Travel: Simon Calder Column

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The Independent Online
Ronnie Biggs signs autographs with a flourish and the phrase "My kind of luck". The real reason Brazil's Supreme Court has just agreed that the Great Train Robber can live out his days in Rio was in case he couldn't afford to leave the country. On Monday this week, travellers about to leave Brazil found the country's departure tax had multiplied five-fold from pounds 11 to pounds 55.

The new rule is intended to persuade residents (such as Mr Biggs) to holiday at home, but it may also be used as a revenue-raising device to fleece foreigners - just like Britain's Air Passenger Duty. Rumours among airlines and agents have been rife all week about when the tax hike might be applied, and to whom. Some believe all passengers are being clobbered with immediate effect, while others have been told that only locals will be affected and that New Year's Day is the chosen date. Brazil's airports tend to be lively places at the best of time. The effects of this increase in creating yet more chaos do not bear thinking about.

A favourite technique among travellers to countries with exciteable economies is to bury the departure tax in a spare sock and spend every last cruzeiro, cruzado or real (a few of the currencies that Brazil has tried in the past decade) before the journey home. What happens when you turn up at Rio airport only to find the tax has increased by a factor of five, and that you are pounds 44 short? Three suggestions in increasing order of desperation: (a) borrow the cash from a fellow traveller; (b) wait until your permitted stay expires and ask to be deported; or (c) investigate whether any Brazilian trains are known to carry large quantities of used banknotes.

Brazil is one of dozens of nations spending a small fortune on a presence at the World Travel Market which takes place in London this coming week. Another is Kenya, a country which has not been getting the best press possible in the last three months. To quote the Foreign Office: "Since mid-August there have been a number of violent incidents in Coast Province, in which local people have been killed and properties burned ... game reserves and other tourist areas are generally safe but muggings and armed attacks can occur anywhere and at any time."

Tourism authorities usually work hard to counteract the fall in visitor numbers that can result from advice like that. Croatia, for example, has just announced that it will subsidise charter flights from the UK next summer.

Kenya, though, has just added around 10 per cent to the cost of a holiday. Starting today, British visitors need a visa to visit the East African country. The good news is that you can get it at the airport when you arrive, as well as at the High Commission in London; the bad news is that a single entry visa costs pounds 35 (the good-ish news is that this is a fiver less than the figure first announced on Wednesday).

The Immigration Department in Nairobi says the move is a response to the British government's decision, last year, to charge Kenyans for UK visas. Lots of other countries, from Turkey to the Dominican Republic, have implemented such reciprocal charges after the UK has changed the rules in what many feel has been an arbitrary and clumsy way. But the timing and cost of Kenya's new layer of bureaucracy is astonishing.

It comes a fortnight after Britain's Air Passenger Duty doubled. The combined effect of the increase is sure to make make travellers cross Kenya off the Christmas holiday list. Before 1 November, you would have handed pounds 22 direct to the UK and Kenyan government in taxes. From today, that amount more than triples to pounds 67. A side-trip to Zanzibar adds another pounds 62.

Yesterday Thomson Direct (0990 502580) offered me a week's holiday in Majorca, departing this morning and staying in a good self-catering apartment, for exactly that total: pounds 129, including tax.

Next March, the London Docklands Development Corporation gets statuarily wound up. Until then, it seems to be doing its utmost to winding up tourists.

At the tourist information centre in Docklands in east London, you are given a map showing the Thames Path along the north shore, for example. As a piece of tourism infrastructure, this trail is fairly flawed: for almost all its length it's not a path and there's no view of the Thames. Any tourists attempting to follow the map would find themselves up Bow Creek without a paddle.

The Docklands Experience gets stranger still when you watch the video extolling the region's virtues. You are given the surprising news that Canary Wharf is as close to the Bank of England as is Oxford Circus. Not only is this surprising; it is also completely incorrect. However you measure it, Canary Wharf is at least a mile further away.

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