Luis Riu. | Riu


There was a sneaking suspicion, where I was concerned, that the provisions for all-inclusive hotels under the 2020 tourism of excesses decree (later law) were in some way a sop to demands from government partners for regulation of all-inclusives that never came to pass.

Before the 2019 election, Més controlled the tourism ministry. The first of two tourism ministers, Biel Barceló, had acquainted himself with what happens in an all-inclusive. What did he discover? Holidaymakers drinking. From plastic glasses. Quelle horreur, minister. An awfulness of low quality was in the hands of these tourists, the plastic glasses. And their quality wasn't any better. They were drinking to excess. Whoever would have thought?

Més tourism minister number two was Bel Busquets. It was she who was pressing for some form of all-inclusive regulation. We never really found out what this was as President Armengol of PSOE clearly wasn't of a mind to go down a legislative route which would have entailed, shall we say, some difficulties in respect of free market operations.

At Calvia town hall, meanwhile, Alfonso Rodríguez, not the mayor but another Alfonso Rodríguez, had latched onto a report which had emanated from the Pimem small to medium-sized businesses federation. This indicated an apparently very high relationship between admissions to Son Espases Hospital emergencies and holidaymakers at all-inclusive hotels. The hospital was to say that it had no data to allow such a relationship to be made.

Nevertheless, that report did attract a good deal of attention, and it was in the context of the drive that the town hall administration had been making since coming to power in 2015 to deal with excessive drinking and bad behaviour. But the town hall had no competence in respect of all-inclusives, and so this limitation - as it appeared to me - was to combine with the Més regulatory failure in ending up with the restrictions on free alcohol in all-inclusives in a specific area of Magalluf (plus Playa de Palma, Arenal and Sant Antoni for good measure).

Whereas Més had been concerned about the all-inclusive impact on non-hotel businesses, the decree wasn't. Behaviour was all that mattered. Even so, it could be demonstrated that "something" was being done about all-inclusives, this something having been demanded, by the time of the decree, for at least twenty years.

But it was a something that was wholly misplaced. The supposed evidence from Son Espases had always struck me as far-fetched (I wasn't alone in this opinion), while a restriction on all-inclusive alcohol was an insult to holidaymakers who weren't making a habit of getting totally plastered. It was discriminatory, and though much of the 2020 decree was fair enough, this wasn't. The government, as now is, will be doing away with the restriction.

What the attention given to the decree's provisions has done is to obscure the broader debate about all-inclusives. Heavy drinking may be one aspect - though it is hardly the case that a holidaymaker has to be staying all-inclusive in order to get drunk - another is the impact on other businesses.

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This is absolutely nothing new, and in some respects it's surprising that it keeps resurfacing. I can go back twenty years, to when a leading figure with the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation was saying that all-inclusive was "the future", and to when non-hotel businesses in Can Picafort were thinking of petitioning King Juan Carlos to see if he could do something about all-inclusives.

Lord knows what the ex-king could have done about a form of hotel offer which, by the early 2000s, was very much the present, its origins in Mallorca usually having been attributed to the recession at the start of the 1990s. Or one could argue that the original all-inclusive was the first ever Club Med camp on the beach in Alcudia in 1950. Club Med did develop its own concept, but it was the all-inclusive resorts that began to spring up in the Caribbean in the seventies which were to act as a model for Mallorca and other Mediterranean destinations.

Luis Riu, CEO of Riu Hotels & Resorts, has written an article about the company's experience of all-inclusive; it was published on his blog a few days ago. It's an interesting account and it might also be considered to be somewhat contentious.

As was the case with many other hotel groups, Riu first experimented with all-inclusive in the Caribbean. The Dominican Republic was made for all-inclusive because of the lack of a complementary offer - non-hotel bars and restaurants. There was no issue.

In Mexico and then Spain (including Mallorca), there was an issue. However, in respect of Spain, he says that the reality is "very different" to what is believed - that holidaymakers never leave the hotel grounds. "There will be those who need to stick to their budget and must take great care of any extras. But for most of us there is that feeling that what you have already paid for resets the meter and encourages you to consume more. All of our guests go out and a lot. It's a minority of people who feed the myth that they don't leave the hotel."

Riu has its high-end hotels but its business is mainly of the four-star variety, as nowadays is where the majority of Mallorca's hotels are positioned. There continues to be the three-star all-inclusive, but four-star all-inclusive started to emerge back in the noughties. There is now also five-star. The offer of all-inclusive isn't therefore what it overwhelmingly used to be - targeted at an economy market.

The profile of holidaymaker, it can be said, has changed. But even so, is Luis Riu correct in suggesting that the outside impact has not been as great as everyone has assumed it to be? From my experience of one resort, Alcudia, there undoubtedly was an impact - a negative one. This said, there are plenty of businesses in areas with all-inclusive offer which are still there. Fifteen years or so ago, it was as if there was an expectation that they would be wiped out. But they haven't been. I can't speak for their revenues, but they are surviving and without necessarily having made any great changes to their product.

In the case of Riu, the nature of the all-inclusive offer has been enhanced greatly over the years. When he was first looking into going down the all-inclusive route, Luis Riu says that it was "a lot like full board but with drinks and snacks". For many hotel groups, the offer has gone well beyond that. And today, he believes, "no one disputes it".

No one? I don't know that I can agree with that, but what one takes from Luis Riu's blog, other than his assertion about non-hotel spending, is that the customer profile most certainly isn't that conveyed, for example, by Biel Barceló. And that seemed to feed into a narrative of excess which, notwithstanding a minority who do things to excess (and will continue to regardless), was exaggerated.