Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way
Thanks to David Beckham's penalty, June is unlikely to prove a licence to print euros for Britain's holiday companies.
Saturday 08 June 2002
Glum – that sums up the mood in parts of the travel industry at 2.21 yesterday afternoon. Now that England no longer look like coming home in ignominy, the surge in sales that tour operators and travel agents were expecting failed to materialise.
Glum – that sums up the mood in parts of the travel industry at 2.21 yesterday afternoon. Now that England no longer look like coming home in ignominy, the surge in sales that tour operators and travel agents were expecting failed to materialise. Thanks to David Beckham's penalty, June is unlikely to prove a licence to print euros for Britain's holiday companies.
"You've done the flag-waving, the face-painting and the pub-going in old blighty," gasped a circular from the website www.opodo.co.uk, sent out an hour after the final whistle, "Now it's time to take it to the sun" – more in hope than expectation, I suspect.
Talking to easyJet, it appears that few are taking up the opportunity of watching England play Nigeria somewhere warm and slightly more exotic than the pub. "We have noticed a kind of World Cup phenomenon," says Samantha Day of the Luton-based no-frills airline. "People are holding on to see how England fare in the Cup before they book their trips. Our call centre was like a whisper during the match. For June there's still a lot of availability and as a result low prices." The prospect of a general strike in Spain 12 days from now is not exactly doing wonders for sales, either.
"If we'd lost today, some people would undoubtedly have gone out and booked holidays," says Rachel O'Reilly of Britain's biggest tour operator, Thomson. "People would have been saying 'Sod it, let's go on holiday'. But from our point of view June bookings are looking pretty good anyway."
Over to Chelsea FC, where the president of the Association of British Travel Agents, Stephen Bath, watched the match in the company of other travel industry luminaries. His post-match reaction: "Money isn't everything. The victory was important for many reasons. A few more percentage points on sales is nothing compared with the thrill of beating Argentina." Surprisingly, his company, Bath Travel, sold every seat on a day-trip from Bournemouth to Iceland yesterday.
"Bookings dipped today," concedes Jim French – managing director of Europe's biggest regional airline, British European, and a Scot. "But these things flatten out. Some people in the industry will blame the World Cup, the Jubilee and any other excuse they can think of if things aren't going according to plan."
The only boss of a tour operator to have played professional football is Terry Williamson, legendary left-back for Crawley Town FC and now managing director of Cosmos. He is looking forward to England going all the way – for profit, as well as patriotism. "When people feel good, they spend money."
Travel Industry offices resembled the Marie Celeste yesterday afternoon – and, in the case of some staff of the guide book publisher Lonely Planet, that is exactly where they were. Their north London local is called the Marie Celeste (not, apparently, as lifeless as it sounds). The guide book compilers were allowed out for a long lunch only if they accepted a wager from management. If England won, then they need not make up the time; but if Argentina won, they were obliged to put in twice as many hours at the end of the day, in football detention.
Talking of gambles: on Wednesday I took one, but discovered the scale of the risk only on Thursday. My unwitting speculation was to buy a ticket, for travel tomorrow, from London to the Welsh resort of Pwllheli.
The scale of the problem should have been apparent when details of the outward journey spilled on to a second ticket. But at the time I was more exercised by the discovery that, to reach Pwllheli by rail the same day, the latest you can leave the capital is 1pm – and finding that it is possible to catch a train from London to Wales and still be travelling seven-and-a-half-hours later .
It was only on Thursday morning, and the Strategic Rail Authority's revelation that one in five trains runs at least 10 minutes late, that the uncertainties of the journey became apparent. My trip involves three changes, with an average of less than 10 minutes allowed for each.
Elementary probability theory reveals that the chances of the first three trains all being under 10 minutes late, and allowing the connections to be made, is just 51 per cent. In other words, there's almost an evens chance that I will end up spending the night at Newport, Shrewsbury or Dovey Junction, depending on where the connection fails.
Meanwhile, I write this column from the Land that House Prices Forgot – a dishevelled corner of London SE1, somewhere east of Waterloo. I am aboard a Connex train that has apparently been abandoned to its fate in a no-trains-land. Earlier in the day I enjoyed similarly extended, static views of Basingstoke station and some railway sidings outside Woking. Three trains, three delays of more than 10 minutes. I content myself with knowing that raw probability says there is only one chance in 125 chance of this mild misfortune. And invoking the travel principle that good and bad travel experiences tend to cancel each other out, I look forward to a flawless performance by the railway teams of England – and Wales – tomorrow. But I wouldn't bet on it.
Is Britain tilting towards Cornwall? According to the new National Rail Timetable, it will be soon. The longest journey is the 12-hour, 15-minute haul from Dundee to Penzance. But no corresponding train makes the journey the other way. So if your train fails to appear, it is probably gathering sand at the end of the line.
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