Tui Travel’s decision to make tour operator First Choice a wholly all-inclusive brand has been denounced by fellow tour operators.

The Association of Independent Tour Operators (Aito) called it “a massive blow” to local economies and “a slap in the face to sustainable tourism”.

However, Tui Travel rejected the criticism. UK board member and director of communications Christian Cull said: “We are as committed now as ever to making our operations more sustainable. We have demonstrated this through our three-year Holidays Forever commitments.”

First Choice announced the move on Friday, pointing out two-thirds of its summer 2011 programme was already all-inclusive. Aito chairman Derek Moore said: “It is extremely disappointing for many destinations. A local restaurant outside the gates of an all-inclusive hotel might as well put up the ‘closed’ sign right now.

“The First Choice announcement is good for the budget-conscious tourist, [who is] disinterested and incurious about their destination, [and] who cares little or nothing for their host country.”

In a statement, Aito said the whole point of sustainable tourism was “to support the roadside food stall, local restaurant or soda seller on the beach. All will be squeezed out as big travel businesses attempt to keep control over their customers.”

It added: “Many travellers today feel there is a moral aspect to a holiday where you give something back to your host community rather than simply contribute to the coffers of a holiday giant.”

However, Moore insisted the First Choice move did not mark a sea-change in the industry. “The only people affected by this are other mainstream companies who compete with First Choice,” he said. “Aito is not in the market for the same customers.”

Cull said: “By the end of 2011, half of Tui customers will be staying in hotels with Travelife awards [which] recognise hotels that care for the environment, their employees and the local community.

“One of our commitments is to have more than 90% of our hotels Travelife awarded by 2014. We are the first travel company to launch such wide-ranging sustainability pledges.”