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Spend & Save

Donald MacInnes: Why I'm waving goodbye to freebies - until the next time

In The Red

As I write, the redoubtable Mrs MacInnes will be digging her heels into the flanks of a wearisome rental horse and urging her accompanying posse of mounted travel agents through the surf on some Moroccan beach.

In her job as an account manager for an airline she sometimes has to act as a guide for a coterie of industry professionals, whom she whisks off to such climes, gratis; the idea being, when they get back to Blighty, they will be suitably enthusiastic about the trip and will push it as a destination for their clients.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should confirm that I have been on my share of free trips. Actually, I have been on a lot of people's share of free trips. But that's the nature of journalism, or certainly used to be.

There was a time when, as long as you had enough holiday time, you could find yourself on an all-expenses-paid trip to anywhere in the world as often as you liked. You and half a dozen other journalists from various papers and magazines would be met at the check-in desk by the public relations person who usually worked for either the destination's tourist board or the airline.

What followed was anything from a few days to a week of being treated like some kind of magnificent, laser-emitting emperor. Going on press trips would make you think that every waiter, receptionist or taxi driver from Mexico City to St Petersburg existed purely to place slivers of melon on your tongue and iron your khaki leisure suit at the drop of a fez.

I actually grew tired of all the fawning and deviation-free itineraries (you do tend to get led around by the nose a lot … "Look at this … isn't this amazing?" Then on to the next wax sculpture or underground monorail), so I resolved not to accept any more invitations to go on any freebies.

Handy, then, that at pretty much the same time, the travel industry realised it barely had two pesetas to rub together, so should probably refrain from handing out five-star trips to anyone with a press card and a nice line in overly descriptive prose.

So my days of quaffing pricey wines and sampling swoon-inducing local cakes, while some flunky rubbed my feet, are over. Well, until my next press trip. Wherever that may be. Now, where did I put my camel repellent … ?