The Man Who Pays His Way

"The world is full of beautiful places and more and more people are travelling to see them every year."

How true. This assertion is made by British Airways Holidays. Or, rather, it was made by BA's leisure offshoot in its brochures, on a green (literally and figuratively) page that outlined how the company was "Caring about the world".

The world may be dismayed to find that BA Holidays no longer appears to care about the globe, and that its aim "to ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy beautiful places" seems to have been jettisoned in favour of making more money.

The company's new Worldwide brochure makes much of the benefits of all-inclusive holidays, first-class air travel and private taxi transfers, but there is no room in its 340 glossy pages for the advice on wise tourism that characterised previous editions.

BA Holidays used to be well ahead of other big long-haul tour operators in spelling out some truths about the impact of tourism. Customers were urged to "help the local economy by buying local products and services", and to "visit local reserves, parks and support the efforts of those involved in environmental protection".

Now, the emphasis has changed to sell all-inclusive resorts: "Budgeting becomes easy when meals and drinks are already paid for" – in other words, don't help the local economy by buying local products and services.

Funny things have been happening at Astral Towers, the quasi-cosmic office block in Crawley where BA Holidays resides. The company has become half of Accoladia, which sounds like a remedy for exotic gastric illnesses, but means precisely nothing (except a fat fee for the marketing consultants who thought up the name).

The other portion of Accoladia is Thomas Cook Holidays. Much of the BA Holidays team is being uprooted from its present location, with a fine view of the runway at Gatwick airport and the Sussex countryside, and moving north to Thomas Cookville, also known as Peterborough. So have the company's green credentials been left in a skip outside Astral Towers? No, says Colin Whaley, Accoladia's head of sales and marketing:

"I'm proud that BA Holidays has been a leader in this field. We're approaching the brochure in a different way, with smaller boxes about the environment in the destination areas where they're more pertinent, and where customers will read them."

The previous promise that £1 from each holidaymaker would be set aside for conservation work has gone – for good reason, says Mr Whaley. "We want to focus more on causes more related to where our customers go, and work towards projects they can visit while they're on holiday." He would not, though be drawn on the issue of how much the new company intends to spend to promote sensitive travel:

"We're in transition, but we're still supporting green issues."

Funky? Adventurous? Interesting? Interested? Female? Only if you can answer "yes" to all these questions do you qualify for the latest travel magazine, Being There, published today by the pressure group Tourism Concern (£1.95), and distributed nationally through the Body Shop and fair trade stores. It is part of a two-year campaign, funded by the National Lottery, to make us think about the impact of our travels on host countries.

Despite answering "no" to all the questions, I read the magazine anyway, and found it appealing and thought-provoking. Sound, practical advice is given on being a better traveller, and avoiding faux pas that offend local sensitivities. There are also some entertaining stories.

Rule one of the magazine trade: sex sells, which explains a feature entitled "Gambian gigolos tell all... a love that dare not speak its name finally does".

And what it says, or rather what the "bumsters" who sell themselves on the beaches of the West African country say, is "I have four female friends who come for sex tourism, all of them Swedish"; "My choice of a woman is a British lady older than me, but not by more than six or seven years" and "I can have as many women as I like without it being everybody's business."

Sue Wheat, the magazine's editor, says "Of course sex is a part of holidays, and we're not making a judgement on that. But this magazine lets local people explain the realities of tourism for them, not just from the perspective of the tourists.".

The unfortunate men explain they would much rather be working in the building trade or studying mechanics, were it not for the tyranny of the all-inclusive holiday ("The all-inclusive is evil", says Lamin, the one with a penchant for Scandinavian women). Gambia outlawed all-inclusives in 1999, but has since bowed to travel industry pressure and let them back in.

I fear Being There may be fighting a cause already lost to the self-interests of travellers demanding, and operators supplying, holidays as mere commodities: sun, sea and sand packages, with sex an optional extra.

I hope to be proved wrong.

Amnesty International speaks of "Hundreds of extrajudicial executions", and "Unlawful killings, torture and arbitrary detention." The country in question isn't China, venue for the 2008 Olympics. It's Indonesia. And you can go there courtesy of Being There.

Turn the page from an Amnesty advertisement in the new magazine, and you see a competition for a holiday in a nation where "Torture and arbitrary detention" are widespread.

Simply name the volcano on the Indonesian island of Lombok, and win an eight-day trip there for two. You may be perplexed by the prospect of flying the winners 16,000 miles (despite the assurance that "your holiday won't be harming the environment") to a country that is a human rights pariah.

But Sue Wheat says: "There are human rights abuses in every country of the world. You wouldn't go to Ireland or America if you avoided countries because of their human rights records.

"We take our stance from the people who live there. So in Burma, when the democratically elected government asked people not to go, and human rights abuses occur because of tourism, we ask tourists to stay away. But in other places, unless the people say the costs outweigh the benefits, we support tourism. They need tourism, but the kind that works for the people."

Simon.Calder@independent.co.uk

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