Travel: Simon Calder's Travel Column

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The Independent Online
One soon-to-be-famous hotel features in none of the deluge of summer '99 brochures that submerged my desk this week: the Sultan Palas in southern Turkey. The peaceful residence is just too remote for most holiday-makers and tour operators - which makes it ideal for the makers of a marvellously mischievous new documentary series. The nub of The Tourist Trap (Channel 4, Tuesday, 9pm) is: what do German tourists do if a hotel has only half the requisite number of sunbeds? And how do Japanese, American and British holiday-makers cope with the same crisis? In order to confirm or confound national stereotypes, the Sultan Palas Hotel was converted into a human laboratory.

Here's how it worked. The production company, Windfall Films, placed advertisements in the UK, the US, Germany and Japan, offering free holidays. From hundreds of applicants, 30 were chosen from each country. The only condition was that the participants agreed to be filmed, though most of the British contingent seemed to assume it was some sort of timeshare scam.

Each nationality was assigned a separate week at the Sultan Palas, during which everything was engineered to ensure an identical experience to the other groups. When they arrived, they saw a standard television crew. What they didn't see was the 11 concealed cameras and 30 hidden microphones, linked by miles of cable and operated by remote control from the secret bunker where the production team hid for a month. No "docu-soap" this: the programme heralds a whole new TV genre, which you could call a flea- on-the-fly-on-the-wall documentary.

The programme-makers also neglected to tell the cast that among their number were a couple of stooges - actors, briefed to commit all manner of anti-social acts, such as lighting up on a non-smoking excursion coach.

Whatever their effect on future bookings for the Sultan Palas, the results make gripping television. From the evidence of the first programme, though, the British are not going to dazzle with decency. We coped creditably well with the moustachioed proprietor's unnecessarily slurpy welcome kiss to every new arrival, male and female alike (this is Channel 4, remember). But when one of the stooges began stealing drinks from the bar, the British and Americans both connived. The Germans and Japanese respectively ostracised and shopped the offender.

And that hoary old German/sunlounger stereotype? As they quickly discovered, by deftly separating the mattress from the sunbed, the number of loungers can instantly be doubled. Did I catch a muted but triumphant "Vorsprung durch Technik" on one of the hidden microphones?