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Simon Parke: End of a Greek era

10 August 2011

THEY say that there is nothing like a Greek taverna — and very soon, if the big travel companies have their way, there may well be nothing like a Greek taverna.

Do you remember that Greek holiday? Walking down the village high street, in the balmy evening air, looking at the various menus on offer from the colourful tavernas? Cherish the memory, because, for many restaurant-owners, there is a new threat looming on the Aegean hori­zon: the all-inclusive holiday.

“We ran a restaurant for ten years in Lardos,” one restaurateur on the island of Rhodes said. “Then a big travel firm bought up the hotel next door, offered all-inclusive deals, and we had to close.” They moved their business to a village up the road, only to hear of similar plans there.

There is much to be said for all-inclusive holidays. At a time of tight personal budgets, they offer a cheap holiday in hot places, and are most common in long-haul destina­tions such as Egypt, Tunisia, the Caribbean, and Mexico, where going out in the evening is not always the best idea — or simply impossible.

“We went to Marsa Alam last year, on the Red Sea,” a doctor from Reading said. “That was all-inclusive — but it had to be. The hotel was a fortress in the desert, and the nearest restaurant was across terrain that would have challenged Lawrence of Arabia. But would I want that for Greece? No. I come to Greece for the villages, and to be able to go out in the evening and taste.”

It was three months ago that First Choice, the acknowledged leaders in all-inclusive travel, announced plans for expansion. But does it actually offer a cheaper holiday? One tourist from Manchester was doubtful. “It was fine for the first three days,” he said of his last all-inclusive trip to Spain. “To be honest, we made the most of the free drink and food for the first three days. You go a bit mad when it’s all just there.

“But, after that, it became a bit repetitive, and reminded me of school dinners; so we went out in the evening. It may have ended up as more expensive.”

Not even the hotels are sold on the all-inclusive idea. Just as all-powerful supermarkets in England squeeze suppliers, so travel companies, in the cut-throat holiday market, squeeze the hotels with which they enter into partnership.

“It’s a bit like a pact with the devil,” said one hotel representative who wished to remain anonymous. “The travel company pays us €15 a night — but charges the tour­ists €500 for the week. That in­cludes the flight, but is still a healthy profit. If we go all-inclusive, stand­ards will go down. They’ll want the hotel to provide more, but you can be sure they won’t pay more for it.”

So, is yours a souvlaki or a stuffed pepper? Choose soon. Barbarian school dinners are beating on the gates of Greece.


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