Travel: The Man Who Pays His Way - And now: the individual package holiday

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Indy Lifestyle Online
UNPACKAGING THE package holiday: that is what Britain's biggest tour operator, Thomson, promised this week. From next summer, you will be able to book all kinds of extras, from executive lounges at your departure airport to fresh flowers awaiting you in the hotel room or apartment. At the end of the holiday, you can evade the awful airport scrum by checking in for your return flight at the hotel. You will, of course, have to pay for these new services - even though not all of them are that new. Thomson holiday-makers can already check in the night before departure, for a fee of pounds 10; next summer, that will increase to pounds 15.

The buzz phrase for this multitude of options is "mass customisation"; the corollary is that those of us who are content with an off-the-peg package will become second-class holiday-makers.

Whatever you pay, says the company, you have the right to expect instant troubleshooting in the resort. If you have a problem, promises Thomson, a company representative will be with you within an hour.

For Lawrence Hourahane of Cardiff, who returned this week from a Thomson package to Cala Bona, Mallorca, the attentions of company reps might not be too welcome: "They seemed determined to indoctrinate us into the Thomson way of things and keep us from the locals".

The Thomson party line was proffered by representatives at the Welcome Meeting on the first morning: "We were told travel on local buses would be uncomfortable. Buses, we were assured, would be full of locals with their chickens and goats(!) In fact, the services were a lot better than those in Cardiff: frequent, clean, air-conditioned, and fares were reasonable."

It is an open secret that a significant part of holiday reps' earnings is made up on commission from excursions they sell. The staff on Mr Hourahane's holiday used an interesting selling technique: "They pointed out that booking with the Thomson rep to go to a local show on one particular night would ensure that only guests from Thomson hotels would be in attendance." The implication is that venturing out on another evening ran the risk of finding Germans in the audience, or people who'd booked with Sunworld or, even worse, Mallorcans.

Further hints on how to maintain glorious isolation are contained in the Thomson guide: "It pointed out that Arenal was `popular with Germans'. Enough said; a Thomson tourist knows the code. One more gem from our meeting: Chopin once stayed in a `confusing' monastery on the island; those Carthusians did tend to speak in Spanish, I suppose."

Mr Hourahane wonders if such indoctrination into the company ethic is restricted to Thomson; I fear not, and look forward to reports of further absurdities being trotted out to novice holiday-makers.

THE BALEARIC Islands themselves are promising to put the lid on tourism - the new regional government wants "not a single extra tourist" to the nine million who arrive at Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza every year, one in six of them Brits. The real aim is to attract a "better" class of holiday- makers, who spend more money and drink less lager.

On mainland Spain, upgrades have already been made at places such as Benidorm on the Costa Blanca, and the Costa Brava around Lloret de Mar. All travellers will welcome the great strides taken to clean up both their beaches and their images, but it seems that the real budget bucket- and-spade mob, of which I am a proudly paid-up member, is being squeezed off the sunbeds.

As reported today on page three of today's news section, the obvious bolt-hole for us in future is Turkey - or Croatia, where the tourist office subsidises each charter flight seat.

IF YOU decide to stay in Britain instead, be warned that the unwary tourist can still be fleeced. Following our expose of the holiday scams that await us abroad this summer, Jane Sinson of Leeds writes with a problem finding water at the National Museum of Glass in Sunderland: "Lunch was not cheap (pounds 10 per head). We asked for tap water to drink and were refused it on the grounds of health and safety".

Apparently the tap water in Sunderland is not safe to drink, so the restaurant serves only mineral water. "We pointed out that my friend had lived in Sunderland and continues to work there and had not come to any apparent harm by drinking the tap water.

"After some discussion the young woman waiting on our table agreed to provide us with two glasses of tap water. These were brought by the maitre d', who assured us that there had been a misunderstanding about the safety of the tap water and that we could have as much as we liked.

"However, the restaurant preferred customers to accompany their meal with mineral water. I'm sure they do."

PERHAPS YOU should head west for the summer, instead, and check out some of the spectaculars offered by the Mississippi Division of Tourism Development (whose phone number is 001 800 WARMEST, apparently a reference to the sort of welcome you may expect). The summer fun gets under way today in the town of Mize, with the mouthwatering-sounding Watermelon Festival: "The juicy red pulp is dripping and sweet, and its slick black seeds are perfect for the watermelon seed-spitting accuracy contest." Alternatively, you are invited to "try your hand at the greased watermelon race".

Next month, the Pontotoc Bodock Festival takes place, and as the Calendar of Events points out, "No bodock festival would be complete without a bodock fence post-throwing contest." And just so you don't forget you are in the land with the right to bear arms, down on the coast at Biloxi you can expect some excitement: "High Calibre Gun and Knife Show - if guns and knives pique your interest, you'll be thrilled by the assorted display offered at this show". I'll stick with a second-class return to Mallorca.

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