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All-inclusive holidays are back as families seek easy options

Comprehensive five-star packages are finding favour with families looking for luxury and adventure but without blowing the budget, writes Carolynne Dear

All-inclusive holidays

Holidaymakers relax on the beach at ANI Sri Lanka

The all-inclusive holiday has come a long way since Gerard Blitz erected a handful of tents on a beach in Mallorca in the 1950s and founded ‘Club Méditerranée’.

The premise of charging guests for food, drink and accommodation in advance of their holiday proved to be a winning formula; today Club Med is one of the world’s largest tourism groups and offers all-inclusive holidays in more than 60 resorts throughout the world.

Such was the success of Blitz’s idea, countless holiday companies copied the formula and in the latter half of the 20th century it proved a hugely popular option with families keen to keep the holiday budget under control. (After all, there’s a lot to be said for knowing the endless kids’ snacks, ice creams and soft drinks are all accounted for, not to mention mum and dad’s sunset cocktails).

But it’s not all been plain sailing. The all-inclusive break hit choppy waters in the late 1990s and early 2000s, becoming synonymous with holidays for the masses and more about exploring the bottomless drinks menu than the local area. Holidaymakers started to complain that ‘all-inclusive’ meant they were served lower quality food and drinks, with extra cash required for the ‘good stuff’, while being penned into bland holiday resorts. 

However, fast forward to today and the all-inclusive seems to be staging something of a comeback. More care and attention and increasingly luxurious add-ons means the all-inclusive package seems to be having a bit of a moment.

These days, an all-inclusive family destination is likely to feature water parks, sports, activities, wellness workshops and cultural trips.

All-inclusive holidays

When the holiday's all paid for, there's nothing to do but relax (photo courtesy ANI Sri Lanka)

Club Med’s current roll call of all-inclusive destinations stretches from the more traditional beach settings to ski resorts, ‘premium’ resorts and even a chic sailing yacht. From gourmet dining to private islands, butlers and top-notch accommodation, the all-inclusive holiday has come a long way from the all-you-can-eat-buffets and crowded pools of the 20th century.

Renowned for its family-focused properties, Club Med’s kids’ club network covers littlies from four months to 17 years and has recently added a Mini Club Med + programme developed in collaboration with Professor Ilona Boniwell, an expert in positive psychology and education. 

Club Med also offers an award-winning Amazing Family programme and has opened a number of premium all-inclusive resorts. At the recently reopened Bali resort, the premium label translates to more than 60 sports and activities for all ages.

“We’re thrilled to be able to launch this enhancement across Asia and highlight our commitment to delivering unparalleled and meaningful experiences for families,” said Rachael Harding, Asia’s regional Club Med boss, of the Club Med + programme. 

All-inclusive holidays

River cruising at Shinta Mani Wild

Also in Asia, luxury boutique property group Shinta Mani Hotels has joined the all-inclusive trend. Shinta Mani properties are designed by group co-owner Bill Bensley and are located in some of the most remote corners of Asia. Shinta Mani Wild, deep in the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia, smoothly melds luxury, all-inclusive hospitality and conservation. The luxury tented camp is nestled in the jungle along a riverbank. The tents come fully furnished, with fans and air conditioning and king size beds draped in snowy white bed linen. 

The all-inclusive package includes everything, from food and drink to unlimited spa treatments, activities and even transfers from Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville airports, both around an hour-and-a-half drive from the camp.

“Everyone who comes to Shinta Mani Wild does the all-inclusive, there’s no choice,” says Jason Friedman, group director of Brand and Product for Shinta Mani Hotels. “We’ve curated the ultimate stay for guests based on our love of the Cardamom Forest and Shinta Mani Wild. We ask guests to trust us in taking them on a three-night journey where we’ve thought everything through.”

All-inclusive holidays

All mod cons - inside a tent at Shinta Mani Wild

A stay at Shinta Mani Wild goes beyond traditional hospitality and includes activities like anti-poaching patrols, wellness retreats and local cultural experiences. There’s even a 400m zipline to navigate just to enter the camp.

“The all-inclusive holiday has moved from the ‘all you can eat, all you can drink’ offering to ‘all you can experience and learn’, making it potentially a life-changing journey,” says Friedman. 

According to the resort, guests like the all-inclusive experience because they can leave the heavy lifting and creativity to the experts. “Guests also see the Shinta Mani Wild all-inclusive as great value, they know they’ll have the best possible experience with no hidden fees or charges. They know exactly what they’ll be spending,” Friedman says.

Sister property Shinta Mani Mustang in Nepal also has an all-inclusive offering. The all-inclusive experience has a minimum five-night stay and includes suite accommodation, all food and drink, guided excursions in the Lower Mustang area, a personal Bensley adventure guide, spa treatments, a daily replenished in-room mini-bar, laundry service, round-trip transfers to Jomsom airport and all necessary permits. 

All-inclusive holidays

Room with a view at Shinta Mani Mustang

The remote, 29-suite resort sits at 2,800m above sea level with stunning views over the Himalayan peaks and the Kali Gandaki river below. During July and August the resort closes while the monsoon season blows through.

Friedman says a comprehensive package has gone down well with guests. “Our guests are typically well-travelled individuals, couples and families who value luxury and unique experiences. Those who select the all-inclusive stay option tend to be families who prefer the convenience and peace of mind that comes with such a package,” he notes.

Meanwhile back in Southeast Asia, ANI Private Resorts are offering ‘crafted’ all-inclusive packages catering to multi-generational family holidays.

This summer the brand has launched a raft of ‘summer special inclusions’, featuring complimentary experiences as part of a stay. Guests can try their hand at a PADI dive certificate, take surf lessons, or learn about the local wildlife.

ANI resorts feature luxurious villas and suites and gourmet cuisine highlighting local flavours. The resorts can custom-tailor itineraries with up to ten complimentary additional activities at ANI Sri Lanka and 14 extra activities at ANI Thailand. 

All-inclusive holidays

Enjoying a game of sand dune football at ANI Thailand

In Thailand, guests can take Thai boxing classes, culminating in tickets to a professional Muay Thai match. Alternatively there are fishing expeditions with local guides, craft workshops, cooking classes and longtail boat experiences introducing guests to pearl farming. 

In Sri Lanka, guests can take advantage of curated wellness programmes with ayurvedic physicians, try their hand at  traditional Sri Lankan pottery making, or learn local dance moves. Children can enjoy craft workshops with local children or take astronomy lessons with experts from Matara University. Again, it’s a long way from the days of pilates-in-the-pool and unlimited sangria.

According to Friedman, modern-day guests are looking for a blend of adventure, cultural immersion, relaxation and luxury. They want to engage in personalised, meaningful activities and enjoy world-class amenities and service. 

“And they’re increasingly looking for value and certainty,” he notes. “In these uncertain economic times, the all-inclusive option is indeed gaining popularity.”

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