New + Updated All-Inclusive Resorts Offer Incredible Value/Variety

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Secrets Marquis Los Cabos
Secrets Marquis Los Cabos

All-inclusive resorts are the very definition of responsible spending, and the cachet of their beach locations is no longer a perception liability as much as it was a year ago. We’re betting a few days by a pool on a tropical beach is long deserved for both you and your attendees. Here are some new and recently renovated resorts, where your people can put their wallets in the hotel safe and leave them there.

HARD ROCK TRIO
Down in Mexico, the 601-suite Cancun Palace located on the beachfront hotel zone is gearing up for a spring unveiling as the newly rebranded Hard Rock Hotel Cancun. This partnership worked out well last year in the Dominican Republic at Hard Rock Hotel Punta Cana. So much so, after the Cancun opening, Hard Rock and Palace are getting into bed two more times soon in Riviera Maya and Puerto Vallarta.

In Cancun, all of the “Rockstar Suites” feature double jacuzzis in the living rooms, plus private balconies and water views of either the ocean or lagoon. The hotel’s decor will change from calm creamy colors to snazzy shades of reds, purples and glittery stardust, with Hard Rock’s signature music memorabilia decorating the lobby, restaurants and bars.

“The Hard Rock is all about vibrant colors and the decor is tasteful but a little more flamboyant,” says Ginny Davito, vp of group sales for Palace Resorts. “The existing lobby bar will become a Brazilian steakhouse, and a bar will be incorporated into the hotel lobby. The steakhouse will be the newest of five restaurants on the property offering a variety of buffet style meals and a la carte seafood, Italian, Oriental and Mexican cuisines.”

The resort’s outdoor amphitheater will host an ongoing schedule of live concerts, celebrity-hosted soirees and other exclusive events. Davito says these happenings are open to meeting planners in advance for private group bookings, following meetings in the 12,400-sf conference center.

“People tend to network more in an all-inclusive setting because they’re not worried about the cost,” Davito says. “Especially on the incentives side, you shouldn’t have to pay to be treated like a winner. Even with decor and music, the planner doesn’t have to spend money because of the way the hotel is already set up.”

Also this summer, the 348-room Hard Rock Hotel Puerto Vallarta opens oceanside in Banderas Bay. In 2012, the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya will incorporate two adjacent Palace resorts offering a combined 777 rooms.

“Clients love the warm hospitality in Mexico,” says Davito. “The fact that we’re rebranding three hotels means that they get to come back and experience the same value and warm hospitality, and get a whole new experience every time.”

IBEROSTAR CANCUN
Another Cancun rebranding, the sprawling 426-room Iberostar Cancun reopened in December following a $100 million renovation of the well-known Hilton. The resort is now fully all-inclusive—a big change for planners who know this important group property, which features the only oceanfront convention center in Cancun.

The resort offers five new restaurants including Mexican, Japanese, a steakhouse and a fine dining restaurant. A growing list of fitness and wellness activities has also been added, along with nightly entertainment in the newly-built theater. Catch the best of Broadway one night and sing along to the Beatles the next.

For large business conferences, the resort has 49,000 sf of meeting space inside and a whopping 60,000 sf of outdoor convention space for sunset cocktails and beachfront BBQs. We visited for an MPI event last year, and one of the events took place on the grand lawn with the breeze coming in off the sea. That volume of private outdoor real estate close a major hotel strip is not easy to find.

“Especially now that it’s all-inclusive and the value that planners find in that, it’s going to be a very exciting resort to consider when they’re looking for a location for any big event,” says Annette Carollo, director of groups/incentives.

She adds that, historically, the hotel’s group ratio is about 60% due to the convention center and business amenities, and all of the rooms have an ocean view.

“And, all of the activities and shopping and world class dining in Cancun is another strong selling point,” Carollo says.

Once the meetings are over, planners can organize golf tournaments at the resort’s private golf course, as well as large group events at the spa. Iberostar is the only hotel on the Cancun strip with both professional golf and spa facilities onsite.

Hard Rock Guitar Bar
Hard Rock Guitar Bar

SECRETS MARQUIS LOS CABOS
The 204-suite Secrets Marquis Los Cabos opened in November after parent company AMResorts took over operations. There are also 26 one-bedroom casitas with private swimming pools.

Secrets brings its brand standard “Unlimited Luxury” concept to Cabo, meaning: U.S. food brands, U.S. television channels, premium wine and liquors, no all-inclusive bracelets and no reservations required at any of the restaurants.

“Now that we are Secrets Marquis with the Unlimited Luxury concept, it becomes even easier because we have the know-how of AMResorts plugging into what meeting planners always wanted,” says GM, Ella Messerli. “Planners are looking for this all-put-together, no surprise program that will cost this amount per head, end of story.”

We’re digging the casita concept for small VIP groups.

“That’s always been an incredible selling point because you want everyone to feel special,” says Messerli. Those can be considered 26 presidential suites.”

The hotel caters to large meetings, hosting 700 pax in the largest ballroom. Their 2,000-foot beach also serves as a beautiful backdrop for outdoor beach parties, beach concerts and pool dinners under the stars.

Secrets Marquis is a Leading Hotels of the World with the only certified Leading Spa in Los Cabos. It’s large for this room count, offering 13,000 sf of serene seaside pampering.

We’re also curious about chef Thierry Dufour’s food. We’ve heard he’s a bit of a celebrity in those parts.

“He’s been in Mexico for over 25 years and has managed to marry Mexican ingredients, Baja ingredients—which are the fish and seafood—with his artisinal French flair without making it too Frenchy,” says Messerli. “He keeps it fresh and innovative and he’s always had standing ovations with the incentive and meeting groups here. He always prepares dishes that we call, ‘I can’ts.’ I mean, you look at it and your mouth waters.”

Groups will also find a wide variety of exciting offsite activities nearby. Los Cabos is known for its dry cooling breeze and excellent golf courses, including the gorgeous Cabo del Sol, ranked number 15 in the world.

Furthermore, the area is one of the most prized sportfishing destinations in the world, which comes in handy when the group’s gathering around dinner time. There’s nothing like going out and bringing in the day’s catch for your colleagues.

“We’re a marlin capital of the world so most times planners will organize internal fishing tournaments and take out five or six boats,” says Messerli. “They bring back marlin and dorado, and then the chef will make sashimi and sushi for the next three days! It’s a nice interactive activity.”

Total meeting space at Secrets Marquis is 12,000 sf.

SUGAR BAY RESORT & SPA, USVI
The 294-room Sugar Bay Resort & Spa in St. Thomas is the only fully all-inclusive hotel in the USVI, perched along a cliff overlooking one of the island’s best beaches. Long a favorite for budget-conscious planners, the iconic property is undergoing an 18-month renovation following its rebranding this summer, after years of third party management.

New features include a steak and seafood specialty restaurant. They’ve also given their second pool an all new updated look and built a new swim-up bar under their waterfall.

“Over the next 18 months, all of the rooms are going to be renovated as well,” says marketing representative, Bill Heaney. “Our biggest problem is that we’re going to be busy. We have to do this project in accordance to the demand.”

The inherent all-inclusive value is further enhanced by a wide array of onsite amenities for both business events and group teambuilding activities. The rooftop meeting space, as well as the grand terraces of the Manor House restaurant, feature truly jawdropping views of the nearby British Virgin Islands. Meanwhile, the beach, pool and watersports center are among the most comprehensive in the USVI, offering charter opportunities to the BVI and spectacular sister island, St. John.

“When you’re selling a resort in the Caribbean, do you know what the most important thing is?” Heaney asks. “Having the right beach. Some of the resorts in the Caribbean don’t really have a fantastic beach. That’s a big seller for us. You can snorkel, you can go out safely, it’s a beautiful beach and it’s in a wonderful setting.”

Another huge added bonus, the northern location is just minutes from Red Hook Harbor where public ferries make the 40-minute crossing to St. John and its vaunted world class beaches. On top of that, Heaney says his groups often appreciate the American mindset of the USVI.

“I’m just back from the island and when I was there, I sat in a sports bar watching football games on 14 different screens,” Heaney says. “You really don’t have that in a number of other Caribbean destinations.”

For spa goers, the 10,000-sf standalone Journeys Spa features myriad wellness programs and tropically inspired treatments. We like the Caribbean green coffee wrap.

Total meeting space is 16,500 sf.

SHERATON BIJAO BEACH, PANAMA
The newly renovated 294-room Sheraton Bijao Beach Resort reopened in Panama in November after joining Starwood Hotels, making this Sheraton’s first all-inclusive hotel in Central America.

Sheraton Bijao Beach is ideally situated in Panama’s spectacular Santa Clara region, known as the ‘Dry Arc’ for its year-round dry, tropical climate.

An hour north of Panama City, the resort is close enough for you to take your group into the bustling capital for shopping and sightseeing, or to enjoy lunch at the Panama Canal, but distant enough to offer a sense of privacy and seclusion.

“It’s truly one of those destinations where we’re very proud to have it as part of the Sheraton brand,” says Trip Barrett, director of sales/marketing for Starwood Latin America. “This is the second all-inclusive that Starwood has opened this year. We also opened the Westin Resort & Spa, Playa Conchal in Costa Rica. This has been an exciting year for us.”

The property was brought up to Sheraton standards during the multimillion dollar revamp. Some new additions to the hotel are the Sheraton Link and the fab Sheraton beds, known to make you hit snooze a time or two.

“It’s a great experience for those meeting planners who know and trust the Sheraton brand, giving them that confidence to book an all-inclusive stay with us,” says Barrett.

Hosting up to 300 attendees, the resort’s 3,600 sf of meeting space is complemented by a long stretch of beautiful beach and lush surroundings, making for extraordinary outdoor events. Host a cocktail party right by the water or organize a scavenger hunt leading up to the nearby dormant volcano. Groups can also enjoy the vast amount of ecotourism options throughout Panama.

“One of the advantages of when you hold a meeting at our resort is when people start looking at outside activities,” Barrett explains. “When you have a meeting by the pool then it does give that incentive to say, ‘Hey, let’s get through our meeting so we can go on to the activities that we’ve planned for you.’”

Barrett adds that because of ample space and array of activities, meeting planners can put together a variety of themed parties, whether it’s a tropical party that revolves around fitness, teambuilding on the beach or activities incorporating the upscale spa.

Barrett says, “A group’s stay and the activities they set up can be designed to say, ‘Let’s make this special for you.’”

Club Med Sandpiper Bay
Club Med Sandpiper Bay

CLUB MED AMERICAN STYLE
Coming off a $28 million renovation in December, the breezy 308-room Club Med Sandpiper Bay, Florida is the only all-inclusive resort in the country. It’s located in Port Saint Lucie, 50 minutes north of Palm Beach.

All rooms, meeting space and restaurants/bars feel brand new with a contempo, minimalist Florida tone. The resort is home to the first L’Occitane spa in the U.S., and for golfers, Sandpiper offers its own golf course with another 25 courses in the area. This is also HQ for the International Tennis Academy, where the coaches who trained Andre Agassi and Monica Seles can create an exhilarating teambuilding event.

The waterfront property also hosts an array of watersports including sailing, stand-up paddle boarding and boating from their private beach.

“We offer so much to do on the grounds that the resort becomes a destination itself,” says Robert Cao, director of groups/incentives for Club Med N.A. For business events, the 18,000-sf conference center features a 6,400-sf ballroom.

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