagonia daypacks, beach blankets, hiking poles, camp chairs, and card games. Dogs get a bandana, water bowl, and bedding, and there is a “doggie dining” menu. Guests can help harvest vegetables from the garden and share them with the resort’s local nonprofit, the Big Share, or pay a little more for add-on experiences: reiki in the redwoods ($60), say, or taking a coastal tour to learn about the reintroduction of California condor with the Ventana Wildlife Society ($200).

The morning after that first meal, I opened the glass doors of my cabin and walked out into the sunshine. The dog followed, a bee buzzed in the wildflowers in the meadow behind a fence, and the Pacific glittered just beyond. Inside, a breakfast of brûléed grapefruit and huevos rancheros awaited, but more than that, it seemed a new sort of world awaited, too. I could go anywhere, and do anything here, for free—well, sort of. Why, I thought, haven’t I done this before?

The aim in life is to be happy. The place to be happy is here. And the time to be happy is now.
Gérard Blitz

In 1947, Antwerp-born Gérard Blitz began working in France, his job to look after Belgian escapees from concentration camps and find a way to make them healthier and happier. His solution was to create a small chain of hotels in the Alps, near Chamonix, where the former prisoners could relax and retreat, paying nothing for the food or amenities, to make sure they had—as Blitz put it—“no material concerns.”

It was this experience that Blitz later cited as inspiration, as “vacation formula,” for his 1950 launch of the first all-inclusive resort, Club Mediterranée, bringing vacationers to a tent village in Spain’s Balearic Islands with the vision of a utopia: “The aim in life is to be happy. The place to be happy is here. And the time to be happy is now.”

Club Med made its North America debut in 1968 with the opening of Club Med Fort-Royal (today Club Med Caravelle) in Guadeloupe, the French West Indies. A year later, the company opened Club Med Buccaneer’s Creek in Martinique and in 1976, debuted Club Med Cancún in Mexico. In 1981, Gordon “Butch” Stewart opened the first Sandals all-inclusive resort, Sandals Montego Bay (in Jamaica) and in 1997 launched Beaches (for families). For many U.S. travelers, these two companies served as an introduction to all-inclusive vacations, and it is this vision and version of an all-inclusive that still dominates: one that includes walled-in experiences and overflowing buffets.

Yet in the past two decades, the all-inclusive model has expanded significantly in scope, sentiment, and responsibility to guest and surrounding community. Sandals has focused on dining and begun offering “Island-Inclusive” products that partner with restaurants in island towns. Today, almost all Club Med resorts are Green Globe certified, nearly 94 percent of its jobs are filled locally, and an average of 56 percent of a resort’s fresh food purchases originate with local suppliers in country. Club Med has also invested in luxury and by May 2024 will have transitioned its global resort portfolio to premium offerings; its Exclusive Collection comprises 21 five-star accommodations, including a French sailing yacht.

“This decision [to move toward luxury] wasn’t just about keeping up with trends, it was about understanding the evolving desires of travelers who crave comfort without sacrificing authenticity,” says Carolyne Doyon, CEO of Club Med North America and the Caribbean.

Meanwhile, hotel companies like Hyatt and Hilton, which are relatively new to the all-inclusive space, have leaned into immersive cultural programming on and off properties, greatly expanded their food and beverage programs, and developed tiers of sophisticated offerings for travelers interested in knowing costs upfront. To many in the industry, the all-inclusive space is the most exciting place to play right now.

“Many luxury clients wouldn’t even think about going to an all-inclusive 10, 15 years ago,” says Josh Turner, a travel advisor who works with Pro Travel International. “But all-inclusives really work, and not just from a price point. If a traveler has an experience that matches or is very similar to what they would get at a non-all-inclusive luxury property, then there’s an advantage on both ends.”


Impression Moxché By Secrets is one of Hyatt’s newest all-inclusive offerings.

Courtesy Hyatt

When it entered the all-inclusive space in 2013, Hyatt was the first major hospitality company to “launch new brands exclusively focused on the fast-growing all-inclusive segment,” per the company. Today, its Inclusive Collection is emblematic of the idea that all-inclusive is not one size fits all. Thanks to its $2.7 billion acquisition of hospitality conglomerate Apple Leisure Group in 2021, Hyatt is the largest luxury all-inclusive portfolio in the world, with 10 distinct all-inclusive brands and a portfolio of more than 120 resorts in 13 countries and 30 destinations.

“Hyatt is the global hospitality leader in the luxury all-inclusive space, and we are committed to continuing to drive preference for this increasingly popular segment,” says Melanie Benozich, associate vice president, marketing and global branding for Hyatt Inclusive Collection. Benozich adds that the varied collection of all-inclusive brands allows the company to “meet our guests and World of Hyatt members at every stage in life.”

The range is notable. In April 2024, Hyatt launched the adults-only Hyatt Vivid brand in Cancun, touting an “approachable atmosphere” and group classes including Spanish lessons and pottery. In May of 2023, Hyatt introduced its most upscale all-inclusive offering, Impression by Secrets, billed as “ultra-exclusive” and defined by the “highest level of luxury service possible”—think butler service, complimentary laundry, terrace whirlpools, stocked wine fridges, private spa cabins, and dining menus determined by chefs who worked in renowned Michelin-starred restaurants. In mere hours, guests can go from a coffee tasting to sunset paddleboarding.

A main reason for investing deeply in all-inclusive properties, according to the company, was seeing increased customer demand coming out of the pandemic. There was a heightened desire from travelers to be in a more controlled environment where they understood the safety and security protocols—and where they could have a rich, rewarding vacation with little planning. Another travel segment that boomed, postpandemic, and shows no signs of slowing down? Multigenerational travelers, for whom all-inclusive resorts are popular, thanks to their myriad offerings across age brackets. As of April 2022, World of Hyatt members can redeem their points at more than 100 luxury all-inclusive resorts, which has “drastically” changed both bookings and interest, per Hyatt.

Marriott, the world’s largest hotel group, has likewise identified all-inclusives as key to growth, and its investment in them has paid off: In the span of three years, Marriott went from one all-inclusive resort to 30; in 2022, they netted $21 billion in revenue, a 50 percent jump over the previous year. The offerings, too, run the gamut. Marriott CEO Anthony Capuano has called the Westin Porto de Galinhas “wildly successful as a family all-inclusive” and the forthcoming W Hotel in the Dominican Republic (opening spring 2024) an “adults-only playground.” An all-inclusive Ritz-Carlton, one of Marriott’s luxury brands, is reportedly also in the works for the first time.

Hilton, the country’s fourth-largest hotel group, has made similar investments, with 13 all-inclusive properties, 4 of which have been added in Mexico and the Caribbean since mid-2021. Leading the charge is Nicole Tilzer, vice president of all-inclusive and resort strategy at Hilton. Tilzer tells me she delights in changing misconceptions about all-inclusive resorts—those long buffet lines, those colored wristbands, the anonymity of location and life outside the resort—but readily admits these challenges are real. “Up until I came into this category, I would have put myself in that grouping of, This is not for me,” she says. “But it has been so fun to unpack and see this evolution and to be able to show travelers this is a legit category you should consider.”

Part of building that trust, Tilzer says, comes down to delivering on promises of luxury, excellence, and truly being all inclusive. She turns to car commercials to illustrate her point. “You see this beautiful car, but when you go to the dealership, it’s often, Oh, but the version we showed you on TV actually is the plus, plus, plus version,” she says. “[With all-inclusive properties] there are always going to be opportunities to upsell. You want a romantic dinner for two on the beach? Of course. But you should be able to get the car model you saw on TV for the price you paid.”

Mike Taylor, chief development officer at French hospitality company Accor Group, which entered the all-inclusive space in 2016, agrees that pricing transparency has been attractive to customers, as have considerations of value. “If someone wants to travel for a wellness experience, maybe they want to do three treatments a day,” he says. “They can go to yoga, they can get a massage, they can get a pedicure, and they don’t have to worry about what they’re paying for.”

The future of all-inclusive hotels and resorts is bright. An April 2022 study commissioned by Wyndham Hotels & Resorts showed that 75 percent of travelers think the best way to travel is to book an all-inclusive trip, and when it came to stress factors, there was more good news for the burgeoning hospitality segment: 77 percent of respondents believed that an all-inclusive vacation is the least stressful way to travel. Personal finance company NerdWallet called 2024 the “year of the all-inclusives” thanks to the boom in all-inclusive luxury offerings. And the hashtag #allinclusive has around 500 million TikTok views.

One thing travelers can expect to see, sources say, is expansion in areas that travelers might not associate with all-inclusive resorts—Europe, for starters. In mid-2024, Hyatt will open the new Zoëtry Halkidiki in Greece, a beachfront resort offering views of Mount Olympus and the surrounding Aegean Sea. The company will also expand its presence in Bulgaria and enter into the Portuguese market with Dreams Madeira Resort Spa & Marina, which is slated to debut in mid-2024 with seven bars, an on-site water park, and a 9,800-square-foot spa. Hilton, which has four all-inclusive properties in Turkey and Egypt, is also having conversations about growing its presence in areas outside of the Caribbean, including the Middle East and Africa. Accor will quadruple its all-inclusive Rixos portfolio and aims to have 100 of the properties by 2027.

All-inclusive pioneer Club Med is likewise continuing its growth, notching three to five new resort openings per year. In 2024, the company will debut four new premium resorts in China and France, and in 2026, the brand will open both a new North American resort and a “first of its kind” beach and safari resort in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, offering guests the chance to both surf and see big game. Most immediately, later this year, Club Med will expand its offerings with a different sort of entertainment. From June to September 2024, Club Med Québec Charlevoix will host “Elevation,” a series of three themed festivals: epicurean, astro-circus, and wellness.

In addition to the boom in “nontraditional” destinations, Turner says he’s seeing the all-inclusive model adapted piecemeal: a resort may not be fully all-inclusive, but it gives a traveler the option to add an all-inclusive meal plan. In short? More innovation and even more offerings for travelers.

Says Hilton’s Tilzer: “[The all-inclusive resort] really is for everyone. Maybe not for every vacation that you ever take, but it’s a category that everyone can get something out of.”

Katherine LaGrave is a deputy editor at AFAR focused on features and essays.
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