Simon Calder: The show must go on - but at what cost?
The man who pays his way
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Friday 08 June 2012
The most ambitious term in tourism? Showcase, as in "The Millennium Dome/Jubilee/Olympics will be a tremendous showcase for Britain". In their constant, thankless search for reasons to be cheerful, the champions of UK tourism are understandably keen to latch on to any big event as a source of long-term benefit in bringing travellers to Britain. But the risk of any showcase is that it may expose aspects that render the exercise counterproductive.
As last weekend's sodden spectacular showed, many of the nation's most endearing qualities are revealed in adversity. Battling for the title of Stoics of the Century were the Queen and her consort, standing for hours in a bitterly cold downpour; the million or two spectators by the Thames who ignored forecasts of a wintry weekend; and the saturated singers of the Royal College of Music, whose patriotic medley was undimmed by a storm that would have kept the hardiest of mariners in port.
All of which comprised a showcase of epic proportions, beamed around the globe to the amazement and amusement of folk from Azerbaijan to Arizona (both of which were hot and sunny last weekend). When the world should have been bedazzled, all it saw was a nation at its most bedraggled. Instead of clicking their way to a holiday in the land of hope and glory, prospective visitors presumably added "British summer" to the list of amiable UK idiosyncrasies that begins with The Archers, Cliff Richard and cricket.
No light for the England brigade
Loathe football or love it, the tournament that kicked off yesterday in Warsaw may also misfire as a showcase. On the map, the decision to stage Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine has some merit, but in reality these two great countries are more different than geography might suggest.
Football is superb at unlocking frontiers, as generations of British supporters have discovered when attending away fixtures at the bitter end of the Communist bloc from Tirana to Tbilisi. But Ukraine, where England's first three matches will be played, will fail dismally to showcase the best of the former Soviet republic.
In case you have not yet visited the biggest attractions of Ukraine, they begin with the city of Odessa. Grand 19th-century architecture is complemented by 25 miles of beaches, and topped off by the "Potemkin Steps" where Eisenstein's 1925 classic was shot. Twenty-four hours east and south by train takes you to the peninsula where the Charge of the Light Brigade, galloped into legend. In peaceful times, the vineyards of the Crimea make it a surrogate Soviet south of France.
Unfortunately, neither Odessa nor any of the cities of the Crimea was selected as a venue. Instead, England find themselves with two games in a mining town in the east of Ukraine. Donetsk is the kind of place that, given the finite nature of human existence, you can ignore in your quest to experience the best the world has to offer.
In contrast, Kiev, where England's intervening match will be played, is a vast, fascinating capital that rewards exploration. But not over the next few weeks, when hotel rates soar and the vile racism of a tiny minority of Ukrainians may be in evidence: wait until July to discover the city.
Meanwhile, any football fans considering a trip to Euro 2012 should transfer their allegiance to Ireland, who will be playing in Poland – whose host cities of Gdansk, Poznan, Warsaw and Wroclaw are cannily calculated to show the nation at its best.
Green light for transport
The silver lining revealed by last Sunday's storm clouds was that London's transport system will cope with the Olympics. When the biblical deluge began at 4pm, more than one million people tried to escape from their Thameside locations all at once.
While the Tube's performance was not without overcrowding, delays and frustration, everyone seemed to get home before contracting pneumonia. With most bridges in the centre of the capital blocked, and therefore half the bus network out of commission, the system survived a test far more stressful than Olympic events will offer. Prospective visitors to London can confidently ignore the authorities' predictions of Games gridlock.
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