Can All-Inclusives be Sustainable Travel Options?

In 2017, I went on my first all-inclusive vacation to the Dominican Republic. It was great – I could have all the food and drinks I wanted, whenever I wanted, without having to consider money. If your goal when travelling is relaxation, all-inclusives are definitely the way to go.

But as relaxing as my vacation in the Dominican was, I couldn’t help but think something felt a little off. Of course I know that overindulging is bad, but maybe it has a wider effect than I even realized…

All-Inclusive resort pool

The problems with all-inclusive resorts

As I began getting ready for my trip, I naturally began looking into all the possibilities that were available for excursions. There’s nothing I love more than seeing both the culture and natural beauty of a new destination.

But when it came time to start looking into pricing and which excursions on my long wishlist might be doable, I paused. I had already paid a hefty sum of money just to be able to stay at the resort and have all my drinks and meals covered. Was it worth spending another couple of hundred dollars to spend an entire day off of the resort and not getting my money’s worth from the resort cost?

In the end, I didn’t go on an excursion, and I have no doubt that millions of other tourists on all-inclusive vacations have been deterred by the same reason I was.

Wanting to make use of something that has been paid for up-front is understandable and absolutely makes sense. However, this choice is not so great for the locals. By not participating in activities or excursions off your resort, local companies, businesses, and tour guides lose some valuable money.

Once I arrived on the resort, food waste became a glaringly obvious problem.

Not having to worry about paying for food makes the eyes bigger than the stomach. People order two (or even more) full dishes of food for the ability to try a bit of everything. The carefully trained waitstaff come and clear the unfinished dishes, careful not to roll their eyes at the wasteful tourists.

In a country where over 30% of the population live in poverty, this bothered me so much.

The average tourist in the Dominican Republic produces up to 4.5 kg of various waste per day, 75% of which is organic waste. Multiply that by the 6.1 million per year tourists staying for about one week and you have…a lot of waste.

Can all-inclusive resorts be responsible travel options?

Personally, I think that overall, the answer is no.

That being said, many all-inclusive resort chains do have policies in place to support some form of sustainability or another.

Karisma’s El Dorado Royale in Mexico has its own onsite greenhouse, where they grow a lot of their own produce using methods that promote water conservation.

RIU established a wildlife refuge on their property in Guanacoste, Costa Rica, protecting everything from plants to mammals to birds.

The Westin Lagunamar in Cancun provides tours through an agency called AllTourNative which creates jobs for locals, and puts an emphasis on respecting and preserving the local Mayan traditions and communities.

The point of this post was not to discourage you from visiting all-inclusive resorts, but to encourage you to do your research beforehand. Look into how you can get your relaxing dream vacation while still making a positive impact on the local area.

And maybe don’t order that extra plate of food that you aren’t sure you’ll eat.

Do you have any tips or ideas on how to stay responsible while on an all-inclusive vacation? Share them with me in the comments!



9 Comments

  1. Kat

    This is super helpful as Im going to a resort in the Dom Republic this August! I already got the tickets… but deff will rethink after reading your post on how to support locals more xx

  2. I have been to many all-inclusives and although I agree on some points, these resorts also provide people in the area with many many jobs. We have mostly been to Mexico and have meet some great staff. So being all-inclusive draws in customers and that creates jobs. I have been to the El Dorado in Mexico and besides having the green house they have small portions which is nice- less waste. You have brought up some valid points in contrast, just think of all the food that the Buffetts in Las Vegas waste 🙂

    • Jasmine

      Job saturation in one area is really just another form of unsustainability though. Plus a majority of the time that amazing staff is making an astronomically small hourly wage after most likely having to travel upwards of 1-2 hours to work.

      • I wanted to touch on the job situation in this article as well, but wasn’t able to find any solid research to back up my opinion. While yes it’s great that these resorts provide locals with jobs, I’m sure they are only paying their workers a fraction of what they can afford to pay them.

        Many of the staff at the resort I stayed at were from a city a couple of hours away. They actually stayed near the resort for 5 days a week and then were able to travel back to see their families for the other two days. I know I would hate living like that, and I can’t imagine they like it much either.

  3. Kim

    This provides much food for thought, I wonder if any kind of travel is truly sustainable. It is our responsibility to be sustainable travellers individually and I will start being more mindful about this.

    • That’s a good point as well. The transportation alone has a huge impact on the environment. For me, I’m trying to do my best to make up for that by being as respectful as I can of my destination, whether that’s socially or environmentally. 🙂

  4. Vy

    I really did enjoy reading this, on one hand, if the all inclusive wasn’t there would the local economy be stimulated? but at the same time the wastefulness of it all can also be a burden. Combine that with the fact that a lot of these resorts are likely owned by corporations and the amount of profit that actually goes back to the community could be minimal.
    What a conundrum.
    Vy recently posted…Cleland Wildlife Park, Adelaide AustraliaMy Profile

  5. This was a really interesting read, I think this is definitely a subject people don’t talk about too much. I’ve never stayed at an all inclusive resort, but I’m deffinitly going to keep all this stuff in mind! Thank you for sharing!

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