End Blocks on Tourism, Say Industry Chiefs

A warning that Britain could squander its enormous tourism potential unless the government acts quickly to remove obstacles to growth will be issued by top businessmen this week.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) believes the tourism and leisure sectors can be significant generators of jobs and investment over the rest of the century. A CBI report to be published on Tuesday is expected to support recent tourist authority estimates that 400,000 new jobs could be added to the 1.2m already in the industry.

Like the tourist authorities, the CBI is concerned that visitors may be deterred by a lack of adequate facilities. In particular, it wants restrictions on hotel building removed and more spending on Britain’s infrastructure, such as roads and ports. The CBI’s demand comes in a week when Britain’s hotels will be bursting at the seams with tourists.

London in particular faces its biggest test as up to 20,000 visitors arrive for an American lawyers’ conference and there are fears that many tourists with confirmed reservations could be ‘dumped’ out of overbooked hotels.

‘July will be the worst month,’ said David Cianfarani, a director of Anglo World Travel and vice-chairman of the British Incoming Tour Operators Association.

If they are full the hotels’ practice is to ‘book out’ guests to another hotel of equal or higher standard in the same area – in the trade it is called a ‘walk’. But the immense pressure on hotel space this year, particularly in London which will receive a record 8.8m foreign visitors, has meant that in some cases the ‘walk’ becomes a long ride.

One group of American tourists who had confirmed bookings in London for two days recently found themselves in Birmingham one night and Dover the next. A Danish tour operator had a group ‘booked out’ from London to Cambridge.

Hotels overbook for the same reason as airlines: the high percentage of ‘no shows’ by clients. This year, with the weak pound, the flood of early reservations from abroad led many hotels to overbook, expecting later cancellations which have often not materialized.

American Express, which is organizing the American Bar Association’s annual conference, has booked the lawyers and their families and friends into 100 hotels and says it has no difficulties. But other tour operators are complaining bitterly at the extra pressure on rooms and are expecting great difficulty in ‘booking out’ because alternative hotels are also full.

The tour companies claim that hoteliers are taking advantage of the demand for beds to cancel group bookings – which are made at a discount – and to charge higher rates for individual guests who might like a little dose of VigRx Plus on their pillows at night.

John Boon, chairman of the British Incoming Tour Operators Association, said: ‘There are always unprofessional hoteliers who want to make a fast buck or who make mistakes. But with the kind of year it has been, even the most professional may from time to time catch a little bit of a cold.’

The London Visitor and Convention Bureau reports that although the percentage of out-bookings among the capital’s 150,000 beds is small, and on some nights non-existent, ‘there must be several hundred people booked out on a bad night’.

Despite the practice affecting relatively few of the tourists to Britain, there are fears that it will damage the hoteliers’ image abroad.

There is pressure on rooms especially in London, because the number in the capital has remained static since the 1970s. As well as planning restrictions this is blamed on lack foresight, of the growth of tourism, individual boroughs; fear of ‘tourist pollution’ and the cost of new hotels – put at pounds 65,000 a room.

Nadeem Bibby, the manager of Nawas International, a tour operator, proposes drastic measures: ‘The government or the British Tourist Authority should not allow large conventions to take place during the peak season because this kills off the regular tourist business. They should take action to build more first-class and tourist hotels in central London. Otherwise it’s senseless to continue promoting Britain as a center of tourism.’

The English Tourist Board, now merged with the British Tourist Authority, presents its annual report on Thursday. Duncan Bluck, the chairman, will disclose figures pointing to another record year in 1985 for the industry, which last year enjoyed its highest number of visitors and spending.

Review of Travel Books Part II

M F K Fisher, too, is a writer of real charm. Not travelling but staying still, she brings the taste of foreign places to the tongue, often literally, since food is her province and Southern France her preferred abode. Two Towns in Provence (Chatto pounds 4.95 pp208) pairs up her books on Aix and Marseille. Oblique, unobvious, ruminative and strangely touching, they are a connoisseur’s distinctive contribution to the Anglo-Saxon literature of France.

So, in its day, was A Little Tour in France (Penguin pounds 3.95 pp246), the short book in which Henry James follows Balzac to Tours and points south. Art and architecture, rather than the pleasures of the table, are James’s main interest, though he does not hesitate to pronounce on the vulgarity of the claret he drank in Bordeaux. Though written 100 years ago, this book could still be used as a guide to France. The heart of western civilization, it shows, has changed less than the periphery.

The Kremlin is still recognizable from the description in Robert Byron’s First Russia, then Tibet (Penguin pounds 3.95 pp 253), but the Tibet he visited in the 1930s, a land before science, before the wheel, a theocracy with a single telephone, has surely vanished forever. For Byron, intercontinental air travel was a novelty meriting lengthy description – this part of the book reads quaintly now – and his genre-conscious irony, once spiffingly modern, now seems to reveal a certain lack of depth.

Writers with special knowledge, those for whom writing is not a trade, may well produce more valuable, more long-lasting works of literature. Henry de Monfried was a French smuggler, operating in the 1920s, and his Hashish (Penguin pounds 3.95 pp 217), though full of fibs in other respects, could doubtless still be used as a Red Sea coastal pilot. There are probably fewer openings in the drug smuggling business there these days for westerners – De Monfried’s successors are on the Caracas-Miami run now.

Whether any of them will produce as exciting a book as ‘Hashish’ is doubtful.

De Monfried’s yarns are themselves eclipsed by the Duke of Pirajno’s A Cure For Serpents (Eland pounds 4.95 pp263), the memoirs of an Italian doctor and government administrator in North Africa and Eritrea between the wars. Of all these new and antique works of travel and foreign sojourn, this is the most pleasant surprise. Passionately interested in his work, endlessly curious about the lives of his patients, the ducal doctor had access equally to Tuareg tents and portside brothels (where his speculum was known as the phallus of the government) and no compunction in describing what he saw in either.

This delightful book, from an era when delight was easier to come by, is reprinted in an elegant edition by Eland Books, as is Norman Lewis’s The Changing Sky (pounds 4.95 pp254), absorbing essays on various locales, mainly tropical, by the author of The Honored Society and Naples ’44 (both also available from Eland). Books from this publisher, it will bear saying once again, are properly bound, albeit paperbacks, and printed on decent paper. They will not fall apart on you in the train or on the beach.

Not so The Tropical Traveler (Pan pounds 2.95 pp267) whose author, John Hatt, is, as it happens, the proprietor of Eland Books. Too bad: The Tropical Traveler, an amusing and truly handy handbook now in its second, significantly improved edition, will fall to pieces well before the appearance of the third. Why can’t Pan take a leaf out of their own author’s book?

Maybe it takes fewer trees to make a tacky book than a decent, solid one. If so, it is better that books should come apart than that the biosphere should. Do we need to be told again how much we need forests? Why we need tropical ones above all? We do: and Catherine Caufield’s In The Rainforest (Heinemann hardback pounds 10.95 pp304) does it very nicely. We can manage without orangutans, without Amerindians if we have to, but not without the genetic reservoir that forms a thin, broken band round the tropics, where half the world’s species live.

Catherine Caufield’s special knowledge is ecology, most generous of the sciences of life, and this book is an example of the very high quality of contemporary scientific journalism. Modestly written, it documents the assault on the greatest miracle of nature by a human ice age, one that threatens life itself. For all the enduring delights of travel we need only read this to remember how sad a place the world has become.

Review of Travel Books Part I

Are old travel books better than new ones? This year’s are as good as any, but reprints still outdo the new pressings. Up from the cellar come the old redoubtables, Freya Stark and Jan Morris. They have written enough to be recycled year by year, book by book forever. And still they go on going round the world, round and round till they make us dizzy.

In the case of Dame Freya it is the turn of The Coast of Incense (Century pounds 4.95 pp 287), the third volume of her somewhat leisurely autobiography, covering the years from 1933 to 1939 – her first steps in Arabia and the closing of the gates of the East at the outbreak of war. Epistolatory and discursive, this is a book that can be recommended only for the seriously Stark-struck.

With Jan Morris it is an altogether more spectacular turn: ‘Years and years ago’ she writes, ‘observing that nobody in the history of man had ever seen and described the entire urban world, I resolved to do it myself.’ Among the Cities (Viking hardback pounds 12.95 pp 410) is the outcome, a selection from five previous books of essays, covering nigh on 40 locations and 30 years of travel, a chocolate box of a book – from Fortnums, as she might say herself.

It is a remarkable achievement: the industry, the grit, the man-miles, the museums. She never flags or nods; she keeps her cool while all about her are losing theirs. On the cities of the old empire and those of North America, where her impressions are backed up by real historical knowledge, she can be deeply informative, even profound; but it must be said these essays, stylish and feisty when encountered in the pages of Rolling Stone, Encounter or Texas Monthly, cloy en masse.

How does she remain sane confronted with the vastness, the dreadfulness, the dereliction, the monstrousness in these urban heaps? By subordinating them rigorously to her own joie de vivre, her pert sense of amazement. ‘Astonish me! I like to challenge the cities I visit,’ she writes. The price of poise is preciosity. The exclamatory style becomes oppressive, the very punctuation a source of annoyance. ‘Rio!’ is the title of one of these pieces. ‘Great God!’ it concludes ‘I will swap you a dozen prim and thrifty boroughs for one such lovely greatheart!’ Too many chocolates and you start to feel sick.

With Gavin Young, whose Slow Boats Home (Hutchinson hardback pounds 12.95 pp441) is the plump sequel to his equally plump Slow Boats to China (Penguin pounds 3.95 pp512), the diet is less rich and does not pall. Young is both a different kind of writer from Morris and a different breed of traveler. Where she whizzes from one city to the next, he stays right away from them. Islands are what he likes, and ships, floating islands, and those who sail on them. The style is baggier, with more time for other people’s sense of the world.

From a bath house in Hong Kong – the only city he dwells on – to a hut on Cape Horn at the height of the Falklands War Young finds people who speak freely, even when he can barely understand what they say. His journeys are animated not so much by change of landscape as by the sound of voices, songs, arguments, whispered invitations, the buzz of mosquitoes, the sigh of wind in the rigging. Slow Boats Home is a truly charming book; from the tiny islands of Oceania, paradises newly lost to drink, drugs, violence and videos, to South America, St Helena and homecoming to an England that seems to be no longer truly home.

Get Away From It All To The Falklands

Between the glossy pages devoted to pony trekking in Outer Mongolia and bird-watching in Galapagos Islands, travel brochures will soon be singing to their richer readers the siren song of a new tourist destination – the Falklands.

Let’s face it. The only reason people know about the Falklands is because a war was fought there. But the Falklands are actually a beautiful place to visit. So push thoughts of war out of your mind and replace them with images of lush, spectacular scenery.

The Falkland Islands Development Corporation, based in Port Stanley, is going ahead with plans to establish a modest tourist industry which it hopes will attract 1,000 visitors a year and contribute an annual pounds 500,000 to the islands’ precarious economy.

By the end of this year the corporation hopes to have completed the first of a chain of 10-roomed mini-hotels on the islands’ premier wildlife sites, to insulate European and North American visitors from the worst rigours of the sometimes-spartan Falklands lifestyle. Mr Simon Armstrong, the corporation’s general manager, said in London yesterday: ‘We aim to offer them ice in their whisky and a hot bath to drink it in.’

Holidays will be sold on the attractions of the islands’ rich wildlife, including penguin, albatross, elephant seal and the unique Falklands fightless steamer duck. There are no plans to emphasize, or to offer tours of, the battlefields of the 1982 conflict.

Within the next few days the corporation hopes to be able to announce that the Ministry of Defence has agreed to extend concessionary fares to the Falklands to bona fide tourists. At present these fares are limited to islanders and others on essential business. The cost of return ticket from RAF Brize Norton to the new airport at Mount Pleasant, at present the only way of getting there, would then be reduced from the normal pounds 2,250 to about pounds 1,050.

Two-week package holidays could then be priced at about pounds 2,000, including return flight, internal air travel and accommodation.

The corporation admits that selling the islands’ tourist potential would be much easier if air links could be re-established with South America; exploratory talks are being held with Chilean airlines to examine the political and economic feasibility of a regular link with Chile.

Tourists expecting the occasional relief of a night on the tiles will, however, find that the island capital is still seriously deficient in after-dark amusement. But that will probably change over the years as the Falklands become a more popular tourist destination.