These travelers have only a dim awareness of competitive all-inclusive chains — such as Barceló, Iberostar, Occidental-Allegro, Sol Melia and Riu — owned by Spanish or Dominican interests. And yet these other chains, in many instances, offer superior amenities at much lower prices.
On a recent visit to the new, beautiful all-inclusive Riu Hotel Ocho Rios in Jamaica, (888) 666-8816, http://www.riu.com , an associate was impressed by the brightness and freshness of the facilities and the activities at this 846-room hotel, the newest jewel in the Spanish chain's empire.
Nearby was a drab, dun-colored Sandals hotel charging $300 a night, per person, for all-inclusive arrangements (room, three meals and unlimited drinks daily). The Riu was charging $188 for similar amenities.
Additional reports based on earlier trips seem to confirm that while prices at the "Big Three" have been steadily rising in recent years, their offerings have occasionally not kept pace with the newer, more elaborate facilities of the upstart all-inclusives.
Many of these companies originated in Spain (some on Spain's Mediterranean holiday island of Majorca) in the 1950s and 1960s.
By the 1980s and 1990s, they had begun planting flags in dozens of beach resort areas in the Americas. At first, they were concentrated mostly in Spanish-speaking areas such as Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Panama.
But more recently, they have been expanding beyond that cultural comfort zone to such destinations as Jamaica, Aruba and the Bahamas.
Americans like me who love the tropics should weigh all the opportunities when they plan a Caribbean vacation and give some heed to the new all-inclusives. They may offer premium facilities and service at cut-rate prices.
Here's a rundown of the largest chains (not including Riu and some smaller players such as Viva Hotels, NH Hoteles, Catalonia and Bahia Palace):
Barceló, (800) 227-2356, http://www.barcelo.com . Founded in 1931 as a bus company on Majorca, Barceló has grown from having one hotel in 1962 to becoming one of the world's largest hotel companies, with a presence in 13 countries and 30 all-inclusives in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Central America.
Iberostar, (888) 923-2722, http://www.iberostar.com . Iberostar, founded in 1983 as the hotel arm of the half-century-old Majorcan travel agency Viajes Iberia, moved into the Caribbean and Mexico in 1992, where it now runs nearly 40 all-inclusives.
Iberostar's monumental complex on the Riviera Maya below Cancún in Playacar is breathtaking.
Occidental-Allegro, (800) 858-2258, http://www.occidentalhotels.com . This group is a merger of Spanish and Dominican interests and operates 80 properties worldwide, including nearly two dozen all-inclusives in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.
Sol Melia, (800) 336-3542, http://www.solmelia.com . Sol Melia, established in Majorca in 1956, boasts more than 350 hotels worldwide, including a dozen all-inclusives in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.