All-inclusive tourism excludes the host country

All-inclusive trips and cruises are a growing trend within the tourism industry. Their common denominator is the tourist’s lack of interest for the host country and the tour operator’s control over the tourist’s travel budget, according to Richard Ek from the Department of Service Management, who has researched these forms of travel.

Previously, all-inclusive trips and cruises were an exclusive form of holiday reserved for the most affluent traveller. During the 2000s these trips were aggressively marketed and the number of Swedes who choose this type of holiday increased enormously.

“These trips are a very good deal for the tour operators”, says Richard Ek. The tourists stay either within the holiday village or on the cruise ship, ensuring that a large part of their travel budget goes straight into the pocket of the tour operator.”

The downside is of course that the local community outside the hotel complex does not get any of the profits since the tourists barely venture beyond the complex walls. In addition, much of what is consumed in the tourist facility is imported. Even the workforce is sometimes brought in from other low-wage countries to keep salary costs down.

Another obvious disadvantage is the lack of cultural and the fact that the tourist does not get to know the country he or she is visiting.

“There is quite simply no incentive for the tourist to take an interest in the host country”, says Richard Ek. He sees this tourist trend as an expression of “passive nihilism”, by which he means that the tourist travels without showing any interest in the surrounding world.

“On the big luxury cruises, even the sunbeds are turned inwards towards the centre of the ship. And if any excursions are arranged outside the luxury cruise liner or the all inclusive holiday village, they are very doctored visits”.

But what makes people choose to travel this way? Have modern human beings stopped being curious about the world around them? Or is it the growing stress in our lives that increases our need to protect ourselves during our holidays?
“The question is which is the chicken and which is the egg”, says Richard Ek. “Certainly a part of the increased interest in these holidays is a result of aggressive marketing”.

But he also thinks that this blinkered tourism is part of a larger social trend of people engaging less and less with the society in which they live.

“If you look at it from a broader perspective, we are moving from being political creatures to becoming economic creatures”, says Richard Ek.

He believes that society’s focus on economic activity is a major villain in this drama:

“We become consumers, clients and tourists rather than politically and ideologically committed citizens”.

Last year Richard Ek took his own family on an all-inclusive holiday. He summarises the trip as a very unenjoyable experience.

”I was curious to experience the phenomenon I had written about”, he says.

What surprised him most were two things that are completely invisible in the marketing: the stress and commerce within the facility. Sellers were constantly approaching them, and mealtimes were hectic.

“Consider that between one thousand and one thousand five hundred people have to have dinner at the same time. It becomes noisy, crowded and stressful”, he says.

But what he objected to most was the artificial world within the tourist facility. Even though his children thought that the waterslides and unlimited access to food and drinks were great, even they reacted to the environment.

“My daughter compared the tourists to the characters in the Sims computer game”, explains Richard Ek - a very evocative description for anyone familiar with how the Sims characters wander aimlessly around their virtual world.

Text: Ulrika Oredsson

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