By Jane Ashton, Tui Travel director of group sustainable development

This is the second of two articles on managing the impact of all-inclusive resorts

The local economic impact of hotels has been thrown into the spotlight by growth in demand for all-inclusive holidays.

But the key issue is whether a hotel is being operated responsibly,

Tour operators can help improve local economic impacts in a number of ways, by inspiring holidaymakers to purchase local excursions, for example.

By facilitating opportunities for customers to support local shops, markets and businesses, inside and outside the hotel.

By promoting the use of local produce in hotel restaurants, and by encouraging hotels to develop recruitment and development policies that embrace people from local communities.

For many years, Tui Travel has encouraged hotels to achieve sustainability certifications, such as Travelife, which is recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

To achieve a Travelife award, hotels have to demonstrate they are purchasing locally-made products where practical, ensuring employees have suitable contracts with fair wages and working conditions, and are communicating with holidaymakers about local customs and attractions.

The evidence shows that hotels which manage their operations more sustainably also deliver a better customer experience.

Analysis of over a million of our customer questionnaires in 2011 showed that those staying in Travelife-awarded hotels had higher overall satisfaction levels and were more likely to book with Tui Travel again.

We work particularly closely with our unique and differentiated hotels. All our five-star Sensatori resorts, exclusive to Tui UK & Ireland’s Thomson, held Travelife Gold Awards in 2012.

As differentiated properties, Sensatori resorts are a priority for Tui Travel and receive additional support from our environmental consultancy project, which sets clear targets for energy and water reduction.

All Sensatori resorts have local procurement policies, so that food and other products are bought from the local area, where possible.

Customers are encouraged to take walking tours using local guides, which help them to feel comfortable leaving the hotel.

The hotels also hold ‘market evenings’, where local suppliers are invited to sell traditional products such as olive oil, preserves, linens, woodcrafts and herbal teas.

In 2011-12, we worked with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) on an in-depth study of local economic impact at three of our First Choice Holiday Village hotels, in Turkey, Greece and Tunisia.

The focus of this research was to assess the destination-level impacts of all-inclusive tourism.

Although the hotel specifications were similar in the three resorts, the local economic impact was very different – illustrating how local laws, trade and customs, as well as differing hotel policies, have an influence.

The amount of produce hotels sourced in-country differed dramatically across product categories, largely driven by national policies on importing food and the availability and competitiveness of the country’s supply chain.

In Greece, much of the produce used in the Holiday Village originated outside of Greece but was from within the EU, as was the case generally across the region.

The proportion of imported produce used in the Holiday Villages in Turkey and Tunisia was much lower, in line with availability and with the national policies of those countries.

Overall, the research found that employment, procurement and customer discretionary spend were the biggest drivers of local economic impact, and that there was room for changes that would improve this impact.

Since concluding this research, we have initiated projects in Rhodes, Tunisia and Turkey that address some of the recommendations: waste reduction in Rhodes, helping local farmers sell their produce to hotels in Turkey, increasing employment opportunities for women in Tunisia, and measuring and improving the socio-economic impact of an all-inclusive hotel in Turkey.

We recognise that a high concentration of all-inclusive hotels in a resort, combined with their conversion to all-inclusive at a similar time, can impact on the ambience and character of a holiday destination.

In the Mediterranean, where the popularity of all-inclusive has increased, non-hotel tourism businesses are improving their products and services.

Resort high streets are also modernising – with chic bars, restaurants and authentic craft shops adding breadth of character that appeals to all-inclusive and non-all-inclusive customers alike.

In other destinations, such as the Caribbean, all-inclusive holidays have been the catalyst for tourism development itself.

We are committed to doing more, so we will continue monitoring the local economic impact of hotels and share our findings with the industry.

Click here to read the full Tui Travel Sustainable Holidays Report.