ARE ‘ALL-INCLUSIVE HOLIDAYS’ REALLY “TRAVEL”?

 

I know what you’re thinking. What kind of self-titled “Travel Blogger” writes about all-inclusive holidays? But hear me out.

Sun-seeking holiday makers looking for a bargain, or spending big bucks on luxurious all-inclusive holidays are worlds apart from your do-it-yourself adventure driven backpacker. It’s not uncommon for the words ‘travel’ and ‘holiday’ to be used exclusively from each other, despite travel literally meaning to move from one place to another, regardless of the activity.

Now if I can draw your attention to the photo above. Any idea where it was taken?

What about the one below?

I think you’re getting it now. Is it Spain? Greece? Cuba?

To be honest I don’t really have any photos in my photo album that would make it any easier for you to guess. And I’m pretty sure that you don’t want to see more photos of alcohol, a beach, and a pool.

When you think of travel blogs, and ‘travel’ as an activity, you think of culture and architecture and doing as the locals do. By far the largest criticism of all-inclusive holiday packages is that people visit large purpose built resorts and that they have everything that they need there, all included in a cost that they have already paid for, so they feel little need to leave. I myself am guilty of flying all of the way to Mexico (answer to the photo question above), and doing very little in the way of exploring the beautiful Latin culture. There had been plans to – but holy crap did we both get sick – another downside of the all-inclusive resort!

It boils down to arguments such like, ‘why go and stress over finding somewhere to eat when I have a restaurant hall that gives me FREE ALCOHOL at the end of my corridor?’, vs., ‘why would you go to such a culturally rich and exciting country to just sit by a pool?’.

Before we go any further, I just want to say, I don’t want to offend anyone, I do both!

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I can see why people believe that such holidays are bad for the world of Travel and Tourism. There is a whole debate about the effects of all-inclusive resorts on the ethics of being a responsible traveler. Backpackers will be well versed on ‘Responsible Travel’, the idea of being the least invasive, making efforts to be environmentally friendly, and supporting local business, however all-inclusive hotels are a giant red flag in this department. To name a few issues: little money spent in local businesses because few people leave to go and spend, poor treatment of staff, the abuse of water and electric resources, and the production of a chronic amount of waste.

Coming back to the points that I made with my Mexican holiday photos. All-Inclusive hotel chains, like McDonalds, abide by a specific look relating to their brand. Sat in the lobby of an all-inclusive hotel, free watered down strawberry daiquiri in hand, you could be anywhere. Egypt, Bulgaria, Tenerife…You get the picture. They rarely have the charms of traditional architecture for the area, and for the size of the resort, you are pretty much guaranteed to be beyond walking distance of the more authentic charms of the area. If small towns do exist nearby, then the tourist demand created by the hundreds of holiday-makers has turned them into a souvenir trap.

If you’re British and you’ve been on an all-inclusive holiday then there’s a large chance that you went with package holiday providers such as Thomson/First Choice, who dominate the market. No shade here, TUI Group, I’m just making an example. To take even more stress out of your holiday, these master-holiday makers put on select excursions that you can book without leaving your hotel at all with your rep. These use Thomson transport to get you there, follow a schedule put together by Thomson, narrated by Thomson staff etc. You get the picture. Holiday excursions are all about positive holiday entertainment, carefully crafted to ensure that you feel like a relaxed and well looked after holiday maker. As is the case with all areas of life, entertainment does not always equate to reality, and you can be missing out on the reality of what the area has to offer.

To ‘travel’ is to embrace the horrors with the good, as you would in your own home town. Every bad neighborhood that you survived, every person you see in a situation less fortunate than you – it’s all part of the eye-opening experience that is seeing the world for what it is.

The differences between the inclusive holiday maker and the independent traveler are real, and they are justified, however lets not descend on the sun lounger hoggers just yet.

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I am not denying the distinction between the holiday-maker and the ‘traveler’ here, but why do they have to be mutually exclusive? I know it can be a bit hard to imagine your favorite backpacking travel blogger rocking up to an all-inclusive, but lets talk about the likes of people who are a bit shy of independent travel.

A young couple, who we will call Romeo and Juliet, have never been abroad before because their parents prefer stay-cations because of money problems.  The couple find what they think is a cheap price for a holiday where all your food and drink is included, to Benidorm. It seems perfectly safe, and every single part of their time abroad is taken care of. Romeo and Juliet travel on a plane to Benidorm, which is a whole new and exciting experience. They arrive at their hotel via a bus that they found easy, and a few days later, when they are used to the atmosphere, a waiter recommends his cousins restaurant which is down the street. The thrill of trying something foreign to them leaves them wanting more and by the time that they return home they are eager for their next visit abroad. Only this time, Juliet knows that she needs to book planes, transfer or plan a route, and find accommodation near facilities. The ‘gateway’ to the travel-bug, of which there is no cure.

I’m not here to debate all of the pro’s for doing all-inclusive holidays is for the person going abroad, I’m here to answer the question of it being “travel” – “travel” as in “traveler”, the mainstream picture of someone who tries to immerse themselves into foreign life and seeks new experiences, even if it means sleeping in a room of 16 people.

Just because a person stays in the luxury and convenience of an all-inclusive hotel doesn’t mean that they won’t go and explore. Many people would realise that for the price of a planned excursion that they could jump on the local bus and explore until their heart’s content. Resorts employ an army of staff, therefore there will be a well connected bus stop somewhere nearby, just ask for one. Most people will also still eat out in the local area, despite the temptation of pre-paid food.

From my balcony in Mexico, in between vomiting, I watched a traditionally dressed women do a traditional Mexican dance – is this not a cultural experience?

To travel is to broaden your mind of the world and become a story teller. There is no reason that prevents all-inclusive holiday makers from having new experiences and learning more about way of life around the world. What do you get when you have a Brit, a Canadian and an American at a bar? I can’t remember very well, because I was the one that got drunk, but I do remember that we all had an interesting conversation/argument about health care and education etc.

I doubt that I’ll be able to convince those that live out of a backpack, as they hitchhike from hostel to hostel that a person who is being provided for around the clock in a resort could possibly have the same meaningful travel experience as they are having, but taking travel back to it’s most basic meaning, to travel to a foreign land and have new experiences, the restrictions do not exist on what a holiday-maker can do from their luxurious bed.

Are all-inclusive holiday makers still ‘travellers’? Hell yes! Holiday makers have often told me that they would love to have the confidence to solo travel to more exotic destinations, but not everyone has the money to do so, or feel restricted by work or family life. Everyone deserves a ‘holiday’, and should be applauded for making an effort to see more of the world, so long as they respect the local expectations of where they go.

Still want to be an all-inclusive lover but want to be a more responsible traveller? Just ask your holiday provider for more information on choosing the right resort for you, and make personal efforts to not waste resources and treat your destination for what it is.

 

Thank you for reading, if you’ve got anything to add to the debate then leave it in the comments.

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