THE ONLY good thing to say about last week's Budget announcement that air travellers will be taxed on their flights from the UK ( pounds 5 for the European Union, pounds 10 elsewhere) is that the money won't have to be paid at the airport.

Can there be anything more irritating than turning up for the flight home, having assiduously disposed of all local currency, to find that you have to fork out the equivalent of pounds 10 in 'departure tax' - and then, of course, you find that the airport bureau de change has closed for the day.

The worrying thing is that travellers are being seen as a soft touch for new taxation. But this is a thoroughly unfair tax. For a couple who have scrimped and saved pounds 1,500 to take their family to Florida, the extra pounds 40 or pounds 50 they will have to find is a rotten imposition. For a businessman travelling to New York at his company's expense on a first- class return costing pounds 3,959.90, the pounds 10 is neither here nor there.

But it is the thin end of what could be a very nasty wedge. Come the next Budget, the Chancellor will probably announce that the air travel tax is being doubled. And by then he may well have dreamt up a new occupancy tax to be paid by hotel guests (coincidentally, Paris has just introduced an occupancy tax this year - and many US cities seem to have had occupancy taxes for years).

Once you get down to the business of taxing travellers, there is no end to the possibilities. What about a car hire tax, a guide book tax, a naff souvenir tax, a wet T- shirt contest tax - even a taxi tax? Finally, no doubt, there will have to be a stay-at-home tax for all those people who decide not to travel in order to avoid paying the travel taxes.

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