The Truth Behind All-Inclusive Resorts

Jade Szymanski | Contributor

As the first month back at university comes to a close and reading week quickly approaches, it’s only natural to be reminiscing on the tropical getaway you had in December to avoid the snow, or on the upcoming trip you and your pals have planned for February. Personally, my boyfriend and I escaped to Cabo San Lucas last month as we decided to ditch the cold Canadian Christmas for something more sizzling and sultry. We decided to book a week at an all-inclusive resort, as having it be our first international trip together, we thought that it would also be the safest option considering our limited knowledge of the area. While we had an amazing time catching rays, drinking bottomless dirty monkeys, riding camels, and posing like cacti, there are a lot of things behind the scenes of all-inclusive resorts that the public doesn’t always think about.
Before I begin bashing the exploitation of all-inclusive tourist destinations, I am not denying that I had an absolutely peachy vacation, and the fact is that for most of these destinations, tourism is their main source of economic income. That being said, while tourism is their main industry, many residents have no other option but to find employment with one of these resorts, and as these resorts must hire bountiful amounts of housekeepers, bartenders, chefs, and concierge staff, it is typical that all of the workers only get paid minimum wage or even less than. For this reason, we made sure to tip every worker we had an interaction with; the sweet ladies who made our beds each morning, the waiters who recommended the best options on the menu, and the bartenders who introduced me to dirty monkeys. We noticed that not many people at the resort would tip however, as the common and untrue thought is that the price of the all-inclusive would cover fair wages for the Mexican workers.
Another large problem with these tourist-destination towns is that locals often jeopardize their own culture and traditions in order to cater to the visiting tourists. Personally, I saw this manifest itself in the types of souvenirs that were being sold; countless vendors were selling sombreros that were decked out in NFL team logos and colours, as well as decorative skulls plastered on shot glasses and keychains which are now exploited as a common souvenir but is a sacred and traditional symbol for the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead. Furthermore, the music played at the resort throughout the day would be absolute garbage tunes like Pitbull and Katy Perry and could be heard from your room even if you had all your doors and windows closed shut. Once or twice a day they’d play actual Spanish music, which was a pure delight but would quickly be exchanged for some more Americanized cacophonies.
Tourists who pay for everything in advance have little incentive to go anywhere else, hire local guides, eat in local restaurants or pay entry fees to see local natural or cultural heritage. This means that the resort, which is typically owned by an overseas company, yield most of the tourists’ cash, leaving little behind in the local community, who are the most negatively impacted by the presence of tourism. My boyfriend and I made a large effort to not spend all of our time within the resort, as we decided to take a tour of Todos Santos, a small town about an hour outside of Cabo San Lucas. On our tour we got to encounter local art museums, purchase a traditionally-made blanket directly from the woman who made it, experience the best and most authentic guacamole and margaritas when we had lunch at a restaurant which was highly praised by the locals, and explore the vast geography of coastal desert when we went on a camel tour. These activities allowed us to experience a better taste of Mexican culture, while also economically contributing to the locals.
All in all, tourists looking for cheaper ways to vacation cannot go wrong by choosing an all-inclusive resort, as the personal benefits are huge. However, it is also important to consider the economic and cultural impacts that this form of tourism has on the locals. While I’m glad we got to experience the all-inclusive lifestyle once, I don’t think I’ll be staying at one again. Instead, finding retreat at a locally-owned hotel and more cultural accommodations will have more positive outcomes for more stakeholders directly involved in my next international vacation.