Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way

The slogans you won't hear on this year's campaign trail

Making travel an election issue is doomed to failure. Not since the Holidays With Pay Act of 1938 has travel been a hot political issue. "Travel, travel, travel" may be your mantra, but during the impending election campaign, travel will rate about as highly in the minds of politicians as the application of the Common Agricultural Policy in Lithuania.

Making travel an election issue is doomed to failure. Not since the Holidays With Pay Act of 1938 has travel been a hot political issue. "Travel, travel, travel" may be your mantra, but during the impending election campaign, travel will rate about as highly in the minds of politicians as the application of the Common Agricultural Policy in Lithuania.

That's not to say travel should be irrelevant. For a start, the next Chancellor must face up to the fact that each man, woman and child in Britain spends an average of £300 more on foreign holidays than overseas visitors bring in; the "tourism deficit" is now approaching two per cent of GDP, and becoming a substantial drain on the nation's finances.

Environmentally, the last 10 years has seen the number of flights within and from the UK multiply, and the price of air travel fall; the absence of taxation on aviation fuel makes it rational for travellers to fly between London and Manchester rather than use the half-empty train. And socially, the sudden shift from the package holiday to "residential tourism" (you buy a place in the sun and live there for half the year) has profound implications on everything from the provision of services to spending in the high street.

Travel may never win or lose an election for any party - but people from the travel industry might. The spin surgeons from airlines, hotels and tourist offices have a knack of putting the very best gloss on everything. The north-west coast of Spain, for example, is uncharacteristically cool and damp. But do the tourist authorities sum it up as the "Costa del Drizzle"? No, it's "Green Spain". And the May to September wet season in Costa Rica, when everything is so sodden that the country turns to mush, is officially the "Green Season".

* The hotel mini-bar remains a source of aggravation for travellers and excessive profits for hotels. If the prices were merely twice the market rate then most establishments would earn much more. But while mark-ups remain at around five times cost, I shall continue to be among the many guests who prefer to buy their own water, beer or wine and store it in the fridge. But in a hotel I visited recently, the refrigerator carried a warning that such imports would be confiscated. "The only function for this mini-bar is for the drinks provided by the hotel. Our staff have been authorised to withdraw any items found in the mini-bar that are not stated."

In other words, if it isn't listed on the inventory, it'll be lifted for the Christmas party. With breathtaking cheek, the notice ends by thanking the guest for helping the hotel "improve service". It reminds me of the invitation aimed at motorcyclists at my local branch of Tesco: "Please help us to serve you better by removing your crash helmet as you enter the store." The idea is not remotely intended to serve bikers better. Its purpose is to cut the occurence of robbery scares; in my area, wearing a visor is a pre-requisite for large-scale theft - which is also a fair description for most mini-bar prices.

* The world's favourite airline may no longer be the British Airways slogan - two other European airlines eclipse it - but BA continues to portray itself as the upmarket choice. When I flew to Cologne this week to research 48 Hours, one reason I picked BA over the no-frills offerings from easyJet and Germanwings was the promise of in-flight meals. On a scheduled 80-minute trip like Heathrow-Cologne you hardly expect a four-course dinner. But in economy class the offering comprised a small plastic pack labelled "Savoury Option Rot 6". Inside was an offering of so little substance that it should have been called a "no-course meal".

It would have been nice had the Cheese Coleslaw Wrap contained more than the 1.3 per cent cheese confessed on the label, but the scale of the offering was implausibly miniature. The "snack" comprised two coin-sized slices of the aforementioned wrap, plus a packet of miniature pretzels (I counted 16) and a sachet of Soured Cream and Chive Dip. So miserly was the meal that I presume that especially ravenous passengers are supposed to plunge the serviette into the dip.

* At least visitors to Britain will be able to enjoy every aspect of the country up to and including polling day. In other parts of the world - notably Greece, Guatemala and Venezuela - the electorate is deemed not to be responsible enough to vote while under the influence of alcohol. And while the locals are well aware of this, and can lay stocks in accordingly, the hapless tourist goes thirsty.

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