There has been much criticism levelled at all-inclusive operators after First Choice revealed it is to sell all-inclusive holidays only as of next year.
The debate has been wide-ranging, with a pronounced focus on resorts’ impact on local communities and questions about whether guests explore the destination as much as they should. Perhaps now is the time to update our perception of the all-inclusive product.
The claim that resorts discourage guests from venturing outside is nonsense. At Sandals, we strongly agree that the kind of experience a guest has outside of the resort is equally as important as the experience they have within it.
One could argue our situation is a little different. We’re a family-owned company from the Caribbean, and we’ve been swimming in the waters and messing around on the beaches for literally generations. Of course we’re keen to share it. But equally, who are we to tell people what they should or shouldn’t do on their holiday?
This was one of the main catalysts for the launch of Island Routes, a tour operation founded by our parent company to find the greatest opportunities for visitors to go out and see the sights and sounds of the destination – and to make it as appealing as possible by offering local activities operated by local people. Not only does it open people’s eyes to the joys to be found away from the resort, but it also keeps the local economy buzzing.
There are now interactive Island Routes booths at most of our properties and we are seeing more and more people wanting to venture out. Crucially, it gives them the peace of mind that they’re looking for. Without it they might not even go to a destination in the first place. We’ve seen a huge increase in the popularity of ‘off-property’ excursions with a large proportion of guests choosing to leave the resort, and we’re working with our competitors to implement similar initiatives.
What’s more, through the Sandals Foundation we’ve long been devising ways of encouraging our guests to come out into the communities with us and play a part.
Whether it’s reading to young children or taking part in environmental work, we’ve helped make it appealing and accessible. Our work on the properties has encouraged people to give to the Foundation and we’ve seen a rise in donations. Properties can raise thousands of pounds every month, all of which is pumped straight back into the community.
We’re also offering people ways of seeing where their money has gone, and we’ll soon be offering off-property excursions that encourage guests to go into the surrounding areas and enjoy the local restaurants and bars as well as getting involved with our adopted schools.
Another initiative we’ve been running for the past two years is an outreach partnership with Flight Centre Canada which sees a team of over 600 guests go out into the community for a day and work side-by-side with local people to undertake a wide range of projects.
Most recently we worked together to jumpstart a local community on the south coast of Jamaica, and last year we held a similar exercise in Turks and Caicos. Projects included the building of a community centre, creating an organic farm and working with local businesses. There is absolutely no question that the larger hotel groups such as ours have the resources and influence to do great things, and those suggesting we don’t are wide of the mark.
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