DESPITE THE ONGOING POPULARITY of cruises — the original all-inclusive travel experience — corporate planners have historically been slow to embrace their land-based brethren, the all-inclusive resort. That seems to be changing.

“Very few incentives would consider all-inclusives, despite the fact that they had cruised,” says David Ross, a group sales manager for Sandals, one of the oldest brands in the all-inclusive market. “I think the connotation was that they were down market. It took a chain like ours, that has a premium product, with an all-inclusive package price, to start opening it up to incentives.”

The corporate incentive business “is clearly a growing segment in the market,” says Gary Sain, executive vice president of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, a Florida-based marketing company that specializes in the travel industry. A primary factor, he says, is that all-inclusive suppliers are providing “more high-end product.” And talk to representatives of the some of the industry's major players, and they will tell you that they are vigorously going after the incentive market.

Bill Dwyer, director of national accounts, groups and incentives for Superclubs, says his company, which “proactively” began mining the incentive market about 18 months ago, has seen a substantial increase in incentive business at its upscale Grand Lido resorts. For example, Dwyer says, the Grand Lido Negril did several million dollars' worth of incentive business in the first three months of this year, compared to virtually nothing two years ago.

“We've made a concerted effort to get our product quality up to the demands of the corporate meeting planner,” says Paula Hayes, vice president of sales and transportation at Club Med, Coral Gables, Fla. A key aspect of Club Med's efforts to attract incentive groups, she says, has been its determination to get away from forcing them “to fit into our environment, rather than vice versa.” Instead, says Hayes, Club Med's all-inclusive resorts now exhibit the flexibility that planners expect.

Ron Roy, vice president business travel and distribution, Sol Meliá Hotels & Resorts, says his company has “absolutely made a conscious effort” to attract more incentives. “We know our physical product is as good as any,” says Roy of the dozen all-inclusive resorts in Sol Meliá's Americas Division, adding that his company has concentrated on the training necessary to ensure that incentive groups “will be treated like winners.”

Sain says that ultimately it's the resort nature of the all-inclusive that will create a successful incentive experience. Qualifiers want beautiful scenery, new destinations, a beach experience, and exotic cuisine. “When you think about all-inclusives, that's exactly what the consumer gets,” he says. “Package that with the pricing, and it becomes a very compelling proposition.”