Bringing Sunshine into the lives of Britain's travel agents

No dependable cure for jet lag has yet been found, but the excellent website of the travel health specialist Wexas offers some good advice for minimising the effects of flights across time zones. Select www.masta.org.uk, click your way to the jet lag calculator, enter the approximate coordinates for the start and end of your trip and the computer will prescribe your best course of action. Whether or not you choose to follow it is, of course, up to you.

No dependable cure for jet lag has yet been found, but the excellent website of the travel health specialist Wexas offers some good advice for minimising the effects of flights across time zones. Select www.masta.org.uk, click your way to the jet lag calculator, enter the approximate coordinates for the start and end of your trip and the computer will prescribe your best course of action. Whether or not you choose to follow it is, of course, up to you.

Before I flew west to Orlando in Florida for the annual convention of the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta), I checked out the recommendations. On the flight, I sought to "maintain a sufficient fluid intake - not all alcoholic - so as to prevent dehydration", and took "the occasional stroll to guard against muscle cramp". I fell down - or rather dozed off - on the instruction to sleep only "if it is coincident with night time at your destination". Most US-bound aircraft leave the UK in the morning or early afternoon, arriving late afternoon or early evening. But I defy anyone not to take at least a nap during the eight-hour-plus flight to the Sunshine State.

The instruction for arrival was easier: "Try to be active in bright light between noon and 6pm on the new local time." With a late afternoon touchdown, this was not the most arduous of tasks. But I fear that the final recommendation will not be observed by many of the delegates at the Abta convention: "Try to relax and avoid bright light between 8pm and 2am on the new local time." Relax, yes - but the average British travel agent seems to crave the bright lights until at least 2am.

As I write, Abta bosses are nervously awaiting the welcome party, to be held at Disney's Animal Kingdom. "Alcohol will not be served to under-21s. Please take photo ID." Though life in the travel industry inevitably adds years to your apparent age, the US hospitality trade is so averse to the risk of serving anyone under the age of 21 that they go to the opposite extreme. As I mentioned earlier this year, bartenders have been known to "card" (demand proof of age from) people pushing 50.

Assuming no one gets as drunk as a skunk at the Animal Kingdom, the festivities will move to O'Lando's - not a misprint but the late-night bar operated by Tourism Ireland. Then it's on to a club for yet more bright lights and, er, relaxation, no matter the cost to the body clock.

You should sympathise with the travel agents' attempts to submerge their sorrows - they have plenty to drown. In the past decade their trade has been stripped bare by the depressing (for them) and cheering (for us) combination of cheap flights and the internet. We travellers believe that we have the technological wherewithal to become amateur tour operators, but this theory is unlikely to work effectively for an Easter city break or a top-quality Mediterranean sojourn in the school holidays. And good travel agents can certainly make the difference between an average holiday and a fabulous travel experience. The trouble is that for many bread-and-butter transactions, such as short-haul flights or ferry crossings, the internet often renders intermediaries redundant.

Sadly, redundancy is facing many in the travel industry. For example, Britain's leading tour operator, TUI - formerly known as Thomson - is cutting 800 staff "as part of a strategy to reduce costs throughout the business". Those who remain could see a serious drop in their quality of life. TUI enjoys by far the best HQ location of any big tour operator: the splendid Greater London House, embraced by Mornington Crescent. This former cigarette factory has been lavishly converted, and a lunchtime stroll takes staff to Regent's Park or Camden Market. But those lucky enough to keep their jobs must now look forward to taking lunch in the prosaic surroundings of Luton airport, which is where their new offices will be.

Despite this, the organisation, and the industry, are a long way from doomsday. For a snapshot of where people are going, I sought the latest passenger figures from Gatwick airport. This gives a good picture of travel habits, because unlike most UK airports it has a mix of charter, no-frills and traditional scheduled traffic. The top three destinations, you may not be surprised to learn, are all in Spain: Malaga, Palma de Mallorca and Alicante, which serves Benidorm and the rest of the Costa Blanca. Orlando's main airport, McCoy, makes fourth place. The rest of the top 10 is fairly predictable: Tenerife South, Edinburgh, Faro, Dublin, Amsterdam and Geneva.

A few surprises: Edinburgh gets 80 per cent more passengers than Glasgow, and Scotland's largest city doesn't even make the top 20. And if you add the number of passengers flying from Gatwick to Orlando's charter airport to those travelling to the main airport, the total is within a couple of Jumbos of the score for Malaga, which has only one airport. All other things being equal, the influx of travel agents journalists for the Abta convention should swing it in Orlando's favour next time.

The foot of the table makes equally interesting reading. During the course of the year, there were 10 destinations to which just a single passenger flew from Gatwick. These are likely to be executive jets carrying one very important (and rich) individual. I know you're dying to know where they flew, so here goes: Farmingdale and Rochester in the US; the two secondary airports in Sweden's largest cities, Gothenburg (Save) and Stockholm (Bromma), plus the Swedish airport of Angelholm; Bron airport in Lyon, and Maastricht in Holland - destination for Richard Branson's first European foray; Foula in Shetland; and two airports on Gatwick's doorstep, Northolt in Middlesex and Stapleford Tawney in Essex. Some people are able to beat the traffic on the M25.

Could Ryanair Gaffe Spell Trouble?

Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, says he would not dream of flying the Atlantic. But according to the airline's website, it is shortly to begin flying from Stansted to the Caribbean.

The latest addition to the list of destinations is Grenada, which you might reasonably assume to be the West Indian island recently devastated by a hurricane. The fare looks very reasonable - I found a flight for £38 return - and the journey time, at under three hours, is positively hypersonic.

Sadly for anyone who thinks they can reach the Caribbean in a trice for under £40, the destination is a spelling mistake. Ryanair is actually starting flights to the Andalucian city of Granada in southern Spain. But I'd love to be a spectator at the court case when an aggrieved passenger demands to be flown to the Antilles, not the Alhambra.

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