Travel: Simon Calder

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The Independent Online
Message for Gordon Brown: your predecessor as chancellor, Ken Clarke, has stung air travellers for around pounds 1.5bn in tax since he introduced Air Passenger Duty in 1994. You doubled the tax last November - since when the number of British travellers flying abroad has increased. (That visitors to the UK have to pay pounds 10 or pounds 20 to leave the country is another issue - but the consultant Deloitte and Touche says the tax deters half a million would-be tourists to Britain.)

We outbound travellers must appear so soft a touch that you are, no doubt, sorely tempted to add yet more to the cost of air travel in Tuesday's Budget. I fear that even though the speech takes place on St Patrick's Day, you may not stop short of increasing taxes to Ireland and elsewhere in Europe. But may I suggest a compromise, as just announced by your counterpart in Norway?

From April, the country will charge a pounds 12 tax for every aircraft seat - whether or not it is filled. If a passenger cannot be found to occupy the place (and pay the tax), the airline has to cough up. Other governments charge only for seats that are filled. Norway's splendidly simple measure is designed to cut waste by persuading airlines to match the number of flights more closely to demand. At present, a scheduled airline that fills seven out of 10 of its seats is doing well; in other words, three out of every 10 flights world-wide are unnecessary.

The airlines are squealing about added costs, and no doubt fear that the concept will spread. But people who use charter flights need not fear increased fares; these are usually operated completely full, as we who have endured the 27-hour Melbourne to Manchester charter operated by Austravel know all too well.

From France comes news of another tempting tax: on holiday brochures. Fed up with the enormous waste of these glossy publications, the French government has started to tax the holiday companies that produce them. In Britain, around 140 million brochures are produced every year - about five for every foreign holiday.

Vietnam touches travellers for 10,000 dong (about pounds 4) for domestic flights - though judging by the list of exceptions you'd be unlucky to end up paying. Neil Taylor of Regent Holidays in Bristol found himself booking a client on a domestic flight from Danang, when the reservations computer came up with this list of exclusions:

"Vietnam government leaders and accompanying persons, official guests of the Vietnam Government and Communist Party of Vietnam, officials and employees of embassies, consulates and United Nations agencies in Vietnam."

Don't give up yet; the list continues: "Vietnam's hero mothers, war invalids of Vietnam's army with blindness, without arms/ legs or more serious disabilities, stretcher and wheelchair passengers, infants and children under 12, transit passengers and cabin crew on duty."