Susan Marling's Traveller's Checks

The richer the guest, the worse the damage
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The Independent Travel

The bigger the car, the worse the guests. That is the rule of thumb for owners and agencies who let cottages to holidaymakers in Britain. And guests do behave badly. The seemingly innocent business of playing house under someone else's roof, round someone else's log fire can turn people into barbarians. I have to declare an interest here. Our cottage in Suffolk was rented over New Year, a popular time for guests from hell. They arrived in a Jaguar so new it still had the polythene on the seats. They were well-coiffed and well-heeled, and yet when they left the house it looked like they had hosted a four-day party for the criminally insane. The cupboards were full of burnt saucepans, the furniture, coated with a layers of candle wax and glass stains, was all in the wrong rooms, and the place was so filthy the housekeeper opened the front door and closed it again, unable to face the chore without reinforcements. Holidays, I know, are regarded by people as a separate moral universe - a time for anonymous, una

The bigger the car, the worse the guests. That is the rule of thumb for owners and agencies who let cottages to holidaymakers in Britain. And guests do behave badly. The seemingly innocent business of playing house under someone else's roof, round someone else's log fire can turn people into barbarians. I have to declare an interest here. Our cottage in Suffolk was rented over New Year, a popular time for guests from hell. They arrived in a Jaguar so new it still had the polythene on the seats. They were well-coiffed and well-heeled, and yet when they left the house it looked like they had hosted a four-day party for the criminally insane. The cupboards were full of burnt saucepans, the furniture, coated with a layers of candle wax and glass stains, was all in the wrong rooms, and the place was so filthy the housekeeper opened the front door and closed it again, unable to face the chore without reinforcements. Holidays, I know, are regarded by people as a separate moral universe - a time for anonymous, unaccountable wickedness. Hotel rooms are a setting for unofficial sex and bad behaviour, and I pity the people who have to clean them up. But it is hard to countenance trashing holiday houses - full as they often are of books and pictures and personal touches. Of course, it is only a minority who do the damage but Robert Dossor, who owns a group of cottages offered through Premier Cottages Direct, says as many 60 per cent of guests make no attempt to honour the booking conditions and clean up after themselves. He thinks that big family groups, used to cleaners and au pairs at home, are the worst. Moray Bowater, boss of Helpful Holidays, the West Country cottage agency, says there exists a type of arrogant, loutish customer whose attitude is "I've paid my money and I can do what I like". He tries to avoid those people by "only advertising in the broadsheets" though he adds that doctors and solicitors have a poor reputation as house renters. But, at least, unlike some agencies who are slow to support cottage owners in their attempts to recoup money from wreckers, he will sue the bad guest if necessary. Many of the problems are alcohol-related. People go away to get off their heads and they end up causing trouble. In Devon this new year a cottage group attracted police attention by letting off huge unscheduled fireworks which frightened the horses and cattle in neighbouring fields, a display they had refused to stop despite the entreaties of neighbours. In the end, of course, beastliness means that the price of holiday accommodation goes up. Perfectly reasonable guests find themselves dealing with deposits and inventories and staying in houses where the glasses are from Woolworths and the furniture is screwed to the floor.

What about the singles?

News of the increased rate of UK divorces among people who have been married for more than 25 years - and the prediction that by 2010 there will be 10 million single or separated people between the ages of 25 and 59 - prompts some thoughts about holidays. Firstly, the existence of Small World villa/chalet holidays, an excellent example of a company catering to the single market without the deadly whiff of matchmaking, serves only to illustrate how little else there is on offer. The travel trade has not picked up on this new demographic. Obsessed with stuffing people into double rooms, it has left the potentially huge singles market in the hands of specialist companies such as the sad-sounding Solos. But all this may be about to change. Dating and friendship-for-travel organisations are emerging from their drab cocoons. The newly established Gorgeous Get-Togethers is considering making its speed-dating system (lovely, but time-poor people meet five possible new friends in an evening) into weekend events. Run by Lorraine Adams, GGT is about "making a club that people aspire to join. We couldn't believe the numbers of really gorgeous people who are out there wanting a ready-made social life, including travel." Web clubs such as Sirius are heavily into holidaymaking for singles, and Single Again is developing a web portal for single travellers with access to all available holidays, advice, deals and links to holiday companions. We seem, at last, to be learning a lesson from the Americans who are sanguine about being serially single at intervals through life - and who now patch up the holidaymaking gaps left by divorce with efficient and stigma-free membership of travel clubs for singles. It only remains for the antediluvian travel trade to wise up, refresh the 1950s version of family life which still fronts its brochures, and invent some products on which the growing singles army can spend its money.

TV should seek new territory

There was a poor critical reaction this week to C4's daytime travel show Destinations: Pocket Guides, panned for the fatuousness of its script and presentation. Television has tortured travel over the years, veering between celebrity nonsense, the gushing earnestness of "experts" and those unlovely programmes about "real" tourists - whereby four nurses from Wolverhampton book into an ugly hotel for a week, during which their aim is to bed anything with a pulse. Is there, I wonder, a watchable alternative? Answers on an e-mail, please.

* s.marling@independent.co.uk

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