Could all-inclusive holidays harm Middle Eastern small business?

Could First Choice all-inclusive holidays spell the end for small businesses in Middle Eastern resorts?

First Choice, one of Britain’s leading package holiday companies, announced this week that all holidays sold as of 2012 under its brand will be all-inclusive. This means that as well as flights and hotels, the price that tourists pay up-front will include three meals a day and unlimited local drinks, all in the hotels, bars and restaurants allocated by First Choice. The company has claimed that with the British and European economies still in a poor state, more tourists are looking for the cheapest possible way to go on holiday.

But critics have condemned the move, saying that it goes against the principles of sustainable tourism by deterring travellers from visiting locally-run restaurants, cafes and bars, and that the changes could be a death knell for local businesses in First Choice destinations.

In the Middle East, those destinations include:
– Egyptian holidays to the Nile area, Luxor and Red Sea coast;
– Moroccan destinations such as Agadir and Marrakech;
– Hammamet, Yasmine Hammamet and Port El Kantaoui in Tunisia;
– beach holidays in Turkish coastal resorts including Bodrum, Izmir, Antalya and Dalaman;
– newly-introduced trips to Dubai.
Despite the planned changes for 2012, First Choice’s website often includes restaurants and nightlife in the attractions its brochures and websites describe for each destination. Like many British tour operators, First Choice has recently run promotions for holidays in Egypt and Tunisia, seeking to encourage holidaymakers to return to these major destinations in the wake of their revolutionary uprisings.

The UK-based Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) slated First Choice’s plans as “a slap in the face to Sustainable Tourism”. AITO went on to say that “many destinations rely upon the investment of considerate tourists who make a conscious effort to support local initiatives… The raison d’être for Sustainable Tourism is to support the roadside food stall, local intimate restaurant or soda seller on the beach trying to scrape together a few pounds, yet all will be squeezed out as big travel businesses attempt to keep control over their customers”.

AITO chair Derek Moore also claimed that “This means a local restaurant outside the gates of the all-inclusive hotel might as well put up the ‘closed’ sign right now, which is a sad state of affairs. The First Choice announcement is good for the budget-conscious tourist, disinterested and incurious about their destination and who cares little or nothing for their host country”.

TUI, the German-owned parent company of First Choice, claims that “our vision [is] of providing holidays that cause minimal environmental impact, respect the culture and people of destinations and offer real economic benefit to local communities.” First Choice UK & Ireland communications director Christian Cull rejected the industry criticisms, claiming to the press that “As a holiday company we encourage people to go on local excursions and explore all that the destination has to offer. We are doing a lot of work in this area to increase communications with customers whilst they’re on holiday, encouraging them to use local services. For many of our flagship properties we are also setting up excursions that will enable customers to get a real taste for the destination they are visiting.”

Read more about sustainable tourism in the Middle East:
A Whirlwind Guide to Palestinian Guesthouses
Bike tourism grows in Middle East
Rebranding Yemen With $1 Billion Tourism Campaign. Will It Be Eco?

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3 thoughts on “Could all-inclusive holidays harm Middle Eastern small business?”

  1. Peter Sommer says:

    Fascinating piece Sarah. Rather an extraordinary step. I’m pleased to see AITO weighing in with some sensible and valid comments.

  2. I hate the idea of all inclusive travel. It’s set up for people who only want to travel in their comfort zone and I don’t believe it’s cheaper than venturing out of the ‘compound’ to buy and eat local. Usually all inclusive joints serve cheap, fatty, and crappy food good for a westerner’s palette.

    If people are traveling just for the warmth, sit under a radiation lamp instead and save the greenhouse gas emissions.

    1. I agree. I prefer what is gritty and real about each place I travel!

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