Palanga entrepreneurs compete with Turkey: they offer an all-inclusive vacation package, but there is one difference

Although the Antalya region of Turkey is undoubtedly ahead of Palanga with hotter temperatures and guaranteed sun overhead, the Lithuanians who flock there every year openly say that what they like most in Turkey is not the weather, the sea, or the swimming pools, but rather the “all-inclusive” dining program. It has become the business card of this vacation country, the main magnet that attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world. It may be hard for you to believe, but some vacationers in Turkey never go into the sea, climb the mountains surrounding Antalya, or go to museums or galleries during their vacation week. A large percentage of vacationers there want only three things – to eat well, to drink greedily and to sleep undisturbed for hours. Customers want it – local hotels give it to them. As they say – the one who pays the money orders the music. Here is a simple explanation for you, why vacationers go in this direction year after year. They don’t even consider other countries because they won’t get all-inclusive there or it will be significantly more expensive. “I’m not interested in that Turkey, I just need a swimming pool and improvements,” I’ve heard many times from our vacationers. Don’t judge, praise for openness.

All-inclusives have also spread to Egypt, where most hotels have almost identically copied what the Turks came up with. That is probably why during the winter season it is this country, and not some Morocco, that replaces Turkey for Lithuanians. Bulgaria is also trying to ride the same proven path, but the quality of their service is still far behind the Turks. The Greek islands are also trying to attract all-inclusive lovers, more and more hotels in Rhodes, Crete and other islands offer such meals, but it costs much more than in Turkey. There are more countries that follow this example, but not about them this time.

This essay is dedicated to Palanga, which for many years was proud and considered itself better than Turkey. “Even if they promise mountains of gold, people will still come to us,” he used to say proudly Palanga entrepreneurs, who like to complain about everything anyway. They were confident, but needlessly so. This year, when all the restrictions of the pandemic ended and people began to travel freely again, a really sad picture appeared. There are fewer people in Palanga than ever before. A lot is said about the bad weather, but also because of the increased prices, especially in restaurants, bars and cafes. If you want to eat and drink, you will have to open your wallets wide. In most cases, dinner in Palanga catering establishments costs the same as in popular restaurants in Italy or Spain. And much more expensive than in Turkish resort restaurants. Lithuanians looking for a vacation have calculated that it will be cheaper to go to Turkey and order an “all inclusive” package than to go through restaurants in Palanga every day.

Some hotels in Palanga can no longer remain silent and loudly announce that they are having a hard time, that there is a severe lack of vacationers on weekdays, and the rooms are empty. Only on weekends it fills up for two or three nights. But when the summer season lasts only two months, it is far too little. It is impossible to earn for the whole year in two months, with such fluid employment. One can only cry out loud that “there has never been such a bad season”. This year they can say that quite seriously and reasonably, because the small number of vacationers is visible to the naked eye.

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But not everyone is crying. Even the other way around – I found a place whose managers are rubbing their hands together and are happy to have implemented an innovation that was so badly needed for so long – a Turkish “all-inclusive” dining program is finally in Palanga. Vacationers are happy as if they have won the jackpot in the lottery. And now it’s up to you, Turks.

© Orijus Gasanov

“Neither we need that good weather, nor Turkey,” laughs Nijolė, a vacationer from Alytus, out loud. I met her at an all-inclusive restaurant where this chick was eating a salmon steak with steamed asparagus, carrots, cheese-baked tomatoes and olives. A woman who vacationed in Turkey and Tunisia in the past said that the quality of the food tasted in those countries cannot be compared with the one she gets in a Lithuanian “all-inclusive” hotel. “That’s it, there was a lot of stuff, but it all looked so wrong, it didn’t taste so good. The soups are inedible, the vegetables are poor, I remember putting a pie with meat in it – after tasting it, I just cut it,” she complained while resting in a four-star hotel in Turkey. And the food she eats in Palanga makes her very happy. “Quality is not the word, it’s better here than in those restaurants in the city.” It’s been very tastefully repaired,” said a woman working as a financier in the capital of Dzūkija.

82 euros – that’s how much an “all-inclusive” package in Palanga costs per person for one day, which was offered to vacationers by the four-star “Gradiali Wellness and SPA” hotel and sanatorium. This price includes an overnight stay in a double room, three meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner), and 5 sanatorium treatments. Everything for one price – in other words “all inclusive”. “However, we do not call this offer so banal, because we provide our guests with not only accommodation, but also sanatorium services – we called these “all-inclusive” plans “wellness programs”, – says Laura Augulytė, representative of the Gradiali hotel, who created them together with doctors .

“Sanstar”, “Sanlight”, “Sea frolic”, “Evening Breeze”, “Smilga Bay” and others – these are the names of these wellness programs. Eight different options in total. Not only their names differ, but also the duration, number of feedings and procedures. L. Augulytė says that the most popular and “most useful for the guest” option is the “Sanstar” program, which can be ordered for at least five days. It would cost EUR 410 per person.

Palanga entrepreneurs compete with Turkey: they offer an all-inclusive vacation package, but there is one difference

© Orijus Gasanov

“For such an amount, we offer the guest fifteen meals, five overnight stays, a pool area, and twenty-five treatments. Even in cheap Turkey, people don’t get that much,” said L. Augulytė, a true tourism professional, who previously worked at the Lithuanian Tourism Department. And she is right, the author of these lines was not too lazy to look for 400-500 euros in Turkey, if someone offers not only full meals, but also wellness procedures. Unfortunately, such an option could not be found, at least not on the official pages of travel agencies.

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I asked the interviewee to explain in more detail what the “all-inclusive” recreation of clients looks like in the institution she manages. L. Augulytė pulled out finely written plans on the table – they list all the procedures that the guest will receive upon arrival and registration. “Various inhalations, salt room, electrotherapy, mineral pearl bath, mud wraps, oxygen cocktails, therapeutic massages, exercises, physiotherapy sessions. Each guest can consult with our doctors and discuss what they need the most,” says the programmer.

The representative of the hotel, located 500 meters from the sea, is happy that these programs help guests not to get attached to the weather forecast, which is extremely bad this summer. “We don’t care if it’s summer, winter or autumn – the programs started in June and will run all year round,” she says. The specialist has no doubts that the swimming pools, which people actively use even now, when it rains, will be a perfect substitute for the sea for vacationers in autumn and winter.

Palanga entrepreneurs compete with Turkey: they offer an all-inclusive vacation package, but there is one difference

© Orijus Gasanov

Hotel administrator Laura Barkauskienė says that the interest in “all-inclusive” recreation is unprecedentedly high, so high that no one expected. “Since mid-June, we have been fully booked all the time. This means that even on weekdays we don’t have a single room available until the third week of August,” she says. Gradiali Wellness and SPA has a total of 162 rooms and can accommodate 392 vacationers at a time. September employment is also filling up very actively. It is interesting that all-inclusive packages can only be booked directly through the administrators of this hotel or on their website, and for example, or do not show such offers yet.

According to L. Barkauskienė, the news about the “all-inclusive” meal and wellness program has already spread not only throughout Lithuania, but also across neighboring Latvia. “They don’t have such a thing in Latvia yet, that’s why they come to us en masse and highly praise such an idea,” explains the hotel administrator.

Vacationer Gediminas from Vilnius received gifts from his son and daughter-in-law for an all-inclusive holiday. He came to Palanga on vacation for five days, together with his wife. “I didn’t know that we have such a thing in Lithuania, my son found it here and decided to pamper me. You know, when they said that I would get that food all day, I was not happy. I thought, what if it’s not tasty – you have to suffer and eat it, because you paid for it? But we worried needlessly, now my wife and I are laughing that we will both return having gained weight. We eat very well, we eat a lot,” he says.

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L. Augulytė, the organizer of the “all-inclusive” program, confirms that people are eating well. “Just like in Turkey, people don’t limit themselves. Loads full plates, two or three times. He eats a lot, but our kitchen is only happy about it, if he eats – it means it’s delicious”, she laughs.

The buffet is a huge hall with many tables, where the guests of this hotel can put what they want to eat. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, not only for all-inclusive vacationers, but also for regular hotel guests who have booked only overnight stays, or people who have come straight from the street. Apparently the word in town is about a large selection. If you do not have a free meal “according to the program”, you will have to pay for it: breakfast here costs 12 EUR per person, lunch 14 EUR, and dinner the most expensive – 16 EUR. Adding all three meals comes out to 42 EUR per person per day.

Palanga entrepreneurs compete with Turkey: they offer an all-inclusive vacation package, but there is one difference

© Orijus Gasanov

The first “all-inclusive” pancake in Palanga is not at all disappointing, as confirmed by more than one vacationer I interviewed. The choice of food in this hotel is really surprising. For breakfast, they offer porridge, pancakes, fried cottage cheese, fried and boiled eggs, omelette, sausages, smoked salmon, sausages, cheeses, vegetables, buns, cakes. On weekends, they cook broth, which is served with buns. Guests can also bake their own waffles here.

Soups, fish, poultry, and meat dishes are prepared for lunch. What surprised me the most is that you can even get mussels in cream sauce here. There is also an ice cream fridge – as in many good hotels in Turkey. A very large selection of fresh fruits and berries delights guests.

For dinner, a large selection of desserts, even more hot meat dishes, not only steaks, but also stews. Various salads, Žemaičiai pancakes, cottage cheese. Those who like to eat a lot can really feel like they are in paradise.

The only difference from the Turkish or Egyptian “all inclusive” is that the program offered by Lithuanian businessmen does not include alcoholic beverages, which is also very popular among our compatriots on vacation. “We call our program “wellness” for a reason, there is no place for alcohol in it, instead we offer healthy procedures. And if people cannot live without a glass of wine or a glass of beer – we invite you to our restaurants, one of them in the forest, the other on the roof of the hotel”, explains L. Augulytė.

The interviewer says that “Gradiali Wellness and SPA” is not the only “all inclusive” hotel in Lithuania, some hotels and sanatoriums in Druskininkai offer the same or somewhat similar type of catering, for example “Eglės sanatorija”, “Grand SPA Lietuva” and several others .

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