Is this the end of tourism choice? Quite the reverse. It is the choice of the tourist and of the market that has led First Choice to limit choice. To the all-inclusive.
First Choice has made a fair old splash with its announcement that from 2012 it will only offer all-inclusive. The splash has caused waves in the British press and locally. There was even a debate on Five Live. It was one in which all the old arguments were tossed around, as though the advantages and disadvantages of all-inclusive were suddenly a new area for discussion. It is far from new. What is, is what "Travel Weekly" headlined by saying is a "bold and shrewd" move.
This bold and shrewd move is, of course, marketing-led. It is designed, in the words of TUI, to "differentiate the First Choice product from Thomson and its competitors". First Choice becomes the first "mainstream holiday company offering a completely all-inclusive portfolio". In other words, what TUI is doing is to create an all-inclusive brand, i.e. First Choice. It has also said that hotels which are unable (and also perhaps unwilling) to go along with the all-inclusive offer will be shifted to the Thomson programme.
This latter bit is important, because, amidst the hype and what is doubtless a gnashing of teeth in Mallorca amongst bar and restaurant owners, is the fact that hotels to which First Choice gives primacy on its website at present are mainly already all-inclusive only. There may be hotels which are not exclusive to the company that will become so and which will go the full all-inclusive route, but until one knows how many (or any) additional hotels are actually affected, it is difficult to arrive at a complete picture.
I have previously drawn into question quite how all-inclusives fit with policies of so-called tourism sustainability. TUI (and this means both First Choice and Thomson) has made much of its commitment to this vague concept. With this in mind, it is instructive to learn how TUI is spinning the First Choice move. From a press release in "Travel Weekly", therefore, I quote:
"We have been working with experts to see how we can increase the benefits of all-inclusive to local communities and putting in practices to do this." "We are doing a lot of work ... to increase communications whilst they (tourists) are on holiday, encouraging them to use local services." "We are also setting up excursions that will enable customers to get a real taste for the destination they are visiting."
This verges on the risible. When all else fails, invoke some anonymous "experts". Who are they anyway? Encouraging tourists to use local services? Of course, and so undermine the very principle of all-inclusive. Setting up excursions? This is the biggest laugh of the lot. First Choice and other tour operators sell excursions. They always have done. The real taste? What do you think? Pirates?
To be fair to First Choice, they are right when they also say that "it is a myth that people do not go out of the hotel just because they're on an all-inclusive holiday". Yes, but how many actually debunk this myth and what do they do once out of the hotel? All-inclusives, perversely, want people to go out, because most of the hotels can't cope and they've got their money already, thanks very much.
First Choice is bigging up its new offer with the bottom-line of a five hundred pound saving. This itself is a marketing-driven myth, as it depends on how drunk and how fat you want to get, but savings can, nevertheless, be derived; and these are one of the big attractions. Yet, the spin goes on. "With differentiated product, we will move further away from customers choosing tour operators based on cost alone, which is unsustainable." Clearly they are and clearly a five-hundred quid saving is in fact unimportant; nothing to do with cost alone.
The good news may be that the First Choice offer will not be that significant. For now. It is further down the line that counts, and whether other operators decide to follow suit. What would be nice, though, would be for the tour operators to be less obfuscatory and to not hide behind the spin of sustainability.
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