Cool Britannia makes tour trade hot

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The Independent Online
SUMMER 1998 is putting smiles on the faces of travel agents as last-minute tourists desperate to escape Britain's dreary weather pay top prices for a place in the sun.

In one of the gloomiest summers for years, thousands are missing out on the usual short-notice bargain breaks. Most travel agents warn that the few remaining holidays on offer will be at full brochure price or more. Airtours Holidays, a leading package-tour operator, has taken advantage of the late surge in bookings by bumping up the prices of its most popular destinations by an average of pounds 20.

Earlier this week the company sent a letter to its agents telling them to maximise their "mutual earning potential".

Anita McErlean, director of corporate communications, said: "We are selling out very fast, mainly because of poor weather. Price increases are principally for the peak period of school holidays when demand is exceptionally high."

This "fluid pricing" policy, although legal, was condemned by the National Consumer Council. Its spokesman, Rory Hegarty, said: "This is very bad practice for the consumer. It is unfair, and we would advise people to go with those companies that stick to the brochure price."

Debbie Bloor, of the tour operator Thomson, admitted that this year popular destinations such as Majorca and Ibiza were far from cheap for sun-seeking families.

Holiday-makers can still get 14-night half-board breaks inMajorca at pounds 585 per person, or in Ibiza at pounds 653 with Thomson, but Ms Bloor admitted they were "not outstanding deals".

She said: "Consumers need to be very flexible this year. Demand is nearly outstripping supply, so they need to take whatever is on offer, to whatever destination, from whatever departure point.

"We try to discourage people waiting for last-minute deals by offering discounts earlier in the season. Although our brochure price is the ceiling price customers will have to pay."

The Association of British Travel Agents admitted that this could be the best year so far for the holiday trade. Keith Betton, head of corporate affairs, said: "More people are going away this year than ever before because of the bad weather and the good exchange rate.

"The industry is already around 5 per cent up on last year.

"The big tour operators have all used fluid pricing policies in the past three years, although Airtours appears to be the only company operating this way at the moment."

The mainstream tour operator Cosmos still has plenty of holidays in Tenerife and the Algarve.

A spokeswoman said: "We've got no bargain-bucket deals but there are still plenty of places for those wanting to get away." .but is a dampener for the ice cream vendor

GEOFFREY HOCKING is a fourth-generation partner inHockings ice cream company in Devon. "The lack of sun may mean fewer tourists but those who do holiday here, as well as our regular local customers, buy ice-creams whatever the weather. Stoicism in the face of adversity is part of our British make-up. So if people have come here to relax, they'll make absolutely sure that they enjoy themselves. And what better enjoyment is there than a home-made ice cream with a generous dollop of Devon clotted cream?' ...the resort landlord JIM NORRIS owns the Apollo guest-house in Hastings, East Sussex. "My main enemy this year has been the World Cup more than the weather. The grey and dull summer has lost me business, as many people have opted for a holiday abroad.

The repercussions of a World Cup on our doorstep though, have been far more severe. East Sussex usually attracts many Swedes and Norwegians during the summer months, but this year I've barely had to use my phrase-books. Most visitors are making a last-minute, impromptu decision to come here. Hopefully, August will prove to be a more fruitful month."

SANDRA SINCLAIR is manageress of the John o' Groats Knitwear shop, in the most north-easterly point in Britain. "The bad weather has obviously discouraged potential tourists from making the pilgrimage to John o' Groats. But all the sandy beaches of Spain aren't a patch on the view we enjoy from here. It gives you a feeling of living, rather than merely existing; there really is nowhere like it. Also, while the tea-shop may be suffering from the lack of visitors, our outdoors shopping section is trading briskly. You would be surprised how many people leave their umbrella at home."

KEVIN BARRAND is Resorts and Entertainments Officer in Scarborough. "Deck-chair leases are down 10 per cent from last year ... So we're all hoping the sun will come out before the middle of August. It will all be downhill from there if it doesn't. At the moment, the beaches are predictably quiet, as most people are only using them during the few short periods of sunshine. Looking on the bright side though, the poor summer weather has enabled our new sun-bed range to be launched with ease. We've yet to see any unruly confrontations ... between over-keen tourists first thing in the morning."

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