Harriet Walker: Spare us the guilt over all-inclusives

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The Independent Online

At the risk of sounding facile, I think we all need a holiday. Just one day out of life, as Madonna has it, to decompress and condense some of the frustrated steam of hatred that has arisen from some of our most disadvantaged communities.

In a culture that foregrounds 24-7 working hours and the need to accrue wealth rather than borrow time, the universal bank holidays and bus trips to Blackpool of yesteryear have become an idyllic anachronism. But then so too have the stretched recesses and Grand Tour-style breaks at the other end of the spectrum. And we have accepted the death of the latter, without questioning the validity of the former.

Thomas Cook announced this week that almost half of its profits this year came from all-inclusive holidays, which have gone through the roof as holidaymakers seek better value. But there's a general culture of "ick" when it comes to these kinds of package deals, and a crazed sense of moral superiority among those who don't go on them.

Instead of travel for the sake of getting away and forgetting one's workaday existence, we're supposed to travel now for the sake of becoming more worldly-wise. This makes sense when one is backpacking in the Himalayas, less so than when you just want to lie on a beach in Torremolinos.

There's nothing wrong with going somewhere pleasant and doing very little. It makes us less crabby when we get back, it helps us put up with the rigours of existing in a world where everything just seems – at the moment, at least – to be that little bit harder. And if a week in the sun and five pitchers of sangria are going to help, then why on earth not? You can see it in people's eyes at the moment, on public transport and in the queue at posh supermarkets. Play spot the difference between those who are about to holiday and those who just got back: the former are snarling, red-eyed zombies, the latter smiling beacons of philanthropy and tolerance.

Channel 4's new Holiday Hijack programme has the usual veterans of all-inclusive hotel compounds being exported to stay with local families so they can taste the real culture of the countries they're in. Unsurprisingly, at the end of the experiment, most say they'd rather go back to their five-star compounds.

Rather than feeling that this displays oodles of Western disgustingness, I nod along vigorously with them. You can worry about the world going to hell in a handcart when you get back; holidays are for disconnecting and just enjoying being idle. And there's a greater good attached to that, because they make people more content. And content people don't burn down their local high street. Some more worthy members of our society may want to help at the local fish market or build schools (and good for them), but I'd argue that theirs is probably a quotidian unlike most people's.

It isn't always to the detriment of these local cultures either. Package dollars can create employment, chances for development and peripheral profits rather than sapping the life out of a host community. So maybe it's no bad thing that more Brits are getting away on all-inclusive deals. Oliver Letwin may not think so, given he "[doesn't] want more people from Sheffield having cheap holidays", but even he'd have to agree that anything that boosts morale, productivity and social cohesion might not be a bad thing right now.

Ultimately, the chance to get away and relax is a marker of a highly evolved society – like when the residents of Coronation Street and Albert Square do a special episode in the Algarve and learn new things about themselves. Whether it's a week in an ill-ventilated apartment or a few days strolling on a pier in the rain, if more people have the chance to do so, it'll make for a happier society too.