The island is small, but beautiful, the people were so friendly and the air was thick with people having a great time. Tavernas were bustling with locals and tourists alike, beaches were packed with families showing their children how to build sandcastles or paddling in the sea as further out speedboats zoomed around giving the more adventurous tourist an adrenaline fuelled watersport adventure.
You could see in some of the quieter areas, there was construction going on, huge sprawling hotels that looked about the size of small villages.
Fast forward a few years, I (now all grown up), decide to take my family back to the place we all loved so much for a holiday.
We arrive at the airport and get a cab to the hotel, on the journey we all excitedly look out of the car window of the view that is whizzing by and I get the strangest feeling. The place is almost empty. There are almost no people browsing in the shops or sitting in the little bars/restaurants/tavernas, quite a lot of the shops are closed. Something seems very wrong. After all its only 7pm.
The following day, as we set out to explore the island and try to recapture some memories, I feel almost a sadness come over me. We set out to Tigaki for the day to enjoy the glorious beach and relax in one of the many tavernas and I can honestly say, there was not a soul in the 'high street' and the beach was almost empty...In August. A few places were closed and looking pretty desolate.
However, when you drove/cycled/walked past any of the huge All Inclusive hotels that had sprung up you could hear the sound of loud music and lots of people. So many people all hiding away, holidaying overseas but seeing none of the country they are in.
It followed pretty much the same pattern for the rest of our holiday, and, even though I really enjoyed my holiday (the place is still beautiful and the people are still amazingly friendly), I left with a heavy heart. I felt like I had gone to visit a beloved aunt only to discover she was seriously ill.
Now, I have been on All Inclusive holidays, and they are pretty dire. Maybe I just don't understand the concept. I just don't understand why you would choose a beautiful place to visit and then sit inside the same four walls with someone else telling you when you can eat, what you can eat, what you can do and when you can do it? Why go somewhere with stunning scenery and beautiful beaches and old squares and harbour towns and not see any of it? Why go somewhere with some of the most delicious and freshly prepared food served by friendly, hospitable people and choose to eat mass catered cliche's of local food served up in a glorified school canteen? Why go somewhere with a diverse and vibrant nightlife offer and sit playing bingo and drinking wine that tastes like turps all night? Most All Inclusive hotels run to a spend of 3.5 euros per night, so what on earth are they actually giving you!
The truth is, as we see that times are hard All Inclusive holidays seem like a better option, after all you can "leave your wallet at home". But at what cost? You go away and experience nothing, and to be completely honest, eating out and drinking in most countries is not really that expensive so realistically you are not saving much (if any). The only REAL cost of an All Inclusive holiday is to the many towns all over Europe that are being turned into ghost towns by the increasing number of sprawling AI hotels. Where local businesses are having to reduce staff, reduce wages and eventually close. All Inclusive fans could argue that they contribute to the economy with employment and using local suppliers, what they seem to miss out, is that their staff are often paid 500-750 euros a month for extraordinarily long hours, most supppliers are paid in six month blocks, meaning they dont get paid for up to 6 months at a time which leaves the rent unpaid, the children un-fed and the stress level's high.
All you have to do is do a bit of research before you go. There are so many things to see and do that do not cost the earth and you would still be able to go away, eat, drink, explore, have a great time, make some great friends and help the local economy. After all the destiny of local communities shouldn't be left to profit-driven companies.
So go on, get out there and explore. Show the world that Europe is still open for business!