Are all-inclusive resorts bad? I was introduce to all-inclusive resorts at a young age – my first trip was to the Dominican Republic with my mom. We spent seven days lounging around the resort, taking a one day trip to the city of Sousa where I went scuba diving and shopping while my mother, who had packed a suitcase full of items, passed out toothpaste, crayons, candy and religious paraphernalia to anyone that approached us on the street. This was in 2002, I was 15 years old. I was reintroduced to the all-inclusive experience in my 2nd year of University. This time I went along with a group of 21 years olds to Cuba in the hopes of partying and relaxing on the beach. But my inquisitive mind got the best out of me and I started to ask questions. I met with staff that were highly educated, like the PhD professor who was working as the entertainment coordinator, and realized that even though we were in Cuba, we had little to no contact with Cubans, their culture and/or their lifestyle. In fact, in my mind, I never stepped foot into Cuba. 

Enclave tourism is tourism in destinations where tourist activities are planned and congregated in one small geographic area, in order to allow the tourists to experience the entirety of their travel intentions without having to travel far out into remote areas of the host country
Source: OMICS International

All-inclusive resorts sell the ultimate dream a 6+ day cheap and worry-free travel vacation to a tropical destination where all you do is relax, eat, drink and [if you want] do some extra curricular activities. In the last couple of years, all-inclusive’s have been under fire, particularly due to how bad the food is, their hidden “extra” fees and the fact that there is little to not contact with life outside the resort. But these are not the cons that people should be focusing on, the resort towns have been proven to have negative social, economic and environmental impacts. We should have learned by now that you can’t get something out of nothing – there is always a price. So are all-inclusive resorts bad? 

In 2014, Tourism Concern published a survey about all-inclusive resorts and the results are quite shocking. The report presents the findings of a survey conducted from 2012 to 2014 of over 1700 holidaymakers into the perceived impacts of all-inclusive package holidays. Almost 1,750 responses were received and almost 70% had been on an all inclusive holiday – the key findings were:

  • 55% of survey participants believe the shift towards all-inclusive holidays is a negative development. Nonetheless, 42% of the survey sample are likely to go on an all-inclusive holiday in the next two years.
  • Of those survey participants who have been on an all-inclusive holiday, 32.8% never left the resort to visit a local restaurant, and 34.47% never went on an excursion outside the resort.
  • Less than 20% of respondents who had been on an All Inclusive regularly left the resort to visit other bars, restaurants or excursions.
  • 87% of the sample believed that tourists benefit from all-inclusive holidays. At the same time, 65% responded that local communities are in some way made worse off by the establishment of all-inclusive resorts.

Unfair Working Wages

Tourism Concern launched a report about labour conditions in five popular destinations. A Labour Standards, Social Responsibility & Tourism report highlighted numerous issues, including: failure to recognize workers’ rights to join a trade union; lack of training; being pressured into working a considerable amount of unpaid overtime; and not earning a living wage. Tipping is an important source of revenue for people working in the hospitality business but the all-inclusive model results in fewer tips and therefore reduced income for many workers. 


The direct income for an area is the amount of tourist expenditure that remains locally after taxes, profits, and wages are paid outside the area and after imports are purchased; these subtracted amounts are called leakage. According to UNEP, in most all-inclusive package tours, about 80% of travellers’ expenditures go to the airlines, hotels and other international companies (who often have their headquarters in the travellers’ home countries), and not to local businesses or workers. Of each US$100 spent on a vacation tour by a tourist from a developed country, only around US$5 actually stays in a developing-country destinations economy.

A study of tourism ‘leakage’ in Thailand estimated that 70% of all money spent by tourists ended up leaving Thailand (via foreign-owned tour operators, airlines, hotels, imported drinks and food, etc.). Estimates for other Third World countries range from 80% in the Caribbean to 40% in India.
Source: Sustainable Living

“Leakage” occurs in two ways: import leakage and export leakage. Import leakage occurs when the host country can not supply the equipment, food and other products that the tourist demands. Therefore food, drinks and even equipment for site construction must be imported from overseas and therefore tourism expenditures leaves the country to pay for these imports. Export leakages occur when overseas investors who finance the resorts and hotels take their profits back to their country of origin. 

Analysis of an all-inclusive Holiday Village in Fethiye, Turkey, found that just 10% of the tourist spend reached the regional economy, with economic benefits to the neighbouring Sarigerme village was even less. For example, estimated average guest spend in the village shops was put at just 1 Euro per guest per day. In Kenya, tourist expenditure reaching the local economy is placed at 22.8%. This includes in Mombasa, where the vast majority of holidays sold are all-inclusive, but where half the population live on less than a dollar a day. 

In many cases, local communities make hardly any money from the influx of Westerners. “Much of what we spend on holiday – even in the developing world – ends up back in Western countries,” says Mark Mann, author of the Community Tourism Guide, a directory of ethical holidays. “Most tourists stay in a hotel owned by a Western company. They drink imported spirits, beer and soft drinks. If they are staying in an `all-inclusive’ resort they may not leave the hotel complex during their entire stay.” 

Environmental Degradation

“Holidaymakers also use vast quantities of energy and water (significantly more per person than local people) and create large amounts of waste, which some feel is a high price to pay for little commercial return.”

The Foreign Gaze

One of the most vivid memories for me was observing the foreign folks as they watched the “cultural shows” offered by the hotel in which Dominican dancers performed typical dances in traditional outfits I had never seen outside of the resort. At the time I was too young to understand that these performers were being trotted out to give visitors the illusion that they were experiencing our culture. It now makes me sad to think that foreigners would walk away thinking they knew anything about us because they watched a short choreographed performance that was nothing like the dancing I see in the local spaces I hang out in on the weekends. We had been made into a safe, consumable caricature of ourselves for the foreign gaze—and no people should have to pawn their culture to make a peso.
Source: Una Vaina Bien about her experience as a Dominica woman in an all-inclusive resort 

Disrupting Local Life

On top of eliciting a “foreign gaze”, all-inclusive resorts tend to disrupt local life and local businesses. All-inclusive resorts are meant to offer everything on-site, visitors have no reason to leave the hotel property and therefore local businesses tend to suffer as they often don’t benefit from the increased influx of tourists. 

Una Vaina Bien also mentions the privatization of beaches in the Dominican Republic. Although it is not legal in the D.R to restrict access to public beaches, this doesn’t stop hotels from building along the beaches and restricting access to locals. This practice is common in many other countries, some of which even have security that is often told to remove locals from the beach. All in the name of comfort, safety and pleasure for the tourists. This creates an uneven relation between the tourist and the “toured” whereas as the needs of the tourist are seen as more important than those of the locals creating division = us versus them. 

This can alienate the tourists from the destination that they are visiting and the people who live there. These types of actions can also create resentment amongst local people who are not only being blocked economically but are physically restricted from moving around freely within their own country. This resentment can then morph into tourism harassment which can in turn deter people from leaving the hotels, creating a vicious cycle. 

So are all-inclusive resorts bad? Are you not convinced yet?

MarketWatch reports that it may not be any cheaper than a standard vacation. All-inclusive resorts are typically marketed as money savers, trips that are cheaper than arranging your lodgings, meals and excursions separately. But “all-inclusive vacations aren’t necessarily the least expensive way to go,” says Peggy Goldman, the president of Friendly Planet Travel. 

The fact is that all inclusive resorts are not always the cheaper option. I used the First Choice all inclusive ‘calculator’ to see just how much a saving they say I would make if I buy an all inclusive holiday in Lanzarote, compared with a self-catering one. For a week in July, with two adults and two children, they offer a deal of £2768 (Sterling) all inclusive, and claim that a similar holiday on a non inclusive basis would cost £4349. Although the calculator is not an exact quote, described as merely an ‘entertaining tool’ , I thought it would be equally entertaining to compare the cost of staying at a wonderful eco-friendly glamping resort which I wrote about earlier in the year, Lanzarote Retreats. Here are the approximate costs for a family of four in Sterling: Flights £800 (quote from 29 April 2012), accommodation, £700, airport transfers £100, day trip to water park £100, day trip to local island £122. Total:  £1822. If I were to add on £946 for food and drink for the week, that would bring me up to the same cost as First Choice’s all inclusive deal, as opposed to the £4349 they were suggesting. And even eating out a couple of times, buying fish from the local fishmonger, shopping at the local markets, buying the finest Lanzarote wine at €10 a bottle,  I can make a grand a week spread a long way and have an wonderful and truly sustainable holiday. So, you can consume and care, without it costing you or your hosts a fortune. But at the end of the day, the real choice is yours.
Source:The Ethical Traveler crunched some numbers and realized that it might not be cheaper to go all-inclusive

Can all-inclusive resorts be responsible?

Building a loyal and skilled local workforce, reducing energy costs and waste, sourcing fresh local produce, and offering an exciting range of sensitively planned excursions are all good for business, as well as destinations and local people – and Justin Francis, founder and managing director of Responsible Travel, believes that there is no reason why these cannot be integrated into the all inclusive model:

An impressive all inclusive resort can provide employment for local people with a genuine chance of progression – with the right support and training – into managerial roles that are better paid. Indeed, an all inclusive resort in a developing country could employ far more people locally than several ecolodges ever could. Notorious for not sourcing locally, there is no reason why a responsible, sustainable all-inclusive resort cannot support an ‘adopt a farmer’ scheme, or similar – sourcing delicious, fresh, quality produce for its catering needs at a local level.  All inclusive resorts have economies of scale on their side where water and energy resources, and waste management are concerned. Although they often host a higher number of visitors than your average ecolodge, from a per capita perspective it is far more environmentally friendly to manage the impact of tourists in one place using appropriate systems and technology than it is if visitors are dispersed throughout a destination in little pockets of temporary luxury living.
Source:Responsible Travel responds to the question: are all-inclusive resorts bad? Seems not!

Sandals Negril Resort is one example of a resort which is pioneering new ways for all-inclusive resorts to work with local communities by:

Sandals Resorts & Beaches Resorts

Community-Based Tourism

Another solution is “community tourism”, which focuses awareness on people and the environment. There is no universal definition of what community-based tourism is however the jist is: a project that benefits the community as a whole [and not just individual members] while focusing on the big three: economic, social AND environmental impacts. 

So what do you think? Are all-inclusive resorts bad in terms of the negative environmental, economic & social impacts that they inflict on hosting countries? So: are all-inclusive resorts bad? You decide 🙂 

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