Simon Calder: Twickers world - how sport events distort travel
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 18 May 2012
A miserable weekend awaits tens of thousands of travellers. A gloomy prediction, reflecting the inevitability that on Sunday many people will head home after two or three expensive and disappointing days away.
Until tonight, no one knows exactly who they will be, but you can easily narrow the field. Many will be supporters of either Leinster or Ulster rugby teams – depending on which of the Irish sides lose today's Heineken Cup Final at Twickenham. Today is also the climax of Europe's club football season, the Champions League Final. The bookies' odds suggest a cloud of despond will accompany followers of Chelsea back from the game in Munich. Even if you would only travel to Twickenham to see Sir Horace Walpole's theatrical Gothic castle of Strawberry Hill, or to Bavaria for its absurd sibling, Neuschwanstein, what happens on the pitch can still affect you.
The dreams of many supporters are routinely shattered at the end of each season. Defeat is bad enough, but for fans whose teams end up losing in some corner of a foreign playing field, the experience – and expense – is magnified. Today, Chelsea take on Bayern Munich in a venue that was chosen long before the competition began. Many of the lucky Bavarian fans can walk to the ground – not an option for supporters of their opponents, who have caused a surge in demand for travel between London and Munich.
Some easyJet flights have risen to more than £900 return. On Sunday, BA has no space on flights from Munich to Heathrow. Beds in Munich are easier to find, partly because it is a home game for Bayern, but also because Bavarian farmers have plenty of practice in running pop-up campsites each autumn for Oktoberfest and can open up their pastures early to Chelsea campers.
Ireland's rugby union fans face much higher prices for finding a room in south-west London. When I made a test booking for tonight at the Premier Inn that adjoins the rugby stadium, I was offered a rate of £149 – but for somewhere way beyond Twickers' world. It applied for a sister hotel nine miles away, at the Hanger Lane Gyratory System. (The property's address, 1-6 Ritz Parade, is as close as you will get to five-star luxe.)
Shameless profiteering? No, just market forces efficiently allocating a scarce resource. Nobody is being forced to attend: fans are willingly paying £320 for a one-way Aer Lingus flight from Heathrow to Dublin on Sunday.
Higher prices also help to expand capacity, enabling more people to travel and sleep. While capacity on a route is normally fixed in the short term, fare increases can persuade airlines to shuffle their fleets and find a few more seats, to the benefit of fans. Ryanair has put on extra flights from Stansted to "Munich West," the pretty town of Memmingen at the western extreme of Bavaria, for £350 return.
How to avoid the final countdown
Normal people, as opposed to travelling sports supporters, may already have hatched a plan to save Irish rugby fans trailing to Twickers and ease the journey for Chelsea supporters. If the sports' governing bodies could only wait until the finalists are known each season, a neutral ground convenient for both sets of fans can be chosen.
Apply this cunning plan to the Heineken Cup, and the obvious ground for today's final is Hamilton Park – home of Sligo RFC, in the neutral Irish province of Connacht. And exactly halfway between Stamford Bridge in London and the Allianz Arena in Munich stands the Stade Josy Barthel in Luxembourg, 350 miles from both.
Yet while Twickenham has a capacity of 82,000, the Sligo resident I spoke to said Hamilton Park could squeeze in "Maybe 1,000 people". And Luxem-bourg's answer to Wembley runs out of seats at the 8,054 mark.
In addition, the right to host a big final is hotly contested and assigned well in advance: 18 May 2013 will be a good day to avoid Dublin unless you are attending the Heineken Cup Final, while Wembley hosts the Champions League decider a week later.
Cup finals create opportunities for non-sporting travellers. Suppose Barcelona meet AC Milan in next year's Champions League Final. Demand for inbound flights to London immediately before, and home afterwards, will soar. But flights in the reverse direction will be half-empty, as will hotels in the contesting cities because normal business tends to ebb away for a big match. Just don't call up Room Service while the final is taking place.
Yes, but what cash will I spend?
Never mind a hypothetical trip next year – how should you organise your holiday finances this summer? My guide at independent.co.uk/eurocash may help. Good luck, everybody.
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