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March 6, 2012

A holiday or a prison sentence?

From my own travels, and stories I hear from others’ a clear pattern has been emerging. That the Reps are trapping holiday makers in their hotel. They appear to be doing this in two ways-

1)    by telling the holidays makers, that often know no better, that it is unsafe to go out

2)    by tying them in with all inclusive deals so they spend no money in the community

Now I can’t personally vouch for every destination, but if it was that unsafe would a tour operator really sell package holidays to that destination? I don’t think so. This is a way of tour operators keeping the customer inhouse and spending all of their money within their hotel, rather than in the community. It is greed and selfishness.

Many destinations choose to invest in tourism because of its economic benefits, they often give up their traditional methods of making a living and turn to tourism. And then for the customers to be trapped inside their hotel? This is surely not only unfair for the local people who want to make a living out of the developments that they have allowed into their country, but also for the tourist.

The tourist may enjoy staying in their hotel for the duration of their trip. But is it not ethically wrong to keep them in there by giving them potentially inaccurate information? Is this not a form of entrapment, whether the tourist is aware of it or not? Should the tourist not have the power to decide for themselves?

When visiting the Gambia a couple of years ago I was approached by a man selling sunglasses. After informing him that I did not want to buy anything he sat down and began to speak with me on the beach.

He told me how difficult life is for him. He said that he loves working with the tourists and selling his sunglasses. However all of the hotels have gradually become all inclusive and the reps tell the guests that it is not safe to go out. Admittedly he said that local people will try to talk to you and ask if you would like to buy things etc, but they do not harm the tourists and they do not make the area unsafe. He said that the reps are just lying to the tourists and it is not fair.

He told me how business has been so difficult and he struggles to feed his family. He told me that he is so desperate to do his job, but he can’t. Because the reps trap the tourists in the hotels and don’t let them out.

I thought that this was a heartbreaking and unfortunate story. And this problem is so widespread in the Gambia that the government did make it illegal to have all inclusive holidays there. However the tour operators won the battle and it was legalised again.

This is not an isolated story, I have heard of similar examples all over the world. Goa, the Caribbean, Egypt to name a few specific examples.

This is a sad reality of tourism in many places. Local people give up what was probably stunning natural beauty to often build unflattering high rise hotels etc, and then are over run with all inclusive that bares next to no benefit for the local people. Where is the moral justice in that?

This is imprisonment, not only in the sense that the tourists do not leave their hotels, but also in that the locals can barely make enough money to live as a result; in turn making them too, trapped. Is this the future of package tourism as it spreads to more exotic and far away destinations? I do hope not.

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