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All-Inclusives Going All Gourmet

Pay one price resorts are upping the ante on food. Here’s how this hotel segment is rapidly changing.

Monday, July 27, 2015
Scott Kauffman
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When it comes to all-inclusive resort restaurants, Michelin-rated chefs might not be the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, all-inclusive resorts have historically been associated with mediocre food for the masses rather than delicious destinations for foodies.

However, gourmet all-inclusive resorts are becoming a popular mainstay of the hotel development community. There’s also a growing number of reimagined restaurants showing up at all-inclusive vacation spots too.

Indeed, much like the food revolution that has engulfed mainstream America, introducing everything from healthier choices to organically grown items to farm-to-table dining, the all-inclusive experience is nothing like the all-inclusive of old – where long buffet lines and not-so memorable choices were the order of the day.

Today, all-inclusive resort guests are being served highly regarded places like Benazuza at the adults-only Grand Oasis Sens in Cancun or the AAA Five Diamond Le Chique at Azul Sensatori near Cancun in Puerto Morelos. Rated by Trip Advisor as one of the Top 25 restaurants in all of Cancun’s 640-plus restaurants, Benazuza features “molecular gastronomy Cancun style” where culinary foams and gels surprise the senses. For instance, how does poached egg with beetroot or strawberry with tequila marmalade sound?

At Le Chique, a restaurant showcasing “avant-garde modernist cuisine,” top chef Jonatan Gomez Luna and his creative culinary team that have mastered the art and science of cooking – producing astounding new flavors, textures and shapes in a multi-sensory dining adventure. It’s a place where first-class foods and drinks are deconstructed and reconstructed to often resemble something else – from cocktails disguised as spheres and other odd shapes and sizes to entrees masquerading as desserts.

“The consumer today is even more sophisticated and looking for more exciting experiences than ever before,” says Enrique Klein, longtime vice president of marketing for Oasis Hotels & Resorts. “Everything we’re doing at our resorts is a lot more progressive. I’m in Cancun 4-5 times a year and I always see something different. It’s all for the benefit of the customer and the overall guest experience. It’s a whole new ballgame.”

It’s a whole new ballgame that tastes a whole lot better, too. Not to mention, it’s becoming a world-class experience these days as much as a meal.

For example, Klein says Benazuza is not a place you where you go and “just have a gourmet meal.” From the moment guests are seated at the bar, he adds, guests are immersed in a world of different visuals, colors, flavors and textures – all meant to trick and entertain you at the same time.

At the Grand Oasis Sens’ Black Hole restaurant, another gourmand’s delight, the room is dark with black lights and everybody wears white masks. The purpose of this experience, other than sheer entertainment, is the limited vision enhances all of the other senses whether it’s taste, smell or feel.

“People want to try something exciting when they travel, something they maybe can’t experience when they’re at home,” says Klein, who’s in his 18th year in the business. “If someone told me five years ago we’d be offering these richer type of F&B experiences, I would really wonder. But we have really transformed our brand and the overall dining experience.

“At the end of the day, whether it’s Benazuza or Black Hole, where our culinary teams are creating different flavors and colors, and playing with the entire presentation, it’s not about the meal. Guests today are literally hungry to learn more and try new experiences. It’s a show.”

At Karisma Hotels & Resorts, this gourmet experiential trend is actually a new brand. The company calls it “Gourmet Inclusive Experience,” which means everything from access to a half a dozen Michelin-reared chefs serving the finest of local ingredients to butler service on the beach and sommeliers at every restaurant.

“We wanted to get away from the bad image that all-inclusives only serve to the masses,” says Rafael Feliz Jr., corporate brand manager for Premier Worldwide Marketing LLC, the exclusive marketing arm for Karisma Hotels. “What we’re doing is continuing to push the envelope at our 50-plus restaurants because foodies love our properties.”

What’s not to like when Le Chique is perennially winning “Wine Spectator” magazine awards and earning “Travel Leisure” Mexico accolades as one of the top restaurants in the Riviera Maya.

Palace Resorts is another leader in the upscale all-inclusive resort space and Kathy Halpern, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing, does not anticipate gourmet demand slowing down.

Consequently, Palace Resort’s Playacar Palace, a chic beach paradise in Playa del Carmen, recently launched Alquimia, a sensory dining experience like no other. Alquimia’s dining experience includes theatrical music, visually-appealing art and impeccable food.

Through the use of creativity and innovation, guests can experience a culinary journey of Latin America with dishes including frozen roses and carnation petal soup and Mezcal Caldomble, perfectly paired with fine wine in an ever-changing ambience of light and musical stylings

“With gastronomy and travel becoming synonymous, consumers today are seeking lasting, high caliber experiences,” Halpern told Hotel Interactive®. “As a company known for innovation, consistency and the ability to enhance guest experiences, Palace Resorts has exceeded the demands of our valued guests through our unmatched culinary offerings.

“Palace Resorts continually keeps its finger on the pulse of trends and demands. As a company, we have embraced social media-based channels like TripAdvisor to fully understand the needs of our guests. By monitoring guest reviews, we have seen an increase in demand for gourmet experiences.”

To be sure, the value proposition for consumers seeking upscale all-inclusive vacations has never been more attractive. But what are the financial ramifications for resorts delivering these exceptional epicurean experiences? Is it paying off from a financial perspective?

For Klein, who’s in his 18th year in the business, the answer is a resounding yes.

“By giving guests more exciting experiences we are capturing the type of customer willing to spend more,” he says. “You do more for the customer and the customer will do more for you. Our ADRs continue to increase.”

Scott Kauffman
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Scott Kauffman is a leading journalist on golf course development and luxury resort and real estate development worldwide. Kauffman has 25 years of journalism experience, including full-time writing and editing positions with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, USA Today and Orlando Sentinel newspapers, and Golfweek Group magazines. Over the last 12 years, the award-winning writer has specialized in golf course real estate and resort development and been published by more than 30 regional ...
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