Simon Calder: The man who pays his way

Enlightened self-interest and the green peace of Sussex by train
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The Independent Online

The best ideas are simple. Try this one: staff at Stanfords, the world's biggest map and travel guide store, have just won a deal designed to minimise their impact on the planet. Anyone who works for the company who is planning a holiday in Europe gets an extra day off if they travel by rail or bus rather than by air.

This shrewd offer aims to counteract the dramatic transformation that has occurred over a generation. Twenty years ago the "default" form of transport for a journey to Milan or Barcelona or Berlin was road or rail - air fares were very high and pressures on time were lighter. Today, the average journey is both much faster and cheaper by air. The constraint on travel always used to be cost. Now, when anyone on the national minimum wage can earn enough in an eight-hour day for a trip for two to Europe on Ryanair, the limitation is time.

Stanfords is taking the bold step of incentivising staff out of enlightened self-interest: the less damage tourists do to the planet, the more people will want to explore - and the more books we will buy. The payback is two-fold: besides happier, less-stressed staff, the firm can expect a boost in internal sales. The Thomas Cook European Timetable is the ideal companion to any terrestrial trip to the Continent, and rail journeys allow travellers to stop off at plenty of interesting places, made all the more rewarding with a decent guide book.

THE SUSSEX resort of Eastbourne, meanwhile, is about to launch a campaign aimed at enticing people who now count themselves as conscientious objectors to overseas holidays.

On Monday, posters in London and Birmingham will proclaim the virtues of the seaside town where Debussy wrote La Mer. A photograph of a couple walking on the dramatic cliffs to the west of the town bears the simple message " Green Peace" - which may or may not concern the Amsterdam-based global environmental organisation of that name.

Last week in these pages, Harriet O'Brien checked out the credentials of Eastbourne, and on Wednesday of this week Royal Mail issued a new first-class stamp with a picture of the resort. So it would have been rude not to visit the resort myself - by train.

First stop was Café Belge, whose proprietor Gary Bush persuaded me that fresh local seafood is easily available in the town. Next, I cycled down Monserrat Drive and past St Kitts Way (surely those names need changing to something more local?) and visited Sovereign Harbour, which aims to do for Eastbourne what Marina del Rey does for southern California. Quite convincing, too, apart from the bleak weather.

Even the villains in Eastbourne are both green-spirited and safety-conscious. I know this because I locked up my bicycle on the seafront, with my bike helmet attached. Someone decided to try to steal it, no doubt in order to enhance their safety. They failed, but not before they had caused irreparable damage to the headwear.

I cycled back to the station and hopped hatlessly onto the train. When it paused at Gatwick, Rhett Hewitt, an insurance specialist returning home to London, got on. "You're travelling light," I observed, since he had no luggage. This turned out to be a sensitive subject.

Last Friday morning, he and seven pals had flown out with GB Airways from Gatwick to Faro for a golfing weekend. This is the golfers' favourite flight: it arrives at 10am, in time for a full day on the fairways, and furthermore the airline makes no charge for carrying sporting equipment. Or, in this case, not carrying it.

Mr Hewitt's golf bag did not appear in Faro. He had not been singled out, though: the other 50 fellow passengers who had checked in their clubs also found themselves sportingly challenged, since all the golfing equipment was still in Gatwick. It eventually arrived that night on a Monarch flight.

After a curtailed day and a half of golf, Mr Hewitt returned to Faro airport for his flight home. Again, his golf clubs stayed behind.

"Something in the system's not quite right," he observed with admirable restraint. "I accept that occasionally things can go missing, but it seems a touch suspicious that so much luggage can go missing at once."

GB Airways, to its credit, holds its hands up.

"We sincerely apologise to the customers travelling to Faro whose luggage, including golf bags, did not travel with them last weekend," it said. "We are now monitoring all Faro flights for their weight including golfing equipment to ensure that we have the processes in place to avoid a repeat."

Should Mr Hewitt prefer to travel by train, the fastest journey time I have found from London to Faro is 30 hours. Perhaps his employer could help out.