All-inclusive disaster

Found in the ‘Letters to the editor’ of Athens News. It sums up the dangerous route that tourism is taking towards providing all-inclusive holidays.

As a British national and frequent visitor to Greece I read about the proposed changes to marketing Greece as a tourist destination with great interest. Perhaps the most notable development is the concentration of resources and effort under a single ministry.

However, there is a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed. I refer to the all-inclusive hotel trend that has developed over the past five or so years. On Rhodes, for example, whilst the Old Town is busy and clearly a desirable tourist destination, you only have to visit the resorts to see the impact of all-inclusive hotels on the tourism infrastructure.

Family-run taverns, small shops, car rental companies and others have disappeared over the course of the past five years. What had been a vibrant local economy has been transformed into a sad wasteland.

On Crete, an island I know well and spend several weeks on each year, the impact of the all-inclusive hotels is even more marked, a prime example being Kato Gouves on the north coast, where a handful of resorts cater for the bulk of the island’s tourists. The vast majority of the taverns, once busy and employing not only whole Greek families but other locals too, are gone. Gone too is the market for produce, affecting countless small farmers.

Yet, there are tourists, but they are swept past the struggling local businesses in air-conditioned luxury to be deposited at arranged destinations for photo opportunities, then back on the coaches to eat and drink in the hotels. In the evenings they may saunter past the empty taverns and bars, buy some trinkets from a shop, and then disappear back into the hotel.

No doubt deals have been done in the past for these hotels to secure the best locations, with sea views and an expanse of land surrounded by high walls to keep Greece out. Inside, the staff are rarely Greek. The ownership of the hotel usually belongs to an overseas multi-national company and profits are repatriated overseas. The produce is shipped in from the cheapest source and rarely sourced from Greece, let alone local producers.

The all-inclusive industry may have its place in tourism in places where crime or food safety may be an issue, but why so in Greece? It is clearly crippling the local economies of resorts across the country. It is difficult to see what they contribute beyond the fake “Greek Nights”, employment for coach drivers and tour operator reps.

As for the tourists themselves, what do they see of Greece? For all they know, they may as well be in Spain, Turkey or Portugal.

In the past a proportion of each euro spent in a resort would filter back into the local economy via wages to generate sales for other businesses, but income from tourism is now leaking out of Greece and only a tiny proportion gets into the local economy. Unemployment is rising and the desperation of the surviving businesses reliant on the tourist season is clearer than ever. They need to make sufficient money to see them through the winter months, pay their rents and increasing tax burdens.

Greece I fear has allowed itself to be fooled by the global tourism business.
Greece is a product they can sell. Counting the number of arrivals at airports as a means of gauging tourism success or failure, is no longer of any value to the thousands losing their businesses and livelihoods each season.

I urge the new ministry to look at this aspect of tourism before it is too late. Already, thousands of businesses have been lost and tens of thousands are without work. It may take a generation to reverse this, but Greece must begin now.

Jon Sutherland
Gorleston-on-Sea, Norfolk, UK

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46 Responses to All-inclusive disaster

  1. Carole says:

    All inclusive – well you are now having a joke – for the past 7 years we have been stopping at a family owned apartment “block” – only 9 of these though and intend to stop there for many years now – and just about 10 minutes walk away on the beach is a family owned taverna where the cooking is done by Michalis’s wife Maria, who we only found out last year has been on a cooking programme on mainland greece – they are so welcoming and greet you as long lost friends year after year that we go there, as do the family where we stop in our apartments. The bakery in Tavronitis also recognise us now as we try to get by with our english “greek” and always say hello to us – all inclusive – no thanks – lets go native

  2. Mr Robin says:

    I also notice that many of the UK based tour operators are trying to get you into the all inclusive hotels.
    NO>>NO>>NO>> I still want the family owned Studios or apartments and the local Taverna
    Get rid of the Large Multi National all inclusive hotels and let us go back to the local tavernas and apartments…………………. Is this progress for the Cretans I think not

  3. Linda says:

    If you love and visit the Greek Islands regularly, then you know the beauty of it all is in the local experience and contact with local people. Unfortunately there are many potential holidaymakers who are sold the all inclusive concept and they will never know what they are missing. Put a stop to further all inclusive developments, increase tax on existing ones and use the revenue to set up an easily accessible and heavily promoted web site with a detailed database of hotels and accommodation.

  4. maddy says:

    I agree with Mr Robin – all inclusive is not the way forward – they are ruining local economies and the current trend of holiday companies only offering all inclusive make it more and more difficult for families like mine who love Crete and the whole experience of being in Crete rather than a hotel which could be anywhere to actually book the type of holiday we want.

    • Jean says:

      But surely, the internet has made it VERY easy to create your made-to-measure holiday? You are not at all dependent on large tour operators any more. Get your flight, book the hotel(s) you like, get a good deal with a car hire company, all before you travel.

      • lynnette vaughan says:

        I have to agree with all the above comments I love the traditional Greece which it being squeezed out which is a tragedy it is true that with all inclusive u could be in any country they provide a service but r soulless, having said that when my husband and I tried to book our holiday with flights etc it was virtually impossible in the end the travel agent booked the flights for us but even they had is such a shame Greece and her islands r beautiful places to visit and the people always charming .something must be done to stop the rot!

      • hazel horsley says:

        you may be able to book online the hotels or studios you want but its the flights that cripple you and your family and that is the problem why so many go to all inclusive hotels ,these big tour operators have got you one way or the other .you go where we want you to go or you pay through the nose ,it stinks …….. some times you dont even get a choice of resort again it stinks ….

        • janice gerrard says:

          Hazel, you are so right. My son and his family couldn’t afford an overseas holiday without all inclusive due to the extortionate flights during school holidays. All inclusive is the only way they can go away for a week with children

  5. Jan says:

    I quite agree with Jean on principle, but in practice it does often/sometimes cost more to DIY. We always travel independently in Crete and elsewhere in Greece, but for single-destination, ‘standard’ length (1 or 2 weeks) holidays we accept it’s more expensive to do so than to buy a flight and accommodation package from eg Olympic. In tough economic times this may make the difference for some people between holiday or no holiday.

    That said, all-inclusive is a disaster for the local economy and should be discouraged as strongly as possible.

    • Jean says:

      I wasn’t arguing the cost issue. Only saying that it is easy to create your ‘à la carte’ holiday using the internet.
      Your example of using a scheduled airline like Olympic could be misleading as it is possible to book low cost airlines without a hotel package. Additionally it is possible to book a package without it being all-inclusive.
      I also think that if low cost is the priority it may not be the best option to take holiday to a Eurozone country. Your low cost might end up being also pretty low quality.

      • Phil says:

        I suspect Jan may have been referring to the UK based Olympic Holidays who offer a range of flight+accommodation packages ranging from flight+room to all-in. Their ‘all-in’ deals has been rising in number year on year.

      • Chrissy says:

        I think Jan meant Olympic Holidays as opposed to Olympic Airways. I live and work on Crete, our nearest resort is Georgioupolis, which I and, judging on the number of repeat guests, do a large number of others. However, the recent trend here has become all-inclusive and it is certainly having a bad affect on the local businesses.
        When you go through the village in the evening there are a lot of people about, but the bars and tavernas do not reflect those numbers at all!
        I work for The Villa Collection – GIC part of the Sunvil group. Our ethos is sustainable tourism and we DO NOT have all-inclusive properties. We are encouraged to shop for welcome packs from local businesses and I, for one, get the wine for the packs from a local winery. I hope that there are other holiday companies that support this way of working – it might be worth checking out that point before booking next year’s holiday.

  6. DavidA says:

    I agree entirely with Jean. There is nothing more depressing than a large coach arriving at Frankokastello, disgorging its occupants into the horrendously bad taverna there opposite the castle and then after a short stop wending away. That is no way to experience Southern Crete.
    I always spend money in the UK on our flight. The car hire I pay for locally in euro ( currently Kosmos from Heraklion way but they deliver all over); I either telephone or email for a reservation for accommodation – using the Rough Guide for suggestions though I think we have stayed in over 15 places in Chania over the last 48 years – and then moving on Chora Sfakion for a stay at the Xenia and eating at the local tavernas around there. Whether the people I pay in my euros declare it properly for tax is not a matter for me but the notion of going to a “resort” hotel in Greece of all places is horrible. I could not even enter the gates of the “Costa Navarino” hotels near Pylos in the Peloponnese last summer without first booking an entrance – which I did not bother with. I was amazed and horrified to see the golf courses and new roads – all for a hotel complex which is part of a large American company. Save Crete from this.

    • Jean says:

      David, please note that I didn’t write this. It was in a ‘Letters to the editor’ of Athens News. Of course I re-posted it because this is exactly how I feel.

  7. Polinikis says:

    ..It is very difficult to repel the advance of all inclusive trend in gaining larger shares in Greek tourist industry, considering that these organisations still have easy access on funding, local business are going to face even stronger competition. Places like Foinikas or Loutro in Chania own a unique ‘product’ and most probably won’t face any problem, however, places like the village of Panormo in Rethymno where I spent a few days every summer, have faced the all inclusive competition for more than a decade. They’ ve survived so far but with the crisis still on no one can predict what will happen. Small business should resort in outstanding solutions in order to improve their chances. An idea would be that small hotels, tavernas and other local business could cooperate together in order to offer services in a way similar to that of all inclusive hotels. In my opinion, it is possible to dedicate a portion of their business so that the visitor could combine the hospitality of a family hotel and the choice to eat at a taverna by the sea, have a coffee or rent a boat for a cruise at the nearby unspoiled hidden beach.. Something like ‘the local vacation pass’, with which at a reasonable price one could enjoy most of the local offers without been locked in the hotel with the four gigantic pools and the Zorbas I II III IV taverna like, restaurants..

    • Jean says:

      Your idea “that small hotels, tavernas and other local business could cooperate together in order to offer services in a way similar to that of all inclusive hotels” is excellent but there is one snag: cooperation is not something Cretans do well. Very unfortunate because they could achieve so much more if they were able to work together instead of against each other (not always the case but often enough).

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  9. Jon Sutherland says:

    I wrote that piece around a year ago. If anything, the situation has worsened and there are new disturbing trends. Many of the smaller all-inclusive hotels routinely over-book. They are snapping up small apartment complexes nearby to use as over-fill space. The daily rent they are paying the owners is scandalously low, yet what other choices do they have? Their rooms are empty. The recession has accelerated the process of deterioration and decay.
    The Greek government needs to thoroughly investigate the impact the all inclusive hotels are inflicting on the local economy. They need to identify local government officials who have profited from authorising the building of these hotels. They need to have their assets seized and any all inclusive hotel implicated should be taken by the state and handed over to local entrepreneurs with the remit to employ local people..

    • Linda Lewis says:

      What you say is very true, we live in an apartment in Hersonissos Crete next to two large hotels part of a group of five who do all inclusive. The reports of the food in these hotels is consistently bad. Also in our street are two small family run hotels which are now being filled with overbookings from the disgusting all inclusive giant, and as you say they are being paid peanuts. These giant hotels ar basically having free extensions, with no building and minimal outlay.

    • Evina Haikalis says:

      From an “insider’s ” view and after being a Director of Sales in a Beach Resort in Zakynthos for many years in the past, I would like to share with you that Hoteliers are totally against the All Inclusive and even the Half Board packages. BUT the big Tour Operators threaten them NOT to include them in the next year’s brochure if they do not agree to offer Half Board or All Inclusive. Hoteliers resisted and chose to work with smaller Tour Operators but when these were bought by the big ones, they had no other choice. The supplement the Tour Operators accept is no more than 10 euro for Half Board and 20 for All Inclusive!!!!! If you deny, then you are out. Hotels make absolutely no profit from the meals they offer and they are trying to find ways to feed the guests without going to losses. I read the comments everyone posted and I have to say that this bad phenomenon can only change by the clients only! As long as there are clients who will buy the AI packages, the Tour Operators will keep on asking for more AI hotels

      • Jean says:

        I totally agree with you: this is driven by demand. Tour operators offer what people want and a large number of holidaymakers who couldn’t care less about where they are want all-inclusive because they think that they are getting a better deal.

  10. marilyn gilroy says:

    I’ve been coming to Crete for over 21 years,I stay at the same flat and would never do all inclusive,we all need to support grek people with family run apartments,not foreigners who own property in Greece

    • lynnette vaughan says:

      hear hear!!

      • Stuart says:

        100% agree with this, i have just returned from a 2 week stay in Gouves. My father has lived there for over 10 years now and the decline in the people spending in the streets in his time there is enormous. I remember when the markets were bustling and the tavernas heaving.. now, its a virtual ghost town at night compared to how it was. I met a couple who were staying at a particular hotel and they said that they will not be going all inclusive again. Their reasons were the quality of the hotel food was well below average and the service was terrible.. and the staff were not greek.
        There has been a huge rise in Russian tourism in the all inclusive industry and I was led to believe there are fairly decent concessions for them to come to Crete. I have no issue with this but in the time I was there, I saw no russians in the tavernas, bars or shops i was in. I think they can only be missing out on the rich culture that Crete has to offer and it’s a shame that they are captive to the hotels.
        I know a number of business men and women in Gouves and every single one of them stated that the all inclusive offers have had a terrible impact on them and some wonder if they will be around next year… sad times indeed.

  11. christine says:

    and the even sadder thing, is that All `inclusive `hotels are fighting to give the cheapest prices to the guests…and I am pretty sure that they cannot come out making of a profit, they would be much better off if they organised the half board or bed and breakfast board, and then they could make some money, but the guests would also come out of the hotels to eat and drink. It is so so sad….there are just too many people who get sucked in to thinking everything is free…sorry not free…pre paid so the only people who see the money are the Tour Operators and the Hotel Owners, and the Hotel owners cannot even pay their staff because they are always waiting for payment from the Tour Operators who hang it for as long as possible.

  12. Jon Sutherland says:

    There are so many strands to this story. I know of all-inclusive hotels seeking overfill capacity from family owned small apartment complex owners. Normally, booking direct with the apartments, the average nightly stay would be 30-50 Euros. With no tour operator contracts and relying on returning guests and the off-chance of passing trade, the apartment owners are being offered 8-12 Euros a night from the all-inclusive owners. The rooms are being simply used for accommodation only, the guests still return to the all-inclusive for drinks and meals. I doubt whether the 8-12 Euros even cover the cost of cleaning the apartment and changing the bedding and towels.
    The main problem is that the independent apartment owners and the tavernas have no real organisation or unified approach to tackling this problem. I would suggest turning the whole thing on its head and taking the all-inclusive hotels on. All guests staying in independent accommodation should be given a loyalty card. The card should entitle them to, let’s say a 10% discount on taverna bills, souvenirs and so on. Each participating outlet would have a poster stating they are part of the scheme.
    The main issue is marketing. Tour operators, in offering a total package are perceived to be offering a value for money product that includes flight, transfers and accommodation (and in the case of all-inclusive packages food and drink). Above all, the whole purchase is protected by ABTA/ATOL in a way that booking flights and accommodation separately is not protected. Payment is easier for the package, there are call centres, brochures, TV advertising and in most cases a high street branch. The perception is that is a hassle to do it on your own. I’m not sure how this can be addressed.

    • Jean says:

      Your analysis is spot on:
      “The main problem is that the independent apartment owners and the tavernas have no real organisation or unified approach to tackling this problem.” Yes, everyone on their own, suspicious of each other and not willing to cooperate in order to have strength in numbers. Sad!

      “The main issue is marketing.” Yes. You market the experience and added value of NOT going all-inclusive. Again, this can only be done at higher level: government (what government?), regional level (The Crete region is making some valiant efforts there but it’s not addressing the all-inclusive stuff, at least not yet) or at a minimum smaller initiatives at a resort level. But of course that would take ‘organisation and a unified approach’

    • Barny says:

      If only things were that simple. You forget the corruption that is still rife in Greece. From personal experience we have seen tavernas owned by wealthy families who lower their prices to ridiculously low levels until the others have had to shut their doors then they can charge what they like. We also know of a case where a thriving restaurant was suddenly visited by health inspectors and dead rats planted. After the third visit and a number of other incidents, they closed the doors.
      If a rich Greek spots a shop that appears to be doing quite well, they open next door, undercut the neighbour until they are forced to close or bribe the landlords into discontinuing leases then move in themselves.
      Please do not get me wrong, we love the Greek people and it is just a few that behave like this. In our area it is mainly those who left Greece in the 1960,s made some money then came back and were able to buy up land and build houses and hotels. They get huge grants to build these hotels, which is supposed to bring jobs to the area then import (quite often illegal) labour and bribe inspectors to either turn a blind eye or warn them of their intended visit.
      Yes, the small hotels are affected by the tour operators, but with the large hotels it is the other way around. They can say pay me now or I will not take the 1500 tourists coming next week. We know of a case where they followed through the threat and just sent everybody home for the week without pay.
      These people have become powerful men in their area and literally control everything that happens, what they say goes and the locals are frightened to speak out against them.
      With all the wage cutting and extra taxes that the average Greek has been forced to bare, what did the government do, they reduced the levy of 6% on hotel profits to around 1%. As this goes to the local council and is the main source of income, they are now in the position where they have to decide each month whether they pay the wages or the petrol bills etc.
      Like the original post, I believe you have to go back the source. To the planning applications and to the grants being given. I do not have statistics on the numbers of tourists, but I believe they are slightly up on last year. With the number of huge new hotels having opened, in our area alone about 4000 extra beds in two years, there have to be winners and losers. Unfortunately it is the smaller, older hotels ie. family run hotels that have suffered.
      Why do they go on handing out planning consents, why do they hand out grants without making sure it really does help the local economy.
      We are assured things are getting better but is going to be years before what we see as corruption is brought under control

  13. ANNE says:

    I have lived and worked on Corfu for the past 27 years in our small family business. These all inclusive deals are killing all the smaller enterprises, the tavernas and smaller holiday rentals are struggling to survive or closing, as a result…more unemployment. The all inclusive cannot pay their taxes or wages at the end of the day because they themselves do not make enough money and yet we smaller businesses have to pay no matter what. To keep our businesses open we have to pay a certain amount every year, to close them there is a fine and we are not allowed to reopen after. Half the tourists in the all inclusive hotel in our resort have no idea there is even life outside the perimeter, no idea there is a village along the road with typical Greek hospitality awaiting them and superior food to that which they are receiving in the hotel where standards have dropped. The staff wages are pittance, the staff are overworked, my own sister was forced to give her job up through ill health when during eight hour shifts in another all inclusive hotel, in a another resort, stipulated… no drinks, no food and no toilet within her working hours. These all inclusive hotel deals need to be looked at seriously and staff paid their dues or Greek resorts will become ghost towns.

  14. Joanne says:

    All-inclusive hotels have killed off so many businesses in Rhodes. I have lived in a small village for over 18 years, helping to run my husbands families small hotel. We have been crippled by these bigger hotels and all tavernas and small shops have closed. These Big Hotels arent even buying local produce, they are shipping most of it in via Turkey. Most of the staff and foreign students and those Greeks fortunate to get a job there are given a pittance wage (if they are paid) and extremely bad working conditions. If they dare complain they are told that many are looking for work so like it or lump it. Something has to be done quickly as tourism isnt helping our poor country recover

  15. Erik Anderson says:

    I totaly agree with anyone that´s against these big all inclusive complexes, wouldn’t touch them with a ten foot pole. BUT, I understand why many families with children stay at all inclusive resorts. It´s the only chance they have to afford a holiday in the sun. But there should be a limit of how many AIC one single village can allow so that the local business doesn’t suffer and dies.

    • Stuart says:

      To be honest, i dont find the all inclusive deals that cheap.. also, why would anyone want to eat sub standard food, horrible drinks and be served by non greek staff? Might as well be in a capsule in your garden for all the greek culture you will experience

      • janice gerrard says:

        We are taking the grandchildren away for October school holidays (not all inclusive) and we could have stayed in an all inclusive hotel for the same price (or cheaper) than some self catering apartments. We could have just stayed here and still eaten out in the local village tavernas in the evening but we personally don’t like the large hotels. I can understand why families choose this option to keep the costs down.

  16. jeff says:

    The situation screams opportunity to me. Software and a little collective marketing. I’m not sure who the target demographic for all inclusive is. I’m american (los angeles) and would never go all the way to Greece to stay in s glorified holiday inn. I do spend weeks every year in Greece because its greekness and authenticity is the draw. Milos sifnos Crete Naxos syros all of it is great. I use a local travel agent to do my legwork. But software like airbnb would serve local hosts well. The government can’t and should want to stop fair competition. But to me I see all inclusive as a big negative. But perhaps there is a different demographic of people when Greece is a two hour flight not twelve. The local communities need to market themselves and boy is there a ton to market.

  17. Nikki Rose says:

    This should have been an article written by countless journalists several years ago. Instead, one concerned visitor writes to the editor. Brava! Therein lies part of the problem. The government and media’s denial that all-inclusive tourism has a devastating impact on local communities — financial, cultural and environmental. What is tragic is that it is growing rather than shrinking. While the world has acknowledged the importance of sustainable tourism, this form of tourism is the extreme opposite. It is up to all stakeholders – the government, communities, hoteliers and visitors to halt the practice. It is truly the last straw for local communities working so hard to eek out a living. And so unnecessary.
    Nikki Rose
    Founder & Director
    Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries Eco-Agritourism Network
    Educational programs celebrating Crete’s cultural and natural heritage
    An award-winning program for best practices in Responsible Travel
    Sustainable Travel/Community-Based Tourism Advisor
    See National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations
    UN-CBD International Year of Biodiversity Success Stories
    Author of “Crete: The Roots of the Mediterranean Diet”
    Facebook: Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries

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  20. We have never, and will never, support all inclusive. We did, however, warn everyone 7 years ago about what the effect of A.I. would be. Naturally, no-one in Crete took any notice and the result is as predicted. Sadly, the marketing and lobbying power of large tour operators is difficult to fight. It is notable however, that many village properties remain empty this August and it would appear that fewer people are opting for the “real” Crete. Local tavernas are suffering and the bars are empty. At this rate there will be no tourism infrastructure outside the hotels within two years. The only way to fight this is to tell everyone you know, write letters, social network, and get the message across. There is little else that can be done, but as direct action, small business owners could picket the hotels or the airports or lobby their local politicians to create by-laws excluding A.I. from places within 3kms of a town or village.

  21. Ian kings says:

    its a difficult one personally I’ve never done all inclusive I much prefer to choose where I eat and I love exploring the countless varieties of tavernas and meeting both staff and owners, but the bottom line is all inclusive could not survive if people didn’t want them quite simply it’s supply and demand in an open market, but of course I endorse everything in the article it’s a real shame reminds me of the corner shop versus supermarket syndrome in the U.K now traders have to fight against e bay and the Internet it’s a forever changing world and not always for the better.

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  24. The all inclusive tour operators control the flights. Once the all inclusive are full the flights finish. The Greek tourist board needs to get some flights not linked to the big tour groups.

  25. Steve Powell says:

    Looking at Crete in particular, and from a UK perspective, there are plenty of independent flights from the UK – Jet 2, easyJet, Ryanair etc., and it is also relatively easy to book a flight only on a TO’s airline – I did it myself a few weeks ago with TUI.
    I notice that several people have, in the 6 years this article has been open to comments, cited Gouves as a worrying example of the AI trend. I too had those worries about Gouves 5 years ago, but I am pleased to say that the tide seems to be turning; there are places opening up on the main street, and talking to business owners, they say things are better now. So maybe there is hope after all. Perhaps it is partly driven by the increase in low cost airlines from all corners of Europe.

  26. Jack Schwarz says:

    We travelled with BA from Heathrow in the Autumn of 2018. Flight direct to Chania. no problem so have booked again for 2019. Hopefully our own Government in the UK will not put the mockers on a simple journey to a fabulous destination.
    Lets have an amazing 2019

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