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.

According to Gary Ross, a group sales manager for Sandals, which is one of the oldest all-inclusive resort brands: “I think the connotation was that all-inclusive resorts 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 [all-inclusive] market,” says Gary Sain, executive vice president of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, a Florida-based marketing company that specializes in the travel industry. Representatives of several major all-inclusives interviewed for this article confirm that they are now vigorously going after corporate incentives, including insurance and financial services.

A primary factor in the blossoming relationship between corporate planners and all-inclusive resorts, according to Sain, is a “more high-end product” — the kind of upscale facilities that planners look for when choosing incentive venues. “There are some very reputable names in the all-inclusive market, and you know they are going to deliver incentive winners all the important things they are looking for,” he says.

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 has done several million dollars' worth of incentive business in the first three months of this year, compared to virtually nothing two years ago.

Club Med, which has historically marketed its all-inclusive resorts to leisure travelers, has “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's North American headquarters in Coral Gables, Fla. A key aspect of Club Med's efforts to attract incentive business, Hayes says, has been its determination to get away from forcing corporate groups “to fit into our environment, rather than vice versa.” As a result, the resorts can be flexible and adapt to the planner's needs.

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

Sain predicts that all-inclusive resorts will continue to gain popularity as a venue for corporate incentive programs. “Package the resort experience with all-inclusive pricing,” he says, “and it becomes a very compelling proposition.”