The true value of visiting Jamaica can’t be found in all-inclusive hotels
Imagine you have a couple weeks of free time ahead of you and the great desire to travel to Jamaica… One of the first questions you will ask yourself is: Where should I stay? Sometimes those all-inclusive offers can be appealing, because of low-prices and the fact that you don’t have to worry about anything. However, you should ask yourself a very different question.
We from REAL JAMAICA do not support all-inclusive hotels or resorts. We believe in ecotourism and social tourism – a way of traveling a country while giving back to it’s people. We focus on helping travelers to experience Jamaica in a way, which you will never see when staying in a resort or hotel. Anyhow, I think it’s necessary to explain WHY those of us who love Jamaica have such strong opinions about all-inclusives.
The main question you have to ask yourself, when it comes to choosing if you’re going to travel and backpack or book an all-inclusive hotel is: What do you really want to get out of your holidays?
You should go to an all-inclusive hotel/resort when:
- You want to be taken care of and you’re okay with paying a little more
- You just want to relax on a (crowded) beach or by the pool side without getting in touch with the local culture
- You’re okay with visiting to the most touristic sights along with big groups
- You are ok with staying in big concrete facilities with hundreds of other people
- You’re okay with being in a surrounding completely created for foreigners
You should travel and backpack the island when:
- You’re ready to explore new places, try new things, meet new people
- You want to plan for yourself, and be responsible for everything you do along the way
- You’re ready to experience the most unexpected things (in positive and possibly also negative ways)
- You want to make new friends and learn from such amazing people you usually never find in tourist areas
- You’re interested in learning about the culture, lifestyle and way of thinking
In my opinion, it doesn’t matter to what country you go, when staying at an all-inclusive hotel. It’s basically the same anyway.
But if the all-inclusive idea interests you, because you don’t want to worry about your meals, then there are many smaller hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs that either offer AI as an option or would be delighted to prepare meals for you (for an extra cost, of course). Just ask.
Visitors are usually shocked at the level of poverty they see in Jamaica, because they know that millions of tourists visit the island every year and think the place should look better. There are good reasons it doesn’t.
When you think about resort cities around the world, local residents in the community can benefit by establishing small businesses nearby for the resort tourists to eat, drink, shop, etc. and to provide services. The resort also provides much-needed jobs for the community. In other words, the tourist dollars trickle into the economy of the community, and everybody wins. This does NOT happen in Jamaica, except to a small degree in MoBay.
The mega-resorts don’t buy much, if any, vegetables, fruits, meats, or other food from Jamaicans. Instead, they have most of what they serve to you shipped in from elsewhere. Those mangoes you’re enjoying are probably imported from Mexico! The resort has restaurants, bars/clubs, and gift shops so that you never have to leave to get what you need. This is by design.
They also control who can do business on their premises (e.g. tour guides, etc). And then they discourage you from venturing outside their walls (mostly by scaring you about what could happen if you do!). If you feel like attending a local church service or want a recommendation for something to do, somewhere to eat, take care when you ask a regular resort employee. They lose their jobs for referring guests somewhere off-resort.
A typical organized trip to Dunns River Falls
Most of these all-inclusives don’t hire locals from within the parish. Employees travel across the island from long distances, or are imported from elsewhere. If you are a motivated entrepreneur and wish to cater to tourists with a local restaurant/cafe, a tour business, or some other service, good luck to you! If no one ever leaves the resort, you will have no customers. So you eventually just give up and continue to live in poverty. (In Portland where there are no AIs, several of the large resorts have community farms growing their food, restrict hiring to people who live in the parish, and happily encourage their guests to support the local people/businesses. BRAVO!)
So, in Jamaica at least, the BILLIONS of dollars that flow through the all-inclusives every year do NOT trickle down into the community. It should be no surprise that surrounding communities cannot thrive without the help of even a few of those dollars. Most everyday Jamaicans simply don’t benefit from tourists at all. I think this is very sad, that’s why we encourage eco-tourism. Tour with a local guide, you will be amazed by the beauty of the island and its hidden treasures.
Off the beaten path track to Kwaman Waterfalls
The resorts have essentially been given total control over most of the spectacular coastline by the government. Jamaican families cannot enjoy their local beaches because they are mostly private now although in some areas they can pay to get in! This is why, for example, maintaining Winnifred Beach in Portland as a public beach (after a LONG court battle won) was such a huge victory for locals.
If you want to get to know the culture and spirit of Jamaica and its people, by all means stay OUT of all-inclusive resorts!
One of the biggest differences, I believe, are the people you meet and the way they treat you. As a tourist in a hotel you barely get to interact with locals who are not hustlers. The main people you will see are tour guides, the hotel staff and other tourists. On the other hand a traveler gets to stay and interact with local families, meet great people and experience true adventures.
One night I ended up in the backyard of a famous artist and captured some scenes of that evening. It’s moments like these that make your journey unforgettable.
If you are interested in this feature, please contact the Real Jamaica team! Thanks!