The growing demand for authentic local experiences has reached the all-inclusive resort space, so owners and operators are including cultural elements in their design, F&B offerings and entertainment.
GLOBAL REPORT—Guests are increasingly seeking out authentic experiences when they travel, pushing hoteliers to incorporate locality into their offerings. At all-inclusive resorts, where guests typically do not leave the property during their stay, that means bringing the outside in.
Guests want to see more nature around them, said Mandy Chomat, EVP of sales and marketing at Karisma Hotels & Resorts. Guests want more infusions of tropical trees, swinging hammocks with places to get away from it all, he said.
“People are coming to our part of the world looking to experience a more natural resort than the typical cookie-cutter, boxed-in resort,” Chomat said.
The first all-inclusive resorts were focused on experiences where guests could isolate themselves from the world, including the immediate surrounding area, said Daron Andrus, associate principal and SVP at HKS Hospitality Group.* It was all about the resort and focused on the pools and beach, he said.
“In recent years, it really has been more about trying to open these properties up and connect them with the surrounding lands and experience the communities as well,” he said. “Each year, it seems that has been pushed further and further with each design.”
Andrus said his firm tries to create a specific resort design based on the site. The architects are purposeful on building placement to keep and maintain trees and wildlife. Keeping mature trees on-property creates the effect that the resort has been there a long time, he said.
Another element is creating a sense of intimacy and a boutique charm even though those all-inclusive resorts are typically large, Andrus said. At the Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica, existing trees were kept and pools were placed down the center, which made the area feel similar to a small boutique hotel. At the same property, designers separated the main ballrooms from guestrooms and management instructs services to come in a separate exit so the back of the resort is more day-to-day with guests and their families while the front of the resort is geared more toward adults.
The Hyatt Ziva Cancun was built in the 1970s, said Alex Stadlin, COO at Playa Hotels & Resorts, but as part of its nearly $100-million renovation, the company decided to highlight the nearby Mayan ruins. Guests can walk around the hotel and take a tour of the ruins.
“The architecture, everything around the hotel respects and reflects part of the Mayan culture,” Stadlin said. “The design reflects local artists in the rooms that were redone.”
While going beyond cookie-cutter products can be more expensive to redesign, he said it gives each hotel its own identity and can better reflect the region and country where it is located.
The individualized design that reflects the locality can still give guests an international product while also letting them know the resort where they’re staying is part of the region.
“They’re not coming only for the sun and the beach, but also they want to taste, feel, smell and touch the local color,” he said.
Food and beverage
At the Royal Playa del Carmen, the homemade tortillas there are made out of corn, Stadlin said, because people in the southern part of Mexico typically use corn more than flour for their tortillas. At the Las Cabos resort, which is in northern Mexico, they’re made with flour.
At Playa’s Jamaican resorts, the restaurant menus reflect local dining, he said.
“We have a mix of Jamaican and international staff,” Stadlin said. “(The restaurant) is managed and guided by the flavor of the local staff. It’s not an international/Jamaican flavor. We took menus from the families who live there, from the service and culinary staff, and added those to our menus there. When you have dinner there, it’s a true Jamaican dinner.”
Because of the growing demand for local food and the “farm-to-table” experience, Chomat said, Karisma built the largest greenhouse on any all-inclusive resort in the world at its El Dorado Royale Riviera Maya, a Spa Resort. The resort is its own source, providing vegetables and herbs for guests’ meals.
Flying in chefs from Miami and New York City used to be the norm for resorts, Chomat said, but they’ve started bringing in local chefs from the community to appear at different times of the year.
“Now it’s local chefs so the restaurant experience is the top chefs of the marketplace,” he said.
All-inclusive resorts have always included entertainment for guests, Stadlin said, but they have had to adapt to guests’ desire for authenticity. At least once or twice a week at its resorts, Playa presents local culture experiences, he said, such as a Mexican ballet or a presentation on how the country started and developed.
The resorts also invite local artisans to set up shop in the hotel and sell their wares to guests, he said. This experience takes guests out of the resorts’ gift shops and opens them up to the region’s arts and crafts.
“Many times what will happen, too, is customer will see how it’s fabricated,” Stadlin said. “They might see a person making a straw hat. … They can see how they sew something together, how they match colors. It’s very, very interesting.”
He said some guests are uncomfortable leaving the hotel, so this brings the outside to them in a safe environment. The resort makes sure the artists and craftsmen coming in are selling quality items, he added.
“It’s unique, not just something available around the corner of the hotel,” Stadlin said.
Demand drives change
The big guest segment used to be baby boomers, Chomat said, but the last company report showed properties are now reaching guests as young as 25 years old. More and more millennials are attracted to the product because they see it as an authentic beach vacation.
“Millennials are creating a new path in the leisure travel segment,” he said. “They want to be active, they want to be catered to. They want instant gratification and experiences that are different.”
Chomat said millennial guests were the start of the localization trend at all-inclusive resorts because they expressed a desire for unique experiences.
“We want to get rid of the trappings around us,” he said about the millennial mindset. “We want to be outdoors. We want the local culture, to interact with the staff.”
Cuisine is big with millennial guests, Chomat said, which is why chefs are now part of the guest experience for local cuisine.
*Clarification, 17 April 2017: This story has been updated to include the source's specific area of practice.