Travel: Awards for dubious achievement, 1992

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The Independent Travel
Most over-hyped opening:

Euro Disney

The opening of Euro Disney, near Paris, on 12 April was probably the most carefully planned American exercise since Operation Desert Shield and the rescue of Kuwait.

Six months before, Disney held a big party among the muddy building works at Euro Disney to announce that the theme park would be opening . . . in six months' time. Thousands of journalists and television crews from all over the world turned up to report this piece of less-than-astonishing information.

For the actual opening, six months later, Euro Disney publicists had whipped up media interest to fever pitch. Digital watches had been distributed which counted down the number of days before the opening. A giant Disney clock in Sleeping Beauty's castle was taken around Britain which also revealed the hours and minutes left before the great day.

It was rumoured that Michael Jackson would attend the opening in the company of Elizabeth Taylor. Stars definitely booked for opening night celebrations included Cher, Tina Turner, Michael J Fox, Bob Geldof and Eddie Murphy. National television stations gladly devoted two hours of Saturday night prime time to transmit what turned out to be an unashamed plug.

In fact, Michael Jackson and Liz Taylor didn't show up on opening day - but then neither did many of the expected customers. The Euro Disney hype machine had put it about that the place would be besieged by a public desperate to experience the magic of Mickey Mouse. In fact, the attendance was pathetic ('Euro Dismal]' was the tabloid verdict).

Euro Disney blamed a transport strike, threats of disruption by French farmers and - in an incredible piece of marketing bravura - the possibility that their hype about over-attendance had actually put people off. It failed to consider that the whole thing was just too expensive for recession-hit Europe.

The problems of the opening were compounded by computer failure in the Disney hotels' check-in systems and surprisingly poor service by an obviously untrained staff. (Many of the youthful staff denounced the working conditions at Euro Disney, nicknaming the place 'Mouse-schwitz'.)

Happily, there are signs that Euro Disney has learnt its lessons: prices have been trimmed and service improved. The Euro Mouse may yet roar . . .

Most confused traveller:

Alf Whybrow

An Essex pensioner, Alf Whybrow, set off this year to visit his daughter in Panama City, Florida. Mr Whybrow's American Airlines flight touched down in Miami before heading on to Panama.

When he arrived in Panama, Mr Whybrow was surprised to find that his daughter was not there to meet him. He was also surprised to find that hardly anybody spoke English.

Undaunted, Mr Whybrow hailed a taxi and set off in search of his daughter's home. Five hours later, and after two more taxi rides, Mr Whybrow stopped at an American air force base to seek directions.

He discovered that he was in Panama - but not in Florida. He was in Panama - as in Panama Canal, Central America.

Mr Whybrow went back to the airport and found that it was now closed for the night, leaving him to wait outside until five the following morning when American Airlines staff found him and rapidly put him on the first plane back to Florida.

Mr Whybrow's adventure earned him minor celebrity status in Panama City. American Airlines flew him back to London first class. Who says there isn't a Santa Claus?

Most amazing news of 1992:

The notorious French Government Tourist Office telephone line for information 071-491 7622 (see Independent Traveller passim) no longer seems to be permanently engaged. An insider reports that telephone engineers have been in attendance and great things are in store for the new year. Keep hanging on the line . . .