When the entire world is talking about the AI phenomenon and its side effects in tourism industry and especially the SMEs the only thing you can do is to try it out and see yourself. So I took the bait and joined the crowds at a shiny 3 star resort in Almyrida Chania Crete Greece.
First of all, what AI is all about?
The All inclusive option is the board basis of the hotel and normally means all meals and drinks are included. Unfortunately, Greece tourism is taking a dangerous route towards providing “all-inclusive holidays”. Clearly there is a market demand for “all inclusive” a trend that has developed over the past five or so years. Sadly Greece as well has allowed itself to be fooled by the global tourism business.
So I booked a good priced AI stay just for 3 days for July 2016 to Almyrida Chania Crete in X Bay Hotel-3 stars; that is now rented and operated by a known Swedish Travel Corporation and 3 days to another local small hotel (flights were not included of course since I booked as a Greek/American tourist visiting parts of Greece).
Arrived at the hotel with a five years old girl; my daughter and entered the reception. Had a welcome with an “archaic” smile but that was it, no welcome drinks no smiles, nothing, just hallo- take key- go to your room. So, first impression; is that Greek hospitality??
Room was stone cold. No character; no special deco just two beds, one chair and mirror with closet (but still 3 stars). Bathroom door was broken but who cares about that? A TV playing only two channels; no wi fi in the room (still claimed to be 3 stars) and a tiny balcony. So as there was nothing to do in the room we decided to go to the pool. Reaching the pool we came across with dozens of Swedish tourists becoming experts at hanging out to the pool (pool-restaurant-room). The pool was huge located in a nice environment. A server came to ask if we wanted to drink something so I asked for a Greek coffee. Went to the bar and then back to inform us that the bartender (Swedish girl about 22yrs) did not have directions about how to make a Greek coffee. I am in Greece and cant’ have a Greek coffee, it’s a hit! A 95% percent of the employees were from Sweden ages 21-26yrs. Only 5 Greek maids and 1 Greek male life guard. At the beginning I thought I was not in Greece!
Boredom set in rapidly; just a library with 10 books, a tennis court, and an “outrageous” pool. During our stay we had “a hamburger evening” event; a hamburger evening in Greece?? That was really disappointing! I have never been the sort of person that likes sitting around, relaxing on the beach for hours and hours doing nil! You may be thinking; well AI resorts have a whole bunch of activities that you can take part in so surely you would never get bored. Indeed this may be true BUT only if you are content staying within the confines of the resort. Certainly this is not dreadful but on occasion just being able to escape and explore is all real travelers want to do.
Stage Two: The Food & Drink
Breakfast: Big buffet (with hundreds of flies around with no protection— still 3 stars!) with very few local products and the rest not really fresh nor good quality; but it was expected. Dinner/lunch unfortunately the same frozen meat and other frozen products bought from a local company (Greek maid confessed that she would not even feed her dog with this food) with an exception to a pasta plate we tried (that only!!). The food was flavorless and unfortunately I came across the weirdest combinations of foods. Strange cold salads, “frozen” hamburgers, Greek Gourmet ‘souvlaki’, mystery meats, and very "shabby" presentations. In a nutshell, tasteless, disappointing and lack of selection; that would be my review for the food quality and menu options. Where was the Greek food that someone could be craving? It seems bizarre that resorts seem to serve cuisines and styles of food that have no idea off. Why couldn't the food be simple, and reflect the country that we were in? As a rule in Buffets you can expect this is certain since they are preparing food for the hungry masses, but a la carte menus must not be like this and sadly the numbers of negative reviews that are out there surely indicate something! Don’t expect anything resembling real Greek food at a Greek AI resort, and don’t be surprised if you have at least one night of severe food regret during your stay.
Stage 3: Money
All included?? Are we all really that naive to undeniably believe this? Hidden fee: alcohol! Most of us like to enjoy a quick glass of good wine and AI resorts indicate that alcohol is included but what they don’t highlight is that they offer the lower priced alcohol possible for free and the rest with a decent taste or brand will cost you an exorbitant amount of money. Needless to say that the wine I personally tasted at the hotel was NOT wine!!! Furthermore, I paid triple the price for a small bottle of water!
After few days, my vacations to the all inclusive 3stars hotel ended and continued to the small “Y Hotel Apartment”. On my arrival a lady warmly welcomed us with a huge smile and local sweets (you know that smile that makes you feel at home!). The lobby, hallways and rooms were impeccably designed to exude charm and build a sense of connection to the village and other guests. The staff was warm and engaging in a very classic and elegant way. The hotel offered only breakfast which was stellar. All of the products tasted were fresh, local, and handmade (some by the owner). There was a satisfying pool with space for children’s play ground. Concerning our meals, self catering offered us the flexibility of eating out in different locations balanced with nice home cooked meals using local products.
The room/balcony was spacious beautifully decorated with personal touches and warmth and finally Wi Fi in the room!!! There was kitchenette with cooking facilities and a comfortable sitting room. Moreover welcome drinks and a small gift for my daughter expected us in the room!!! Serviced apartments providers offer all the amenities of traditional hotels, but with the space, comfort and privacy of a full residential apartment. Apartments give you the ultimate combination of space and value. In meeting guests’ needs, apartments tend to be larger than standard hotel rooms and include kitchen facilities. The attraction of serviced apartments is that they offer the comfort and facilities of a hotel, with the privacy and facilities of home. Self-catering means enjoying spacious accommodation, freedom to eat when you wish to, shopping from local markets and cooking if you want to as well as eating out at different local restaurants. Being tied to timetables and routine at work all year round, I enjoy the freedom that self-catering provides. The owner invited us for coffee and we had a lot of discussions during our stay concerning crisis in Greece and about AI. Generally there was a nice family atmosphere around us and we felt welcomed and pampered. For me, holidays are about exploring – and AI whether we like it or not- kills that.
More than ever now - that the all-inclusive scheme has exposed countries and diminished destinations of their identity and deprived tourists of the thrill to discover - now is when we need, as Greeks, to focus on what makes Greece unique. We cannot consent to have “concentration camps of leisure” as Reid refers to AI resorts (1992:75). Greece’s uniqueness lies in its small scale of existence, its spontaneity, its hospitality and its culture. Tourism in Greece was built on its cultural heritage and natural beauty. The word “diakopes” (holidays) in Greek means “to stop what you are doing”- to depart the quick paced, indifferent lifestyle behind and welcome the aromas, the sounds, the feeling, and the taste... to be a real traveler.
Travelers, in particular those from the US and many other wealthier parts of Europe and the world, have experienced all this madness. They’ve seen the big stuff, the huge frosty hotels, the luxury services and the colossal pools. No matter what Greece does, it cannot and should not compete in this tourist product. Greece can be prominent by offering its exceptional gifts. Of course those who are rightly asking about modernization will refute this. Fortunately, all this can and has been in many instances achieved today thanks to young Greek entrepreneurs, who have transformed a step further the idea of “hospitality.” Small but vigilantly set up businesses are rising all over Greece, offering the best quality without trailing its uniqueness and “Hellenism”. These small businesses, many, family run, can offer the true Greek experience. They can work together with tourism sector professionals to provide holidaymakers to Greece something unique, and this will in turn benefit not only the local community but the country as well.
Whether we like or not AI is destroying the economy of the countries now subjected to the Hotels’ All Inclusive deals. Small- and medium-scaled hotels are greatly affected. It has been reported that more than 480 hotels in Crete, Macedonia and Chania are listed for sale with humiliating prices. Is this the kind of modernization and investment we want in Greece? Tourists do not leave their Hotel, and become prisoners of the Hotel–for fear of missing food and drink -!” They spend very little –Because they have paid for everything. So where are profits? Statistics have shown that only 10%-12% of what tourists spent is spread in the local economy. Additionally a respected percentage in AI resorts in Greece are owned by the outsiders and most of the all-inclusive expenditure are not reaching or remain in the economy of Greece because it was pre-paid in the tourist generating countries. Hence, given that AI supply and demand trends continue mounting, what would be their impacts on the economy?
At the other side of the coin, there is of course a very small percentage of quality AI in Greece; and yes we need investments and modernization but NO we do not want to sacrifice everything for the “money.” And yes fighting against the all-inclusive in a financially wounded period is not a wise tactic but let’s face it; all-inclusive holiday concept does not coincide with the principles of sustainable development. All-inclusive hotel holidays have become a reality in Greece but pose risks for the sustainability of tourism. Greece can and must stand out by offering what it has been gifted with. The attractiveness of Greece is our fundamentals; sea, sun, hospitality and its intense history. As N. Kazantzakis has said “Every perfect traveler always creates the country where he travels.” Is that the kind of traveler we want to attract in Greece, the one who spends its days isolated in the tour bus and in the sterilized environment of the hotel? If attention is given on the small, plain and genuine we can achieve big things, as long as we at last team up and gloat in what makes us Greek.