This travel lark is all about fantasy, half-truths and emotional manipulation, but I still can't resist
LAST Tuesday night I spent the minutes between 9.59 and 10.01 feverishly doing what British Airways had so kindly been urging everyone to do, namely dialling a certain telephone number at 10pm on Tuesday in order to claim my ticket to fly to America on Concorde for pounds 10.

It was all over before I had time to work out where the redial button was. Along with 19,999,800 other disappointed people, I soon tasted the bitterness of failure and frustration as British Telecom's answering service began informing me in its emotionless way that demand for that "destination" was particularly heavy and that I should please try again later.

What was the use of trying later? I just wanted to fly on the fastest existing passenger airliner for pounds 10. Instead I went to bed full of rancour at British Airways, British Telecom and everybody else who enjoys toying with my emotions. It turned out yet again that they had got my hopes up with one of their cunning advertising campaigns, only to dash them at the last minute.

Of course I should have got over this by now. Getting people's hopes up is what advertising and the press are all about, especially in travel- related matters. Everybody knows about the mouth-wateringly cheap flight deals which, when investigated, turn out not to include tax, not to be valid at weekends, not to include the single person's supplement and usually not to be available anyway.

And the new Which? Holiday Destination (a "truth" book on the world's tourist attractions) has this to say about that delightful repository of half-truths, the holiday brochure: "The sun always shines, the sand is always golden and the palms are always greener in brochureland. Resorts are unspoilt fishing villages, or full of sophisticated bustle, with never a litter-strewn beach or unsightly tower block in sight ..."

Then there are the television programmes such as Jill Dando's Holiday on the BBC, where viewers are cosseted not only by the sight of Jill smiling in a swimming costume but also by the most unthreatening music this side of a lift. These arrangements are presumably designed to hoodwink us into believing that as soon as we arrive in Florida or the Algarve, we will enter a state of foetus-like tranquillity.

I suppose this is where the appeal of the all-inclusive, cashless holiday lies. We can become babies for a fortnight, without the adult responsibilities of budgeting or, indeed, of making any choices at all. Mummy and daddy (Thomson Holidays) care for everything from the moment we reach Gatwick Airport to the moment we return home.

When it comes to toying with our emotions though, there are few more active and energetic sectors than the local tourist board. Every country, region, city, town and village on the planet now have their own tourist boards fiercely marketing their own tourist advantages at the expense of those of their neighbours. I regularly receive official brochures from places such as Rutland, California, Cheshire, Brazil, New South Wales, Namibia, Scotland, all of whom are in torment at the thought that the world may be overlooking them. It is sometimes hard to think of these places as anything other than touristic commodities. Imagine it. Whole towns and countries existing for no reason other than to entertain tourists. If you want to know what such places might look like, why not visit Stratford or York one weekend this summer.

Wouldn't it be interesting if travel-literature, travel television programmes, travel advertising, guidebooks, brochures, tour operators and tourist boards all disappeared forever. Then we would only have places without the blurb. Travellers would set off down the street with bags on their backs, without anybody trying to get up their hopes in advance. Would there be a city in this direction, they would ask themselves? Would it be nice? Would it have a beach? The pleasure would lie, perhaps, in finding out.

I realise this is a sad fantasy. The admen and the media will never leave us alone. And the next time BA suggest I make repeated phone calls at 10pm on a Tuesday evening I will doubtless do exactly that.

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