The Independent Traveller: Something to Declare

THE COLUMN THAT GIVES THE GLOBAL PICTURE

Bargain of the week:

Ferry cheap to Calais

The Independent is always recommending readers to buy air tickets through "bucket shops" - you get better fares, and superior consumer protection, than buying direct. There are also one or two ferry discount agents that specialise in undercutting published fares across the Channel.

One of them is Ferrysavers (070 000 33774, ferrysavers.co.uk). If you book by next Tuesday, 24 November, you can buy a peak-season Dover-Calais return on SeaFrance on any date in 2000 for pounds 138. This covers a car and up to nine passengers - about pounds 15 each if you squeeze the maximum in. What makes it especially good value is the way that you can book even for Bank Holiday weekend in August, traditionally the time when prices are at their highest. The fare is for Internet bookings - you pay pounds 1 more for telephone reservations.

A likely story:

"Queensland set to receive lion's share of Olympic visitors" - press release from Queensland House, London. The Olympics begin on 15 September next year. In Sydney, New South Wales. So why exactly should the majority of "Olympic visitors" be going to the next-door state of Queensland, when only a handful of soccer matches are being played there?

The short answer is that they are not - though a small fraction may call in. This press release wins the prize humbug award as Queensland steps up the hype stakes and prepares to welcome thousands of British travel agents for next weekend's ABTA convention in Cairns.

An "Olympic visitor" is classed as one of the extra 1.6 million people forecast to visit Australia "as a result of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games". If 1.6 million seems an alarming number of extra people to cram in during the two weeks of the games, don't fret: 1.6 million is a guess at the number of extra visitors who might go to Australia at some time in the next five years. Of those, rather fewer than half are predicted to visit Queensland. Does that constitute the "lion's share of Olympic visitors"?

Interestingly, Queensland has already computed how many jobs these extra tourists will create: 16,231, an admirably precise figure.

Warning of the week:

why you might want to postpone that visit to Athens (see page 4) for a week or two. The US State Department warns: "Mid-November is typically a time of demonstrations in Greece, commemorating the 1973 student uprising against the military dictatorship. In addition, demonstrations are planned against President Clinton's upcoming visit to Greece. We have no information regarding specific threats to American citizens in Greece. However, there have been several late-night terrorist bombings and other attacks that have resulted in property damage to American-affiliated businesses, and to interests perceived to be American, in recent weeks. Residents and travellers should exercise appropriate caution and avoid areas of planned demonstrations."

Currency of the week:

The Thai baht is one of relatively few currencies to carry no Roman script at all.

The crucial thing, of course, is that the numerals are at least recognisable. The other "good" news, at least for visitors, is that the Thai economy has yet to recover from the calamitous collapse of its currency in summer 1997. In a few days, the baht halved in value; it has now clawed some of the way back up the currency ladder, but you still get 50 per cent more for your pound than you did three years ago.

One more tip: to minimise your exchange costs, take your ATM card and use it in one of the many hole-in-the-wall cash machines that have proliferated in Thailand over the past few years.

Visa of the week:

Romania. Last week we mistakenly advised that British visitors did not require visas for Romania. They do. Obtain one from the Romanian Embassy at 4 Palace Green, London W8 (0900 188 0828), for a cost of pounds 33.

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