The package holiday: good for you, and great for the world

How best to travel

Share
Related Topics
"Travelling is bad, tourism is disastrous" - so asserted John Rentoul in this space yesterday. But going on holiday can do the world some good, as well as doing you a power of good, too. The real surprise is why so few of us take advantage of the world's best travel bargains: only 14.5 million of us - one in four of the UK population - will this year take a package holiday. For my money (and you don't need much of it) a place in the sun is a product that Britain makes better than any other country.

Consider: anyone earning the average UK wage can buy a seven-day Mediterranean holiday for a week's pay; pounds 350 will buy you an excellent package in Benidorm. You will fly from a convenient airport on a state-of-the-art charter aircraft, enjoying food and entertainment of higher quality than you would find on most scheduled airlines (or, for that matter, John Rentoul's train to Bournemouth).

Upon arriving at the bright, stylish airport at Alicante, you could set out to explore the inland treasures of one of Spain's least-known provinces. Or you might simply climb aboard the holiday company's coach and head down the autopista to Benidorm, where you sprawl out on the beach for a week of well-deserved indulgence lubricated by tea like Mum makes it, lager like San Miguel makes it or paella like Pedro makes it.

That was my summer holiday, anyway, which I shared with about half-a- million other Brits. Benidorm does tourism better than any other resort on earth, and has ploughed back the profits into self-improvement.

Padding softly along the broad arcs of fine sand lapped by a brochure- blue sea, you may recall that the town was, allegedly, an unspoilt fishing village until the advent of mass tourism three decades ago. Were it ever such, you could expect to find the tangled streets of the old town filled with dispossessed fisherfolk bemoaning the way that mass tourism has massacred their heritage.

You will search in vain, partly because so many Spanish people have done so well from tourism (the industry that fuelled the magnificent post-Franco national resurgence) but mostly because the location appears singularly ill-suited as a base for fishing. (A serious harbour can be found just along the coast at Villajoyosa, and jolly unspoilt it is too.)

Natural resources in Benidorm, as in so many other resorts, are so scant that the only industry that could sustain itself there is tourism. The same goes for our other favourites: were it not for people like me, Tenerife would be just a barren volcanic outcrop. Instead, it is a barren volcanic outcrop with tens of thousands of tourists aboard, having the times of their lives to the detriment of none. Pile the apartment blocks high, sell the holidays cheap, and Europe's weary workingfolk will beat a flightpath to your prom.

And who has the right to deprive us?

The environmental lobby, you could respond. "We pack into large metal boxes which burn unimaginable quantities of fossil fuels to transport us thousands of miles," writes John Rentoul. Yes, we do, because a combination of well-run tour operators (those mass-market companies that have survived have had to be good and cheap) and government subsidy makes it worth our while.

I welcome the efficient utilisation of aircraft that keeps fares so low. And from self-interest, I am delighted by the duty-free allowances that represent a hidden subsidy from government to traveller. But as a European citizen, I recognise the absurdity that means we pack into large metal boxes clutching plastic bags bursting with unimaginable quantities of booze and cigarettes. This, though, is the last summer when travellers who happen to travel from one EU country to another by air rather than by car or train will get a duty-free entitlement.

When, on 1 July 1999, the duty-free shops close their doors to intra- EU flyers, the price of a package holiday could climb by pounds 5 or pounds 10. Airport charges may rise to compensate for lost shopping revenue, and air fares could increase when airlines lose the right to sell duty-free goods at huge profit margins. It's been fun while it's lasted, but there is no ethical way to justify shuttling thousands of gallons of spirits and millions of cigarettes across Europe because of some arcane, pre-jet age taxation anomaly.

And don't stop there, urges John Rentoul: "One measure the Conservative government should have been congratulated on, rather than pilloried for, was imposing an airport tax. The only trouble was that it was not enough." We travellers are not unreasonable. It is hard to argue that air travel should be immune from taxation: what Ken Clarke was, rightly, pilloried for was creating a poll tax with wings. Air Passenger Duty hits you for the same pounds 20 whether you are flying economy to Zurich (pounds 99 return before the tax kicks in) or travelling on the world's most environmentally indefensible form of transport, the pounds 7,000 round-trip to New York on Concorde. Lebanon is not usually noted for its enlightened fiscal policy, but the way first- and business-class passengers pay more tax at Beirut airport appeals to us packaged proles, prone on the beach at Benidorm.

Enclave tourism, as practised so effectively on the Costa Blanca, is one thing; independent travel is quite another. If you contend that the main purpose of travel is to meet people, then excellent ways to do it include boarding the bus from Phnom Penh to Saigon or taking the train from Varanasi to Calcutta. But would I be making a contribution to international understanding, or just taking the seat of a more deserving but less well- off local? That depends upon whether I put time, energy and thought into the process of travelling: acting affirmatively by buying sustenance and accommodation from people who will benefit most, avoiding spending cash on imported goods, and above all listening to the hopes and fears of the people - not least, on the subject of tourism.

Your hosts will more readily forgive your clumsy trampling around their communities if you demonstrate generosity of both spirit and hard cash. Some travellers decry the system of dual-pricing, where it costs a tourist much more than a resident to, say, visit a museum or stay in a hotel, but in reality such market segmentation is as easy to defend as the fact that a holiday in Benidorm next week will cost about a quarter of the same product in August.

I use the word "product" advisedly. After 30 years of half-baked, half- built mistakes that you expect from any growing concern, mass travel is now maturing into an industry fit for the new millennium. Seize the day, grab your passport, and join me on the beach.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella  

Sure, teenage girls need role models – but not of the Zoella kind

Chloe Hamilton
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album