It’s difficult to imagine a more neo-brutalist concept than the all-inclusive package holiday. It’s a simple concept based on the old mantra that cash is confusing. Pre-paying for an entire holiday before you even step onto a plane is designed to alienate the traveller from the hassle of commerce. Which is a bit like admitting that you’d rather be back in kindergarten. So hats off to Mossad then, who – according to the Daily Telegraph back in 2010 – trained a school of sharks to attack all-inclusive swimmers off the coast of Sharm El Sheikh in a bid to de-stabilise Egypt’s tourist economy. Secret agent sharks? Obviously. Personally I don’t think Mossad tried hard enough. Killer sharks could easily have been dropped into the hotel swimming pools and water parks.
The all-inclusive concept is nothing new. The faceless, boardroom overlords in Hannover didn’t suddenly invent a brand new way to herd millions of people around the world. The Nazi Party invented the all-inclusive concept back in 1936. Adolf Hitler green-lighted the 10,000-room camp at Prora on the Baltic island of Rugen. It never opened to the public due to the impending and very all-inclusive World War. That very same year Billy Butlin also opened his first holiday camp in Skegness. As a successful fairground entrepreneur, Old Boy Billy was ideally suited to the task of making people’s money disappear. By the outbreak of war in 1939, there were almost 200 holiday camps dotted around the UK. Most of them were commandeered by the Army and used as pre-fabricated barracks. Even Billy Butlin and Adolph Hitler, however, might be surprised to witness the havoc wreaked by the modern travel corporations as they pursue scorched-earth expansion policies with ruinous intent.
The laughably named First Choice Holidays was ironically the first travel company to offer no choice whatsoever. They still proudly claim to be The Home Of All Inclusive despite merging with the German-owned Tui group in 2007. With over 300 hotels in 24 countries, 136 Boeing aircraft, 14 cruise ships and an annual turnover of €20 billion, the Tui Group is the largest holiday company in the world. And they practically insist that you hand over all your money to them directly. In exchange they will give you a soggy cheeseburger, a bucket of diluted beer and Legionnaires Disease.
Tui describe themselves as an “integrated leisure business”. Supplying not just one link in the holiday chain but the whole damn chain itself means that a traveller can expect to breathe practically zero oxygen that isn’t supplied by the company. Flights, transfers, accommodation, food, drink, entertainment…all managed by the company with a logo that looks like a childish, slash-faced clown.
All-inclusive holidays offer little in the way of local culture except for the weather. Since it is a cashless concept, no one is encouraged to support the local economy in any way, shape or form. All inclusive compounds now sit in once-thriving resorts amidst the rubble of failed commerce like derelict ghost towns. As captive souls in a giant plastic kingdom, all-inclusive holiday makers enjoy a diluted and saccharine vacation experience. Staffed by teenagers in cheap uniforms and herded from one buffet bar to another – via the nightly “entertainment” cabarets and Kids Clubs – the world outside the all-inclusive compound is seldom glimpsed. Until someone falls off the plastic pirate ship in the Water Park and is rushed to hospital. Which is not included in the price of a holiday. So pray you remembered your credit card after all.
Greece has been particularly badly affected by the All-Inclusive travel groups. Despite the sanctimonious nonsense spouted by the companies concerning sustainability and social responsibility, the truth is that Greece sees very little practical benefit from these monolithic conceits. When every single Euro is desperately needed to sustain local family businesses – on which the Greek islands’ tourist economy was founded decades ago – the travel groups are in fact diverting profits in exactly the opposite direction. Providing low-paid McJobs for cleaning staff and transfer reps is neither responsible nor sustainable. Food and alcohol is sourced from the cheapest suppliers and these are usually Eastern European. And then everything is watered down.
To add insult to financial injury, several all-inclusive hotels are now demanding that all outside service providers (including photographers, entertainers, hair & make-up artists, etc) hand over 10% of their fee directly to the hotel. The management at these hotels describes this fee as “commission”. Shark Infested Waters describe this fee as “extortion”. At the very least it is a restrictive business practise. Our lawyer agreed. In fact he described it as “very fucking silly”.
Unfortunately the rise of the All-Inclusive machine is relentless. As a business model it might be very fucking silly but it is undoubtedly successful. We let it happen and we are all to blame. So the next time you’re browsing through holiday brochures and dreaming of romance, spare a thought for the Israeli secret service and their killer sharks. That inflatable fish floating in the Olympic pool which smells of piss might not be all it seems.