The news from Greece about proposals to limit or ban all inclusive (AI) hotels prompted discussion about the impact of AI in other areas, including Tenerife.
Should they be limited or banned because they have a detrimental impact on whichever destination they’re located?
As is the case when it comes to AI, the usual ‘off the shelf ‘criticisms were rolled out – loss of local business, AI means poor quality, AI guests don’t spend as much as other visitors resulting in less money coming into the local economy.
The debate about AI being good or evil isn’t a simplistic one. For a start, different destinations can’t be lumped into the same box when it comes to the question of AI.
The Greek Islands were favoured as our summer holiday choice for many years. Not only did we not stay in AI hotels we didn’t stay in hotels, other than a couple of small family run places. A Greek Island experience was all about whitewashed villages with blue window and door frames, drinking ouzo and eating mezes in harbourside tavernas where octopus swung in the breeze like rubbery flags. Large hotels, AI or otherwise, had nothing to do with experiencing Greece as far as we were concerned.
But Tenerife isn’t Greece.
The likes of Playa de las Américas and Costa Adeje aren’t charming picturesque towns that have been devoured. They’re resorts that have been developed specifically to meet the needs and preferences of tourists who want to escape to the sunshine all year round. Like it, or not, a significant percentage of those preferences are for all inclusive hotels.
Local Businesses Lose Out
One of the biggest criticisms is the growth of AI hotels has resulted in the closure of businesses. It’s hard to disagree with that. However, what often gets brushed under the carpet is the question of how good some of those businesses were in the first place?
Our work brings us into contact with a wide spectrum of establishments. In far too many cases it’s obvious that business acumen is AWOL; often business owners don’t even make use of the many tools they have at their disposal.
A couple of years ago we were surprised to see a basic lodge in the Atlas Mountains had a website. When we mentioned how impressed we were that somewhere so remote utilised the internet, the answer was illuminating – ‘we have to work hard to attract our guests.’
The point of that story is there are a lot of businesses on Tenerife that wouldn’t last long in any location where the sun didn’t bring the customers through their doors for them.
There have been occasions where we’ve stayed in hotels in some Tenerife resort areas where we haven’t left the hotel after dark. The reasons weren’t that AI kept us in the hotel grounds. When I looked at what was on offer immediately outside of the hotel, I couldn’t see anywhere I wanted to spend any time.
I’d go as far as saying in one particular resort, the bars were about as inviting looking as a gaping grave. There is an ironic possibility that in this particular resort there would be little to attract visitors at all it it weren’t for a very good hotel offering AI packages.
AI or no AI, some bar and restaurant owners need to raise their game. The Venture group have raised the quality bar in Playa de las Américas and their restaurants are packed out every night.
Less Money Going into the Economy
The very existence of any hotel brings money and jobs into the economy. It is hotels that have brought a certain level of wealth to Playa de las Américas and Costa Adeje.
There’s a criticism most of that money leaves the island, but that’s surely the case with most hotels in any area developed for tourism. What’s the point of investing in a destination otherwise? It’s simple economics.
Whether the jobs created go to local people depends on how well trained these local people are. This might be a problem on Tenerife, but it’s not a fault of any hotel and it would be crazy for any business not to hire the people most suitable for the jobs. That, my friends, is called meritocracy.
Linked to the impact on the economy are the statistics showing people staying AI spend less outside the hotel than those on other hotel packages. I read one local report which calculated how much of a loss this was to the local economy based on information that AI tourists spent, on average, €25 a day outside the hotel; €13 less than other visitors.
It was meaningless as it was based on the assumption that not having an AI option would result in all these AI fans coming back on another type of package and therefore putting more into local pockets.
What’s equally possible, if not more likely, is they’d book a holiday in a destination where there were AI hotels, somewhere other than Tenerife. The result? A €25 loss per person a day. Do the math on that one… even if it’s an equally nonsensical calculation.
AI Means Poor Quality
In some cases it clearly does. But it’s like any business. Some are run well and some aren’t. I’ve stayed in AI hotels where the quality of the food hasn’t been great – but I’ve stayed in hotels on a half board basis where the quality of the food hasn’t been good. I’ve also stayed in AI hotels where the quality of food and service has been excellent. In two cases recently it was of a better standard than anything I’d experienced in the immediate area surrounding the hotel, which goes back to my point about local businesses.
If people book the cheapest AI package available, then they shouldn’t be surprised to find quality might be sacrificed in a bid to keep costs down. If I book a cheap hotel I don’t expect a 5 star experience. On the other hand, if they book AI in a 5 star hotel, their experience is more likely to be a quality one.
In the end, the strongest argument in defence of AI is a simple one. It’s one that a number of people involved with the tourism industry will quote whenever the question comes up. Carlos Alonso, Tenerife’s President, came out with it last year, as did the chairman of ABTA recently when questioned about the Greek proposal.
If you impose a ban, or even restrictions, on AI in a tourist destination such as Tenerife you might as well book some tourists’ next holiday for them… in another destination that does have AI.
The rise of AI is driven by their popularity. Like them or not, AI hotels thrive because people want them. If you’re a destination that relies on tourism, you’d have to be crazy to get rid. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be managed responsibly, but that’s a whole different topic.
All Inclusive wouldn’t be my choice so I’m not banging any drum because I’m a fan. But on Tenerife, and other Canary Islands, AI hotels are used far too much as a scapegoat to gloss over other failings.
Jack is co-editor, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+