Purpose-built resorts bore me purely because, by their very nature, they lack what I enjoy most about visiting other countries – those unique factors which add heart and soul to locations and which sets one destination apart from the next. Purpose-built resorts often have a homogeneous personality. A couple of years ago I stood outside an office selling excursions/activities in an Algarve resort (not purpose-built but with much of the same resort-type ingredients) and mused how the images looked exactly the same as those in its Canary Islands’ counterpart. The offices could have switched locations without anyone really noticing.
After a couple of days in a purpose-built resort I get twitchy, and eager to leave. Their rhythm is out of kilter. In high season there are no weekends as such, each day is ground-hog Saturday night. For plenty that’s part of their attraction. It just doesn’t do it for me.
However, I’m not looking down my nose at them; I get their appeal. The best do what they do exceedingly well – provide a much needed relief from the drudgery of work and, especially if you’re a Brit, gloomy and cold weather.
In some ways they can have far less of a negative impact on a destination than the one an influx of tourists from city-sized cruise ships has. Take the Canary Islands for example. Nothing really existed where a lot of the purpose-built resorts have been developed. Ironically the ingredients which attract sun-seeking holidaymakers now are the ingredients which kept locals from settling there in numbers in the past – lots of sunshine and a lack of rain. Away from the resorts, traditional life continues much as it has done for aeons.
Purpose-built resorts have personalities which are a glaring contrast to that of traditional towns, you can feel/spot the difference within seconds of setting foot in a place; before you set foot in them now thanks to the richness of information/images we have at our fingertips.
And yet a phrase which I regularly enquire of my laptop screen after reading certain questions on travel forums is “you do know you’re staying in a purpose-built resort don’t you?”
Maybe a significant amount of people don’t.
Why else would anyone who’s staying somewhere such as Tenerife’s (unfairly) infamous Playa de las Américas ask “I love eating where the locals eat, good traditional food of the Canaries. Any suggestions on where to go?”
“Not Playa de las Américas,” would be my advice, followed by. “If you love eating where the locals eat why on earth did you choose to stay in a purpose-built resort?”
This sort of question is common, and found on Tripdavisor’s resort forums across the world.
“Whenever I travel I always like to try local food. Can anyone tell me where in (enter resort of your choosing here) I can try really good traditional food.”
The traditional food question is the most popular, but there are plenty of variations – people asking about traditional and cultural events, local customs taking pace, gastronomic routes… all sorts of things which often come as standard in traditional towns but rarely ever, unless staged for tourists, in purpose-built resorts.
It baffles me why anyone who books a holiday in one would expect to find authenticity – you don’t book Playa de las Américas in the hope of stumbling across a historic and atmospherically quaint little tapas bar full of locals. It’s simply not going to happen.
There will be holiday-seekers who have been fooled. In the past it was by those travel brochures which described resorts constructed a few decades previously as being “picturesque fishing villages”. Now some travel websites have taken over the mantle of getting creative with resort descriptions.
But I don’t buy it for most of the ‘seeking authenticity in a purpose-built resort’ brigade.
A recent survey of 2,000 Brits by Club Med found 41% of participants had lied about trips abroad. 17% lied about exploring the area beyond their hotels, when they’d never actually set foot outside the place.
The likely answer to the question about whether people know they’re staying in a purpose-built resort is of course they do. I suspect the questions they ask are designed to show other people they’re interested travellers when the reality is they’re really not.