Should you go on an all-inclusive?

THE public's demand for all-inclusive holidays is continuing to rocket. The prospect of going on holiday without any cash is irresistible: an endless buffet lunch of whatever takes your fancy for a fortnight. Much has been made of the lure of "free" alcohol, but a huge array of sports and activities is also a serious attraction.

All-inclusives are not really new of course. Operators such as Club Mark Warner and Club Med have been offering deals like this for years. In the early days, all "package" holidays to Spain were in fact all-inclusive, before it became trendy to dare to enter the local bars and restaurants.

And now that they are all the rage, inevitably some customers have been disappointed. Some have complained of promised activities not after all being "included", or even (horrifying to say) having to be paid for. And as Simon Calder, travel editor of the Independent, points out, travel agents are naturally eager to promote all-inclusives over B&B arrangements because all-inclusives earn them more commission.

More serious criticisms concern the very concept of the all-inclusive. Basically the revenue that might have gone to the local community will end up in the coffers of tour operators back home. Image a giant resort of rich Japanese people who effectively never set foot out of doors, being dumped in the middle of London. All the taxi drivers, restaurateurs and shopkeepers who normally rely on tourists' expenditure will be deprived of income. Even worse is the cultural barrier that descends, Berlin Wall- like, between holidaymakers safely on the inside and locals safely on the outside.

On the other hand, families who are worried at the thought of budgets spiralling out of control can book in perfect equanimity. And despite early problems, the product is definitely improving. After all, two weeks in, say, the Dominican Republic or Montego Bay, with a choice of several swimming pools, beaches and restaurants - and endless water sports - for around pounds 800 or pounds 900 per person represents a considerable bargain if you really are happy not budging out of your resort.

Don't imagine that all-inclusives are only to be found in the Caribbean by the way. Thomson Holidays, for example, can send you to practically any of the traditional Spanish resorts, as well as all the major Med destinations and diverse long-haul points such as Thailand, Sri Lanka, Goa and Kenya.

If, taking everything into account, you are still keen to try today's all-inclusives, above are a few deals currently on offer.

Jeremy Atiyah

SAMPLE ALL-INCLUSIVES

Dominican Republic (three star) Thomson 0990 502555

Airport: Gatwick

Duration: 14 nights

Price: pounds 905 per person.

Mexico (two star) First Choice 0161 742 2228

Airport: Gatwick

Duration: 14 nights

Price: pounds 759 per person

Jamaica (five star) Airtours 01706 260000

Airport: Gatwick

Duration: 14 nights

Price: pounds 1,429 per person

Majorca (three star) Airtours 01706 260000

Airport: Gatwick

Duration: seven nights

Price: pounds 439 per person

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