Despite its bookings and reputation taking a battering during the pandemic, Anthony Pearce suggests that, with everything taken care of and no hidden costs, all-inclusive is well placed to take advantage of pent-up demand once travel opens up once again
Since its early beginnings in the Caribbean, the all-inclusive holiday has redefined the way we travel. From the package resorts of Spain and Turkey to high-end escapes such as those in the Maldives, the holiday type has grown and diversified, becoming a model enjoyed by an ever-widening pool of holidaymakers with a range of budgets. But, like much of the industry, it has taken a beating because of Covid-19 – not just in terms of visitor numbers but reputationally. In November, prior the vaccine announcements, a survey by the UK Travel Intelligence Report found that a fifth of people would be less inclined to visit an all-inclusive resort in 2021.
However, with the harsh realities of Covid-19 through the winter bringing new restrictions, all-inclusive resorts – where everything is taken care of, there are no hidden costs and thus very little to stress about – seem well placed to take advantage of pent-up demand once travel opens up. As we have written before, after the recession in 2008, all-inclusive breaks were a natural fit for price-savvy holidaymakers, particularly families. Since then, the holiday type has found a sizeable market share: about 18 per cent of Britons took an all-inclusive holiday in 2019, rising by three per cent on 2018 numbers back to 2017 levels.
“We’re seeing all-inclusive as the holiday of choice for 2021 with over half of our bookings opting for this board basis,” says Garry Wilson, CEO of easyJet holidays. “This holiday type offers our customers quality and choice, but with the reassurance of knowing what their holiday will actually cost – something holidaymakers are wanting even more following the last few months’ events.” Wilson lists familiar favourites Spain, Turkey and Greece as the company’s most popular destinations, as well as Egypt, which they only launched in September. Although the most popular length of stay is seven nights, they are seeing an increase in longer stays of 10 and 14 night as families begin to book.
Karl Thompson, managing director of Unique Caribbean Holidays, says that all-inclusive resorts must offer reassurance and flexibility to attract customers back. “The travel sector undoubtedly still has a way to go in terms of recovery, but the demand is certainly there for clients looking forward. To help overcome the challenges that Covid has placed on holidays this year, we have brought in additional health and safety measures to heighten customer confidence,” he says. He notes the Sandals Platinum Protocols of Cleanliness at all Sandals and Beaches Resorts and its booking with confidence policy, in which it offers a low deposit of £175 with the remaining balance due 71 days before departure, plus all flight-inclusive packages.
Thompson also notes a trend of guests booking longer holidays as well as a rise in wedding bookings – in particular couples who had their wedding plans impacted last year. “We have noticed that several British guests have chosen to add on a wedding ceremony to their existing honeymoon booking with us – meaning that they can still have the wedding of their dreams in a beautiful destination, and then throw a bigger party for friends and family back at home at a later date,” he says.
EasyJet Holidays tells us it has been focusing heavily on all-inclusive for 2021, with a particular push for a number of hotels including the family friendly Paloma Grida in Antalya, the Los Zocos Club Resort, Lanzarote or the Stella Palace in Crete. Wilson says that the company recognises that there’s “still some nervousness around booking holidays for some, which is why we’re committed to continuing to work with ABTA and the wider industry to provide more certainty for our customers and get them travelling with confidence once again”. Testing, and later the vaccine, will of course be key, which is why its partnerships with testing firms, allowing customers to get access to convenient and affordable testing to help meet destination entry requirements, is a very welcome move.
According to ABTA, package holidays are expected to prove a popular choice in 2021, with the reassurances afforded by a package holiday becoming increasingly important to customers. Almost a quarter of people booking package holidays (23 per cent) say they chose them for the financial protection, up from 19 per cent, with almost one in five (19 per cent) saying they wanted to be looked after in case something goes wrong, up from 16 per cent. Its latest report notes that many ABTA members are offering additional benefits and flexibility beyond the existing protections of a package holiday.
The travel association also notes an unwavering enthusiasm for cruise holidays, despite the industry’s well-documented struggles this year. Although many lines have extended suspensions into spring, cruise guests are famously loyal. The sector has also somewhat reinvented the all-inclusive holiday, with every operator including accommodation and food as standard, but many including the likes of drinks, shore excursions and wi-fi, too. In fact, the trend is to include ever more, as Celebrity’s new Always Included concept proves. The line, part of the Royal Caribbean group, now has unlimited drinks (classic cocktails, wines by the glass, beer, sodas, specialty coffees and teas, juices and bottled water); wi-fi and daily gratuities in the price, while its Edge-class ships (Celebrity Edge and Celebrity Apex) are among the most innovative and exciting ships at sea.