All-inclusive travel – Ruining local economy or the future of holidays?

In modern travel, a flick of the coloured arm band is all you need for unlimited food and alcohol on an all-inclusive holiday. But how does this on-complex, all-access pass really affect you and local businesses?

I’ll start off by saying I am not an all-inclusive type of guy. Why leave the country and settle for cultural performances around the ‘pool bar’ when the real-deal is happening just outside the gates. Recently, I stayed at the Grand Blue Resort (not for me) in Kos, on a bed and breakfast basis whereas most guests would, I assume, stay on all-inclusive basis. It left me questioning the impact on the surrounding town, that being Kardamena on Kos island, Greece. The first night we went out for a meal, we noticed how quiet the restaurants were compared with many previous years of visiting this island. We put it down to poor exchange rates and fewer people travelling, but when we went into Kos Town, it was heaving. Very odd.

It took a few morning runs to each side of town before I saw the number of gigantic, all-inclusive resorts which had sprung up. All equipped with unlimited food and booze, gyms, pools, shopping, spa treatments, washing facilities and not a car rental office on site. It became apparent that these resorts don’t want you leaving and spending money anywhere else. They feed, water, entertain you enough so that you don’t need to look anywhere beyond the mirage of an oasis they’ve constructed around you.

Would you chose a pool over this?

What was the knock on effect for local restaurants and bars?
Well, most were dead. I don’t mean they were running on skeleton staff and punters, I mean they were dead. Some of the more popular (i.e. higher up the TripAdvisor ranking) were doing well, but the town itself was a shadow of its former self. Unlike 365 day tourist countries such as Thailand, Greece is seasonal and as such, relies on visitors to be spending their Euros. When all-inclusive resorts remove this business, it rips the personality and heart and soul out of the community. This was echoed by restaurant and bar owners we met. Does it stop guests from leaving and spending nights in town? Of course not, but why would anyone in their right mind pay twice, especially after seeking out a resort that coverts all meals and drinks?

I noticed a similar pattern when I worked in Egypt as an adventure tour guide.
The big cruise ships would sail in between Luxor and Aswan, equipped with food, booze, shopping, entertainment, postal service and chill area on top. Apart from the obvious tourist attractions which groups visited by coach, that equates to hundreds of tourists who were no longer eating, drinking, buying souvenirs or adding any money into the local economy. From what I observed first-hand, the majority of guests chose not to leave the ship at any other times. What about the missed chance to interact with the locals and all that experience offers? (which is half the reason I travel).

A friend of mine worked at an all-inclusive in Spain. He told me the resort bought in bulk from wholesalers and demanded the cheapest prices. What about the smaller businesses that rely on the summer harvest season to carry them through the winter months? He also stated that few of the guests rented cars as they had everything on their doorstep in the resort, what about the best beaches and viewpoints?

Here is a quote by Petros Assia, the president of leisure businesses in Protaras, Cyprus:
“Although the streets, beaches and hotels in Protaras are full, the rest of the businesses are empty, which has a massive impact on the tourist industry in Cyprus”, said Assia. He added: “I don’t see the situation improving for the rest of the summer months”. (This quote was taken from CyprusExcursion)

If you want to be herded from breakfast, to lunch to dinner and then the free entertainment, never truly experiencing the country you have visited, then an all-inclusive holiday may be for you. After all, why would you ever bother going to a golden sand beach to swim, when you have a beautiful chlorinated pool to swim in.

If you do are going down the all-inclusive route, here are a few factors to consider:
– Enter the address into Google maps, is the property isolated? ie. are you a taxi ride or a short walk into town? – What food and drink is included? After a week of buffet style meals, you may be getting sick of the same old same old, not to mention the canteen type surroundings and noise of feeding time at an all-inclusive. Also, check if it’s only locally branded drinks in the package? No-one likes watered down surgery mixers or having to pay extra for these.
– Are spa treatments, daytime creche, any watersports included? Are these things you will end up paying for locally?
– Check the TripAdvisor comments to get an idea of who you’ll be surrounded by. At the Grand Blue Resort in Kos, if felt like we were amongst a very small group of non-Germans
– Finally, check out the prices of ‘non-all-inclusive’ packages. There are some great local places with a family run environment and expert advice. Consider the pros and cons of renting a car to visit the area and try local dishes.

Finally, here is a 2 minute video synopsis of my time in Kos. You’re welcome!

Are you an all-inclusive person or not? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Happy holidays folks.

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