Matthew Hampton finds out what tour operators, hotels and resorts are offering to satisfy growing demand for all-inclusive holidays

As the recession closes in, a curious trend is emerging among Britain’s middle classes: thrifty pride. Could this ethic be applied to the all-inclusive holiday?

It’s possible. The days when all-inclusives were deemed an upmarket option are long gone. When Sandals rebranded to ‘luxury included’ a few years ago, it was to escape the connotation of bad buffets and locally produced drinks. All-inclusive had become a byword for stacking it high and selling it cheap.

Nevertheless, sales are strong. In September last year, as the credit crunch was taking effect, analyst First Ascent recorded a 19% growth in all-inclusive traffic, increasing market share to 18%.

Closer inspection, however, suggests bookings have been on the up for a while. Mintel reported in 2007 that all-inclusive sales had grown by 25% in the previous five years, compared with 15% growth for overseas holidays in the same period.

Recession will certainly help fuel the trend. Cosmos head of mainstream product Ian Hailes said all-inclusives outperformed most other products in 2008 and this trend looks set to continue in 2009.

“Those who are still financially able to book a summer holiday can pay up front knowing they won’t have to find extra money for meals, entertainment and all the rest.

“With the continuing drop in the value of the pound this will become even more acute,” he added.

Hailes pointed out countries outside the eurozone, such as Turkey, are performing best, particularly for peak season bookings.

Despite this fact, some companies such as accommodation provider have expanded their all-inclusive offering in more traditional stongholds such as Spain for 2009.

The company’s all-inclusive prices lead in at £18 per person per night for The Hotel Top Planamar, Malgrat de Mar, Costa Brava.

There are also indications that quality is improving, with five-star hotels taking up the format and well-known brands such as Club Med boosting their presence in the market.

Club Med is aggressively pursuing summer sales with savings of up to £600 on family bookings and renovated properties in Greece, Italy, Mauritius and the Dominican Republic. Head of sales Steve O’Loughlin said the strategy was to create an ambience of “friendly luxury”.

Operators and hoteliers stressed all-inclusives were no longer the poor cousin of traditional hotels. Aldemar Hotels commercial director Vassilis Fragrolakis said it was “not a trend, but a reality” and one he sought to offer with five-star quality.

Planet Holidays managing director Mathilde Robert is an outspoken critic of the concept, but even she acknowledges quality is improving and the value can be hard to beat.

“It’s no good for the local economy but you know exactly what you are paying and more and more are people booking it,” she said.

Robert warned all-inclusives do not all come with the same guarantee of quality, and advised to check what is included in the price; whether drinks are international and not local brands and what activities the hotel offers.

The following breaks are for peak summer 2009 and all prices include flights.

Mark Warner

Resorts in: Corsica, Egypt, Portugal, Greece and Mauritius, plus Austria, Italy and Canada in winter.

What’s included: It varies between resorts, but San Lucianu in Corsica is full-board with windsurfing and sailing tuition included, free childcare for over twos, use of tennis courts, plus poolside activities.

What’s not: Childcare for under twos, tennis tuition, sailing/windsurfing qualification courses, drinks and motorised water sports.

Sell it to: Families or groups who like plenty of activities – but not much to drink.

Sample product: Seven nights at San Lucianu in Corsica leads in at £1,408 per adult and £845 per child for departures from July 19 to August 23 (under twos are £100).

Club Med

Resorts: Worldwide – including the French Alps for winter – 80 villages in total.

What’s included: Full-board accommodation with buffet, snack bar and unlimited locally produced drinks; kids’ clubs, group sports tuition and some motorised water sports.

What’s not: Childcare outside kids’ clubs; spa treatments.

Sell it to: Families with Francophile tendencies.

Sample product: Seven nights at the Da Balaia village in southern Portugal leads in at £1,165 per adult and £188 per child this July (under fives pay transport costs only and under twos are free).

Aldemar Hotels

Resorts in: Crete, Rhodes and the western Peloponnese in Greece; eight in total. All-inclusive option available in most.

What’s included: At all-inclusive properties, full-board accommodation with buffet, snacks and unlimited locally produced drinks, plus internationally themed evenings at four speciality restaurants. Daytime and evening entertainment includes cooking lessons and theatrical shows. There’s also a kids’ club.

What’s not: Sports tuition or motorised water sports; childcare; gym and spa treatments.

Sell it to: Couples and families with an appetite for good food and drink who appreciate a full entertainment programme.

Sample product: Planet Holidays offers seven nights at the Aldemar Paradise Royal Mare in Rhodes (pictured above) this August from £1,045 per adult and £459 for the first child (second child pays adult price). 

Louis Hotels

Resorts in: Greece and Cyprus, 20 hotels in total; 11 all-inclusive.

What’s included: At all-inclusive properties, full-board accommodation with buffet and unlimited locally branded drinks, themed nights and entertainment programme, plus kids’ club, use of gym, sauna and tennis courts.

What’s not: Sports tuition, motorised water sports; childcare; spa treatments.

Sell it to: Guaranteed-sun seekers or families after a straightforward all-inclusive deal.

Sample product: Cosmos offers seven nights at the four-star Louis Hotel Zante Beach in Laganas, Zante, this July from £979 per adult and £290 for the first child (£595 for the second).

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