Ocho Rios, Jamaica- The folks who gave us “two-getherness” are finding out that the all-inclusive vacation concept is paying off in more places than one would expect.
For instance, where would you think this resort is located from the description in the brochure?
“If you can imagine the sensory pleasures of a luxurious, playful, relaxing, thoroughly delicious holiday, in one of the Caribbean’s most sensational beaches, in one of the most fascinating countries, then you’re ready for Club Varadero.
Is it in Puerto Rico? Aruba? Martinique? Jamaica? St. Thomas?
Nope. It’s Cuba.
And while it’s still off limits for Americans, it has become one of the region’s hottest tourist destinations. So popular, in fact, that since its debut in February 1992, its 120 suites have been increased to 260 and ground has been broken for another all-suite property, reports John Issa, who is waiting for the sugar cane curtain to dissolve so Americans can once again experience what was once the most popular vacation playground in the Caribbean.
In the meantime, says Issa, the rooms at Cuba’s first and only all-inclusive resort are being filled with Canadian, European and Latin American vacationers.
“I don’t know when relations between the US and Cuba will be normalized, but I feel the time is coming soon and when it does happen we’ll be ready,” said Issa, who with the opening of a couples-only resort 15 years ago is credited with pioneering the all-inclusive concept in his home country of Jamaica and is recognized as being a key catalyst in the turnaround of its foundering tourism industry.
The Caribbean’s third largest island now has more than a score of pay-one-price playgrounds (including five of Issa’s “SuperClubs”) which are targeted at various segments of the vacation market, including everyone from singles to families.
Their popularity has even created a “clamour of claims among resorts and cruise lines as to what they’re throwing into the all-inclusive pot,” said Issa.
“However, just because something is advertised as all-inclusive doesn’t necessarily mean it is, and vacationers should be sure to see exactly what they’re getting when they book an all-inclusive rate,” he said, pointing out that with the “dilution of the meaning of all-inclusive,” he has come up with “super-inclusive,” a word for which he has received a registered trademark.
Issa’s idea for one-price-pays-all “two-getherness” first took shape in 1978 when he renovated his family owned Tower Isle Hotel – a Jamaica landmark three miles north of Ocho Rios – and reopened it as “Couples”, which, he said, was the world’s first all-inclusive resort for couples only.
“It took a while for the concept to catch on, especially the open bar, because no one had ever heard offering unlimited free drinks before, but catch on it did, and in a very big way,” he said, pointing out the Couples, which last year underwent a $1.5 million renovation and building program, “is the most successful resort in the Caribbean,” with an occupancy rate of more than 90 per cent year round.
One of the reasons for the 10-acre beachfront property’s popularity, he feels, is that it has been kept at just the right size – 172 rooms and suites. “Anything more than 200 rooms loses the romantic appeal,” he said. All the rooms have private patios or balconies, king-size four poster beds, stereo radio/CD players, and other “intimate offerings” available, such as breakfast in bed.
For couples who want to bare it all, an au naturel island 1,000 yards off the beach has also been dressed up in the renovation. It now features a Jacuzzi, swim up pool bar, full shower facilities, and a beach grill so the nude sunbathers don’t have to run for cover and return to the hotel for food and drink.
And Issa noted, “there’s now also a jungle out there… but a very romantic one, just steps from the rooms. It may be miniature, but comes complete with exotic birds, native plants, secluded double hammocks, an intimate whirlpool bath, and it’s all accompanied by piped-in jungle animal sounds.”
Other facilities include three restaurants, five lounges and bars, a swimming pool, Jacuzzis, all water sports with free instruction (kayaking, windsurfing, snorkelling, sail-boating, water-skiing, scuba diving), tennis courts, a fully equipped Nautilus air-conditioned gym, an air-conditioned indoor squash court and a game room containing pool tables, video games, juke box and a large screen TV- the only one at the resort.
Besides a strictly enforced no-tipping policy and all wining and dining, other complimentary pertinent perks include, horseback riding, tours (including admissions) and golf at a nearby course (transportation and green fees included).
However the fastest growing of all the all-inclusive innovations at the resort is that it has become a prime marriage ground. This past January, it hosted its 15,000th complimentary wedding and is currently averaging about 4 weddings a day.
While some documents and a minimum four-night stay are required, everything else is on the house, said Issa, including the minister, marriage license, unlimited champagne, a two tier wedding cake, flowers, music, and if needed, a best man, maid of honour and witness.
While just about everything is included, all the pampering is not unpricey. Mid-summer rates range from $1,236 for a three-night stay to $2,500 for seven nights. Of course, the rate is per couple.
In fact the only thing that we found uncoupled at Couples was its manager, Joey, Issa’s 26-year-old son, who’s been running things for the past two years and oversaw the renovation and extension program.
“He’s still looking, but it shouldn’t be too long because my son is wonderful with figures,” the senior Issa laughed, pointing out that Joey is a CPA and was the first international student and the first economics/accounting major to be valedictorian at Holy Cross, when he graduated from the Worcester, Mass, university in 1987.
Source: The Observer