Local travel and the all-inclusive holiday – an oxymoron or are the two very different types of travel compatible? A recent discussion with a marketing person from Directline Holidays, a travel site I occasionally write for, got me reflecting upon the topic.
For us, local travel is partly about connecting with locals and gaining an insight into how locals live their everyday lives by going to the places that locals go, whether that means skipping the tourist sights in favour of local amusements like football matches and markets, or giving the tourist cafés on the main square a miss to kick back in a local watering hole.
And this is also where slow travel and staying in apartments and holiday rentals comes into focus, as you have a much better chance of meeting locals in a residential building or local neighbourhood – whether it’s in a stairwell, an elevator or on the street – than you do in a city centre hotel or backpacker hostel.
Local travel is also about giving back to the local economy by shopping sustainably, which really just means shopping locally and choosing small local businesses over big supermarket chains, and buying locally made products and local seasonal produce over foreign goods and imported produce.
For travellers, to ‘go local’ means choosing local guides and local tour companies over foreign-owned multinationals. This, of course, requires a bit of research and can often mean arranging things once you arrive at your destination, as often it’s difficult to arrange these activities in advance, particularly in developing destinations.
So how does local travel fit into the all-inclusive holiday? Well, I guess it depends upon how you define the all-inclusive holiday. For me, it has traditionally been a package trip, booked through a travel agent (or increasingly online), generally paid for completely in advance, and covering everything from flights and transfers to accommodation and meals – half- or full-board – and sometimes also includes activities and other extras. The cheapest holiday you could buy, it has typically been aimed at retirees, older travellers and families.
You don’t have to buy a whole package, however, and could just make all-inclusive accommodation part of your holiday. That might include accommodation, some or all meals – sometimes even drinks and complimentary mini-bar – as well as some activities.
Either way, if you take advantage of all the perks offered in an all-inclusive package, you’re probably not going to get away from the hotel much, are you? And this is why the all-inclusive holiday has such a bad reputation with more intrepid travellers. Because it doesn’t encourage holidaymakers to get out and explore and spend money locally.
Why leave the resort to experience local restaurants when all your meals are included? Well, who wants to eat a buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner is our retort. Why get out and about and wander around a neighbourhood when you have a long list of activities you could be doing at the resort, from water aerobics classes to trivia nights? Well, exactly. If you’re interested in that, you’re probably not reading our posts…
What some detractors don’t appreciate is that while Club Med is what probably comes to mind first, the all-inclusive holiday can take many different forms. The luxury cruise we recently did with Orion Expeditions to Borneo is essentially an all-inclusive holiday. Once on board the vessel everything was covered – accommodation, all meals, and tours and activities – well everything except alcohol.
The intimate Aman boutique chain also offers all-inclusive packages at many of their resorts. In Siem Reap this included sublime meals that turned out to be some of the best food we ate in town, as well as use of a driver and our private remork (the Cambodian tuk-tuk) to take us to Angkor Wat and the other Khmer ruins each day. The Four Seasons occasionally does the same, at properties such as the Tented Camp at the Golden Triangle.
In Australia, the chic, sleek Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island is essentially an all-inclusive property, where in addition to all meals and a range of activities, guests get to enjoy cocktails and canapés every evening, as well as a complimentary in-room mini-bar. In New Zealand, many of the luxury lodges also offer all-inclusive packages.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t get to interact with locals or get a local experience. There were some experiences we had on the Orion that were clearly manufactured for the vessel’s passengers, but at the Aman and Four Seasons resorts I’ve mentioned above we had some of the most ‘local’ experiences we’ve ever had, from visiting off-the-beaten-track village markets to experiencing Buddhist rituals at a local temple. And all operators used local rather than foreign guides.
Admittedly, there was little time on the Orion to get away from the group and explore local neighbourhoods, and properties like Aman and Four Seasons are just so beautiful (and understandably expensive) you can feel compelled to spend most of your time at the resort.
But an all-inclusive holiday doesn’t have to be one that limits your ability to connect with locals, gain some local insight, or give something back to the local community.
Or does it? What are your thoughts? We’re still mulling this subject over, so we’d love to know.
Pictured above: the local early morning market in Luang Prabang, which we visited on an informal walking tour with the chef from Amantaka resort.