An Ethical Guide To The Much-Hated All-Inclusive Resort

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Ah, the American vacation. That rare beast. That glimmering oasis. That ray of hope in the storm of late-stage capitalism. Believe it or not, Americans are taking more vacation time than ever. Employees who receive paid time off from work are clocking in at an average of 17.2 vacation days per year, according to Project Time Off. But we’re still trailing much of the developed world. Moreoever, the U.S. is among a small group of countries that doesn’t legally guarantee any vacation time at all. Last year, as many as one in four Americans didn’t get a single paid day off.

Which is why it’s understandable that so many Americans, when they do take time to themselves, turn to all-inclusive resorts. After all, why waste time trip-planning when there are companies out there ready to do it all for you? No need to worry about lodging, transportation, food, activities. Pay one fee and you’re set. Then it’s all tank tops and flip flops — relaxation plain and simple.

Sounds kinda nice, right? But travel writers, long-term adventurers, and Instagram idols are all famous for hating all-inclusives. Like, they loathe them. Considering the history of travelers sitting around hostels, judging one another’s “authenticity,” it would be easy to chalk this up to travel snobbishness, but it turns out there’s more to it than that.

What’s the deal with all-inclusives? Why don’t people like them?

Ethical travel experts have long considered all-inclusives problematic, and, at times, a downright blight.

Jonathan Tourtellot, the CEO of the Destination Stewardship Center, a nonprofit which aims to promote ethical tourism, explains why: “There are, of course, basic environmental issues. All-inclusives use a lot of energy, generate a lot of trash.”

Further, he says, all-inclusives use more than their fair share of local resources, like food, water, and electricity. Tourtellot’s observations are borne out by myriad studies which show that tourists use “more fresh water and energy than local people” in popular all-inclusive locations like the Caribbean. But it’s not just a matter of environmental impact: all-inclusives have historically had a negative social and economic impact on the local economy.

“Are the people working there local?” Tourtellot asks. “Is the resort helping the local economy by buying locally-sourced food and goods? Who provides the entertainment? What do wages look like?” Again, historically, all-inclusives have paid exploitatively low wages, and most of the money earned by the resort goes into the pockets of the (typically foreign) owners.

Furthermore, all-inclusives tend to privatize beautiful beaches, making much of the treasured land off-limits to those who actually live there.

But what if I, like, want to go to an all-inclusive? Is there such a thing as a “good” all-inclusive?

Good news for those who aren’t big on trip planning. You can have it all…inclusive. (Sorry.)