The rethought all-inclusive certainly wishes to capture customers and keep them in... | R.I.

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It was more than ten years ago. I was given a guided tour of a well-known holiday complex that was predominantly all-inclusive (around 80%). I knew the assistant director, a chap who - as he explained to me - was used to, for example, needing to call the Guardia when some laddo or other had decided to attack him with a chair or having to arrange care for a small undressed child who had turned up in reception as his mother had passed out in their room.

There was one area where we stopped and talked. He would cut off occasionally to pick up some rubbish that he had spotted. He took pride in attempting the nigh impossible - keeping the place tidy, which wasn’t exactly his job anyway. The bins were to overflowing with the remains of the convenience eatery by the pool. Half-eaten pizzas, plastic cups with the sweet remnants of Coca-Cola; flies were having a field day.

High summer was usually the best of times. That was when there were most people, but they weren’t like those of the early or late seasons, which were when chairs were most inclined to head in his direction. But all things were relative. This was the arse-end of all-inclusive, and there was little mistaking the fact.

I hadn’t really needed the tour, as I knew well enough. But there were added insights that were to later assist with a BBC documentary. Knowledge had been amassed over years. Like the Guardia usually camped out in a patrol car from a certain time of the evening near to a particular all-inclusive. It meant they didn’t have far to go. Like the scams, such as the wristbands being sold to non-guests. And there were always the anecdotes. Like AI guests actually leaving the grounds, going to a bar, waving the wristbands around and expecting free drinks.

There were to be the other scams. Why were AI hotels the targets for the parasites who were organising the food poisoning false insurance claims? Simple. Guests never ate out. The hotel had to have been the source. Very clever.

Things have improved. They couldn’t have been much worse. Hoteliers have been flip-flopping between reducing or eliminating all-inclusive and reinforcing or reintroducing it. In general terms, AI is the least profitable form of hotel board, although this will depend. Economic conditions have dictated, as economic conditions long have. It was recession in the early 1990s that was the original making of all-inclusive in Mallorca. But regardless of these conditions and the offer, rare is the hotelier who has nowadays not invested in improvement.

It’s easy to brand and categorise holidaymakers who are on an AI package. Easy and mightily unfair. There are bad people and there are overwhelmingly good, decent people. No one deserves criticism for their choice of holiday, just as they don’t deserve criticism if they do indeed choose to stay within the confines of hotel grounds. The offer is there. The holiday is theirs. No one else’s.

It’s also easy to suggest that AI is just one homogeneous mass of an offer, when it most certainly isn’t. And nor has it been for many a year. While it may once have solely been a thing of three-star economy (in Mallorca at any rate), the four stars on the island latched onto it and developed a wholly superior product. And now, this superior product is destined for higher things.

Are AI hotels that bothered whether guests stay in or go out? The package has been paid for, after all, and the potential for generating additional revenue will depend on what is included or isn’t. If there has been some doubt about this, it is due to be eradicated at the superior, gold-standard end of the all-inclusive market.

Hospitality Innovation Planet was an event held in Madrid just a few days ago. There was a forum discussion about “reinventing” the all-inclusive. The 2019 season was a record one for tourism, but AI was felt to be lagging behind. It hadn’t been developed sufficiently. The pandemic offered pause for reflection, with - so we are repeatedly told - holidaymakers having done likewise and wanting new experiences.

Here, therefore, and as an example, is what the corporate chef at Iberostar, Miguel Millera, had to say. The hotel group wants to turn customers into “captives” by “providing them with much value in their connection with the destination through local gastronomy and with services at all hours, so that the customer does not have to go outside the hotel”.

The director of the four-star Puente Real Hotel in Torremolinos, Isabel Cívico, said: “We have to create ‘wow’ moments in the restaurant, so that the experience becomes a feeling, a sensation that has to be lived.”

A long way from half-eaten pizzas in bins, the rethought all-inclusive - of a particular kind at any rate - certainly wishes to capture customers and keep them in.