First Choice will shortly launch brochures for summer 2012 that offer solely all-inclusive holidays, yet the company denies hotels will have to convert.

Owner Tui Travel says the change will simply establish a clear distinction between First Choice and sister brand Thomson.

Christian Cull, communications director at Tui Travel, says: “The focus [of the announcement] was on differentiation of the brand. It is not as though the whole business is going to become all-inclusive. We are just changing the emphasis of the brands, not turning resorts or locations into all-inclusives.”

Most properties will remain as they are, with First Choice Holidays no longer selling some destinations, and resorts in these areas switching to Thomson. Hotels that do become all-inclusive will get help from First Choice.

A spokeswoman said: “If hotels are unable to switch we will look to migrate them to Thomson.”

She confirmed: “First Choice will no longer offer Florida, Croatia, Italy and selected Greek resorts, but Tui Travel will continue to offer holidays to these destinations.”

First Choice shops won’t change, however – they will still sell a full range of holidays.

Blow to local economies

The Association of Independent Tour Operators, nonetheless, slammed the First Choice move as “a massive blow” to local economies, and campaign group Tourism Concern said it would “deny local people any benefit from tourism”.

Tourism Concern spoke of pressure on hotel associations to provide all-inclusive properties and Travel Weekly reported attempts to limit all-inclusive developments in Majorca.

The growth in the sector is clear enough. Industry analyst GfK Ascent reported 53% of bookings to Turkey for summer 2010 and 78% to Egypt were for all-inclusive resorts. Indeed, all-inclusive sales increased 21% year on year last summer compared with growth of 3% in holiday sales overall.

However, Tourism Concern insists the demand comes from Tui Travel and Thomas Cook more than their clients. Certainly, the major groups would be likely to favour all-inclusive resorts just as they like most sales to go through in-house channels – that way they keep more of the revenue.

But the demand is real. The properties are busy based on price and the fact holidaymakers know upfront what trips will cost. And Cull argues the profit is “only as good as the rate we negotiate with the hotel”.

He says: “It is not like the supermarket business where the balance of power is with the retailer and not the supplier. We want better deals from our hoteliers and they want the same from us.”

All-inclusives aren’t new

Of course, people staying in all-inclusive resorts are not going to eat outside. They would have booked bed and breakfast if they meant to do that.

Yet Cull insists: “It is a myth to suggest people don’t go out of the hotel just because they are on an all-inclusive holiday. It is not fair to say no one goes out.”

He and Ashton suggest it is unfair to confuse all-inclusive properties with the kind of luxury resorts that offer residents exclusive use of beaches that are closed to local people, and they point out First Choice holiday villages host local arts and crafts markets.

Ashton argues: “All-inclusive resorts purchase more, so their overall economic footprint [their contribution to local economies] is higher. Lots of areas would not have tourism at all if it was not for all-inclusives because there are not the facilities for tourists in isolated areas of the Dominican Republic or Mexico.”

They might also add that all-inclusives are not new: Butlins holiday camps were built on a similar basis, as was Club Med. And half-board, which is equally likely to prevent people eating out in the evenings, remains common.

At the same time, many restaurants and souvenir shops in resorts would not exist without the hotels that bring potential trade.

But it is the destination that people visit and which hosts them. Isn’t it reasonable to think more of visitors’ cash should end up in the pockets of locals?