In our ridiculously busy, stressful, and restless lives, nothing says relaxation and escape like a beautiful room with a view of the ocean, several pools, restaurants right outside your door, nightly events, and a swim up (probably all you can drink) bar. However, underneath the beauty of the luxury is the weight of classism, racism, and perpetuation of stereotypes. As much as resorts are a wonderful experience, there are several reasons why, on your next vacation you should think about staying away.
They carve up the coast and prevent people living in those countries from experiencing the place they live.
Resorts are beautiful. They are well constructed, entirely self contained, and generally along the beach. This is a part of the perk of paying for the resort in the first place. But because visitors pay an arm and a leg to enjoy these places, resorts are heavily guarded from outsiders. As a result, long stretches of luxury beaches are littered with American tourists, while locals are given few options for a beach experience, leading to crowed and often poorly maintained beach areas.
Whether you like to believe it or not, your stay in a resort perpetuates racism and stereotypes.
Because resorts are entirely self contained, with taxi service, access to tourism, and food, many resorts encourage their guests not to leave. This is often done through scare tactics or playing on American stereotypes or fears when it comes to 3rd world countries. While staying in the Dominican Republic, a belief that taxi drivers not associated with the hotel would rip you off and local businesses were going to give you food poisoning and try to trick you were rampant stereotypes. Not only does this threaten several fabulous locally run businesses from being able to thrive within their communities, but it perpetuates to people back in the states that these places are only safe if we stay in our American extensions instead of actually experiencing a new cultural identity.
You won’t ever actually learn anything about the place you're in
What's the point of spending 1,000+ on a vacation to Mexico to only eat knock off American style Mexican food, speak to people in English except for the occasional “gracias,” and never explore. As great as the beach is and snorkeling tours are, there are so many incredible things in these countries beyond the resort walls. Every place you go to has a rich and unique culture, history, and fingerprint. Even entering a supermarket in town can be an incredible experience. If you want to go to the beach and ignore new cultural identity, just go to Florida.
You are supporting local businesses
Traveling to another country is extremely expensive, but as much as we like to believe it because the concierge is a local and the tour guide lives down the street, none of the money we spend goes to supporting the country’s local economy. We give our money to big, American based airlines for flights and then promptly drop our money on large corporate resorts that do not funnel back into the local or national economy in a helpful way. We feed these countries through our greed, but forget that local hotels, restaurants, and tourism suffer greatly from resort style tourism.
Life outside of the resort allows for authentic interaction with people, as well as a deeper understanding of local idioms and customs.
Every day, in the Dominican Republic, we would walk through town to the bus. In the process we met several people, including several who showed us local secret beaches and hang out places, discovered an empanada stand with the best food I’ve ever had, and learned how to navigate our way around the city. Because so few gringos venture beyond the safety of the resort, we were local legends. My love for the city we were in and the cultural identity as a whole, as a result, comes not from the beaches or the boat tours, but from the authentic interactions we had with so many wonderful people.
The 3rd world does not exist to please american expectations in a string of tours and jokes about 3rd world cultureDuring a tour in Mexico, the guides felt it necessary to crack several “Mexican” jokes to entertain their white, American clientele. They use stereotypical stage names and they cater directly to the American ideal of what these cultures should look and act like. Tourism staff wear these stereotypes like masks, and only through serious coercing do they open up about the reality of their lives. They make better tips as Pepe the drink man than as the dynamic person living in a dynamic place. Quite frankly, other countries are not our playgrounds, and as much as they offer incredible things, their culture and their citizens should be treated with the respect they deserve.
All in all, resorts can be a wonderful experience, but in terms of understanding and building international bridges, experiencing new things, and supporting the communities we are visiting, they do more harm than good. Staying in a locally owned hotel and experiencing the real communities of these places is far more exciting and interesting than any swim up bar ever could be.