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Sep 25

Local Travel and the All Inclusive Holiday

Markets in Luang Prabang, Laos. Part of the cooking course at Amantaka.

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.

6 comments

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  1. Priyank

    Hi Laura,
    Very nice rumination on this topic! I’m always meeting people who talk about travelling but what they are really doing is taking all-inclusive tours. As you said, these tours put you in an isolated zone that often makes it next to impossible to venture out (connectivity by public transit, timings, etc.). Then I see the same people at the check-in counter at Cancun airport casting a sympathetic look and talking about how lucky I was to be safe despite traveling in second class buses in Yucatan. ugh!

    Long story short, I am not a fan of all-inclusive and will likely be so unless I meet someone with a different story. :)
    Priyank

    1. Lara Dunston

      Hi Priyank – thank you for the kind words and thanks for your very thoughtful feedback.

      We hear you. And those cheap Cancun resort packages are probably the worst examples of all-inclusives. Others that come to mind are Benidorm/Costa Blanca in Spain, Magaluf/Mallorca in Spain, and (I shudder – one of the worst of them) Aya Napa/Nissi Beach in Cyprus.

      The isolation due to lack of connectivity to public transport is a great point. Can’t tell you how many times over the years Terry and I have been driving on a road in the middle of nowhere (generally researching a guidebook/story) when we’ve seen these poor sunburnt souls trudging along the side of a road. They’ve looked desperate to get *away*, to go *somewhere*. Did they not look on a map when they booked the package?

      I can definitely see the appeal of the cheap package holiday to families, it’s just not something that personally appeals to us. Now, an all-inclusive stay at an Aman resort or something similar is an entirely different kind of experience – if you can afford it!

      Thanks for your insight! :)

  2. Rachel

    It’s an interesting question and one I’ve been mulling over in regards to local guides/tours as I’m writing about a recent trip to Rome. I was there on behalf of Expedia UK and all flights, accomodation and activities were booked through them. Not how I usually do things, but it was interesting to see how the site could be used as a one-stop travel shop.

    I took 4 walking tours with 3 different companies. All were great experiences, but my only Italian guides were with Urban Adventures and Context Travel. Both could certainly be classed as multinational operators, albeit ones who strive to provide local insight and knowledge as well as a very high standard of tour.

    The third organisation, Dark Rome, is an Italian company founded by an Italian guy. Both guides I had were American (which makes a certain amount of sense on English-speaking tours), though at each site I visited with them they seemed to have guides of many different backgrounds.

    The traditional definition you cited of most all-inclusive packages is the kind of trip/holiday I probably wouldn’t book for us (and is the same reason the thought of most cruises makes my skin crawl). The Southern Ocean and Aman resorts you mentioned both sound lovely, I wouldn’t mind trying those all-inclusive experiences. :)

    1. Lara Dunston

      Hi Rachel – thanks for your comment. I think you’re talking about something very different, however – it sounds like you did a blogger trip sponsored by Expedia, right? Which doesn’t really fit into the definition of an all-inclusive holiday, as it’s a marketing/PR activity and you’re working rather than relaxing, no?

      I guess, like you and Priyank above, I’m not a fan of the traditional all-inclusive, and can’t reconcile it with the the type of travel we promote – slow and sustainable travel, local travel, experiential travel. Having said that, there’s a new breed of all-inclusive package offered by Aman, Four Seasons, Relais and Chateaux, small luxury lodges, etc, aimed at high end travellers, which is all about offering local/slow/experiential travel opportunities.

      That’s what I find interesting… why are these sorts of quality all-inclusive opportunities available to affluent but not budget travellers? Simple answer I guess is because affluent travellers can afford to pay for them and are willing to pay a lot of money to do things that more intrepid independent travellers (backpackers for instance) would do for very little outlay.

      You’re right in that the blogger junket (or any media/press trip) is like a package tour in that everything is organized by the marketing folks, but I guess we’re more interested in things from the travellers/consumers perspective here.

      By the way, Context (who have been one of our main partners for the last few years) may have global reach, but it’s actually a family owned business (a husband-wife team) and they have all sorts of guides, local and expat, while Urban Adventures is owned by Intrepid Travel, a massive Australian-owned multi-national, and WHL Group, a network of travel companies, mostly committed to local travel (and I say mostly, because I think Expedia is now one of their partners).

      Thanks for dropping by! :)

  3. Rachel

    Thanks for your reply Lara, and that’s quite interesting to hear about the ownership of Context Travel and Urban Adventures. I should have probably clarified bringing those examples up in the context of your question; I was contemplating various permutations of local guides an companies–how much does it contribute to the local economy by booking a guide when you arrive vs one online through a site like Expedia? What is the best way to benefit those providing the services? Questions without clear and easy answers.

    As for my trip with Expedia–they gave us complete freedom to book our flights, accomodation and activities and I sought out the Context and UA experiences, partially based on your and others’ trusted recommedations. So it probably differed somewhat from a traditional press junket and there was no tourist board interaction at all. Being able to choose my own itinerary was one of the most attractive things about the offer, I don’t know that I would have expressed interest otherwise. ;)

    Sorry if I’ve gone too off-topic, I appreciate your insights.

    1. Lara Dunston

      In terms of sustainability, I think you can feel safe in the knowledge that money spent when booking a tour through Context/Urban Adventures is largely staying locally, both in terms of paying local/expat guides (Context) or local travel company (Urban Adventures). Both are committed to sustainability, regardless of difference in size as companies. Urban Adventures operates in partnership with WHL Group, who are proponents of local travel.

      I don’t use Expedia, am not a fan and can’t recommend Expedia, after problems with bookings which they wouldn’t resolve – from a reservation with a boutique hotel that didn’t have a room and claimed not even to know they were listed on Expedia to flights Expedia cancelled at the last minute leaving us stranded and out of pocket. So I have no idea how sustainable it is to book with them. Questions I’d be asking is how much commission they take from local companies and are the tour companies they’re using locally-owned (many aren’t).

      In terms of your blogger trip, my point was only that it was a blogger trip not an all-inclusive holiday :) The blogger trips have tended to more closely resemble the old press junkets than press junkets have. We’ve done a lot of tourism board-sponsored trips, both for magazines and Grantourismo, but, two trips aside (which were the only disastrous trips we’ve done in terms of planning), I organized them all; the tourism boards simply paid for our flights, accommodation and in some cases meals, and we had the freedom we’ve always had to do as we pleased. It’s good to see things have changed.

      And no worries for veering off-topic – so glad to hear you used Context, we’re big fans – and great to have your input! :)

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