Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way

The true cost of being an international traveller

Say what you like about the problems caused by tourists, but for many parts of the world we represent economic salvation. Spain was rescued from the moribund decades under a fascist dictator by millions of us going on holiday to the Costas. Poor countries recovering from war, such as Vietnam and Nicaragua, find tourism an excellent labour-intensive, low-investment source of foreign exchange. Almost every country benefits from visitor spending, and finance ministers collect a small fortune in sales tax paid by travellers on almost everything we buy.

Say what you like about the problems caused by tourists, but for many parts of the world we represent economic salvation. Spain was rescued from the moribund decades under a fascist dictator by millions of us going on holiday to the Costas. Poor countries recovering from war, such as Vietnam and Nicaragua, find tourism an excellent labour-intensive, low-investment source of foreign exchange. Almost every country benefits from visitor spending, and finance ministers collect a small fortune in sales tax paid by travellers on almost everything we buy.

Even when in holiday mood, though, there are limits to our generosity. If countries or cities regard us as a soft touch for tax, we may take our spending money elsewhere.

The Canadians, being friendly and positive, put a friendly and positive spin on the departure tax levied at every major airport. The practice of charging visitors for the privilege of leaving the country is described as an "Airport Improvement Fee". Most of us are in favour of improving airports. But standard practice when trying to lure tourists is to invest in infrastructure before they arrive. In Canada, the traveller is obliged pay for the privilege of visiting a building site.

This week the country's busiest and most chaotic airport, Toronto, announced a 25 per cent increase in the fee, the second in a year. Worse yet, the airport says: "Fees are in Canadian dollars and are exclusive of applicable taxes." So you may have to pay tax on the tax. Alternatively, stay at home and read our Complete Guide to East Coast Canada, starting on page 16, for no additional fee.

Visitors to Kansas City are about to start paying what I can only describe as a mayoral improvement fee. This week voters in the city on the Missouri river approved Mayor Kay Barnes's plan to build a $250m sports arena in a derelict downtown location - to be funded largely by tourists. A tax of $1.50 a night will be added to hotel bills, while anyone renting a car will pay an extra $4 a day as an arena add-on.

These non-optional extras could deter tourists who prefer not to bankroll Kansas City's version of Wembley stadium.

One of America's biggest car-rental companies, Enterprise, fought an expensive campaign against the project, fearing the impact of higher prices on its business. But Kansas Citians (yes, that is what they call themselves) say the rental giant is merely stirring up yet more intra-state rivalry. Enterprise is based 250 miles away in St Louis, which has long had the upper hand. Mayor Barnes expects the quarter-billion-dollar project to reverse those positions. And guess what: the arena is due to open in 2007, shortly before she leaves office.

With luck building the arena will proceed more peaceably than another ambitious infrastructure project: to create Albania's second airport. In case you have not heard of Zayed International, it promises to be one of the most dramatic airports in Europe, at the foot of an 8,000ft mountain, and should open up a dramatic landscape to independent travellers. The United Arab Emirates is funding the £10m project in the poorest quarter of Europe's most backward nation.

Disputes over land ownership and compensation have escalated to a level that make Swampy - the celebrated protester against a second runway at Manchester - look amateur. When the builders moved in to start preparing the ground, they came under fire from angry locals well armed with automatic weapons. You could wait a long time for the first flight. When it arrives you may wish to take a good look at your fellow passengers before you board. Perhaps travel agency e-bookers had the new airport in mind when it e-mailed customers on Thursday with what it called a special "SAS fights [sic] offer".

PITCH IN TO EASE LONDON'S BUDGET ROOM SHORTAGE

Commuters walking from London's Waterloo station to work one morning last week saw a curious ritual unfold, or rather fold. Shortly before 8am, a pair of young women carefully gathered their two-person tent. They neatly rolled up their sleeping bags and packed everything into a couple of rucksacks that, had they been any more voluminous, would have comprised sought-after office space for the capital.

The precise location for this strange performance was a patch of parkland in London SE1 called Millennium Green - so named because it was dreamed up some time in the last decade, and finally finished about a week ago. The temporary (and unofficial) campsite stands at the foot of the approach road to Waterloo station, Britain's rail terminus for Europe.

For inbound travellers who arrive on the last train from Paris, shortly before 11pm, Millennium Green must be a tempting prospect. It is closer to the station than the Marriott County Hall, and £241 cheaper - that being the "rack rate" for a double room at Waterloo's fanciest hotel. Best of all, it is well placed for some of the capital's leading tourist attractions, with Tate Modern and the London Eye just a short walk away.

Pitching a tent amid the shrubs breaks local by-laws, and Lambeth Council no doubt intends to crack down on free camping. But cut-price accommodation for impecunious visitors to the capital is vanishing: Tent City is no more.

This camping commune in west London used to be the best budget option for shoestring travellers. Its location was Wormwood Scrubs: on the far side of this vast open space from Her Majesty's Prison. The interiors of some tents were even less palatable than a prison cell, but at least the occupants could come and go as they pleased - and, much to the annoyance of prison inmates, attend noisy open-air parties each evening.

Not a single patch of canvas remains at Wormwood Scrubs, though mementoes of Tent City can still be found: a rotting sleeping bag in the bushes, and a carpet of broken glass from the parties.

London still has a campsite but it is located at Crystal Palace, in the far south of the capital. Sleeping in stations is no longer allowed. So urban camping will become de rigueur as summer goes on.

Old guidebooks like The Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe offer assessments of the wisdom of camping in city parks such as the Borghese Gardens in Rome and the Tiergarten in Berlin. I have done my fair share of city camping, with mixed results. Late one night in Galway City, I nipped over a fence and pitched a tent on a tempting open space. After a comfortable night, I awoke to find a school caretaker unzipping the flap and suggesting forcefully that I move on from his playing field - with dozens of amused pupils offering advice on how to dismantle a tent in a hurry.

With budget rooms in London scarce, the propensity of people to pitch tents in public places can only increase. The solution: press the world's biggest and most expensive tent into service, and at last find a purpose for the Millennium Dome.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...