Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Futility Of Banning: All-inclusives

There is a Facebook page entitled "BAN ALL Inclusive". It asks: "Why would anyone wish to spend there (sic) holiday in all inclusive holiday in Mallorca!!! It's beautiful here get out of the hotel and enjoy 'your' time on this beautiful island. This was the original destination for the package holiday for millions".

The page hasn't attracted a great deal of liking, which may be because it hasn't been that visible on Facebook. In terms of sentiment, however, there is little doubt that there would be a significant level of liking, but this is not the first type of all-inclusive protest page which has appeared on social media and it won't be the last.

Ban all-inclusive. Question. To whom does one address a demand for all-inclusive to be banned? Second question. Even if a Facebook page were to amass thousands of "likes", what would it achieve? The two questions tie in. A massive level of support for an all-inclusive ban would have to be demonstrated to decision-makers who matter. A talking-shop on the internet among mainly like-minded opponents of all-inclusive achieves nothing other than to reinforce these feelings of opposition.

There are other talking-shops, such as one that the Acotur business association sought to establish last year. They met (very few of them; bar owners, that is), talked for a time, realised that talk was all that would happen and did nothing more. As with talk of bans, protests, of whatever sort (and no one has ever come up with a good one) are pretty pointless.

Even with a massive amount of support for a Facebook page, a ban will never happen. It cannot happen. Just as the market drove the popularity of all-inclusive, so it would have to be the market which would drive a loss of popularity and the eventual demise of all-inclusive. One can argue that the market for all-inclusive wasn't created by customer demand, but that it is an historical argument. Today's tourism market has such demand and it shows no sign of going away or of lessening.

The only stakeholders who matter under a hypothetical all-inclusive banning scenario are those stakeholders without whom there would be no all-inclusive - holidaymakers and tour operators. Other stakeholders matter less and in ever-reducing importance - hotels, local government, town halls.

It is the tour operators who, above all, have the greatest interest. One of them, First Choice, was made into an all-inclusive brand. It was the decision to undertake this branding which inspired a BBC report into all-inclusive in Mallorca two years ago. This has had a recent mention on the Facebook page I have referred to. Its message would still apply, and it was one, as an advisor to the programme, to which I contributed.

In that programme, a First Choice executive had to respond to a question about an advertising slogan which ran - "leave your wallet at home". There was an acceptance that this might not have been the most diplomatic of slogans, but it did of course sum up how all-inclusive is often perceived. This perception is one that tour operators try to modify. They say they offer trips out to local markets and so on, they point to their environmental commitments, they highlight the ecological soundness of their establishments and of local sourcing, they refer to local employment opportunities, but none of this convinces.

Tour operators make a great deal of their social responsibility and of how this operates in destinations, but their arguments are thin. And, one would presume, because tour operators aren't stupid, they know that these arguments are thin. Social responsibility is a broad concept, and acting in a truly responsible fashion does not include transporting people hundreds or thousands of miles only for them to occupy a certain amount of real estate for a fortnight and to do little else. This is one-way parasitic tourism and not the formerly two-way symbiosis between hotel and local community and economy. Its ethics are highly questionable.

To whom are tour operators responsible? Ultimately, to themselves and to their shareholders. Yet, for all that tour operators might be seen as the devil of the piece, they are not alone. Mallorca as a tourist destination is equally at fault.

The Facebook page inadvertently alluded to why Mallorca is at fault. "The original destination for the package holiday for millions." Exactly. And it was the destination for masses because of its cheapness. The island's tourism model is and was, from the 1960s, predicated on mass, but once the real cheapness of early years started to be replaced by less cheapness, by a more questioning approach to spending by tourists, to monetary union and to simple economics, keeping hold of the mass required the introduction of a package which promised or at least hinted at cheapness. And that was the all-inclusive: "leave your wallet at home".

You can't ban all-inclusive because it is the logical outcome of the tourism model. You can't ban it unless that model changes, and that will not happen. Just as a ban will never happen.

Any comments to please.

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