Musings about Brexit and other matters

Travel Talk

I’ve been scrupulously careful to avoid the ‘B’ subject when setting down my monthly musings on life now and then. Not even the ‘B’ word has passed my lips – or, rather, slipped out from beneath my typing fingertips.

But I’ve had many encounters – particularly over the Christmas and New Year holiday break – with folk who are worried about the effect Brexit (there, I’ve gone and done it now) will have on their foreign holidays.

The short answer is – I haven’t a clue. But the short answer doesn’t apply to such a complicated question, so a combination of many years’ experience of the international holiday scene, some basic information, and a hefty dose of common sense has to be applied in order to give you the longer answer.  

I’ll start with a scene-setter. Something to get your brain into the right gear. Something that has absolutely nothing to do with ‘B’.

Houses of Parliament More years ago than you can shake a stick at, I was writing and syndicating travel articles to a group of UK regional papers. Important papers they were, too, at a time when the local press was flourishing.  

One of the chaps with whom I had regular conversations was Andy, whose job it was to drum up advertising to go alongside my columns, and one evening, as we sat with our pints in a pub close to the office, he told me about a meeting he had attended that afternoon.

Our employers had spent a lot of money in order to get marketing advice from a firm of consultants. This firm employed experts who collected facts, drew up charts and spoke jargon. The meeting had been called to give our advertising department the benefit of their wisdom, and most  of it had been taken up with the experts telling our chaps how well-informed they were, thanks to the massive research they had carried out in the towns where our papers were published.

When it came to question time, Andy asked if it was possible for their research to discover where our readers would be taking their holidays later in the year. Such knowledge would be of real value when it came to making editorial and advertising plans, of course.

The experts pondered for a while, then assured him that collecting sufficient date, based on extensive interviews, would be a time-consuming and expensive operation, and therefore could not be done.

“But I do it every week,” said Andy. “I don’t need to carry out expensive research, or take a long time about it. Every Monday afternoon I phone the managers of the Thomas Cook shops in each of our towns, and a selection of independent travel agents, and they tell me the most popular destinations, based on the previous week’s bookings.”

The moral of the story? It is sometimes best to use common sense rather than listen to what the ‘experts’ have to say. All the more so when you know those experts have axes to grind, and not-so-hidden agendas to follow.

If you were to base your judgement on the behaviour and statements of Members of both Houses of Parliament, you might easily think that the country is torn apart and society teeters on the brink of anarchy. If you heeded only the declarations of the ‘experts’ and political commentators, on television and radio and in the press, you would not know if our problems are insurmountable, or easily managed. 

Santorini You would not know if we are in for calm seas and a prosperous voyage, or going to Hell in a handcart.  

It is at such a moment that you must, like my old chum Andy, set such nonsense aside and use your common sense, and powers of observation. 

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been keeping an eye on the two main travel agencies in my local shopping centre. Both have been busy every time I have passed them, and glanced inside. The manageress of one told me only this week that they are taking bookings at a rate that belies all the stories of hard times and uncertainty. (And which, by the way, reinforces the point I made in my last article about the trend back towards High Street travel agencies.)

From this you may deduce that plenty of people are of the opinion that their holidays to Spain or Greece, Italy or Portugal, or wherever, will not be affected by our leaving the EU. They are not swayed by forecasts of grounded aircraft or interminable delays at passport control. They believe that common sense and commercial necessity will combine to produce workable solutions to any problems that arise.

Reinforcing this comes news from the Portuguese government that – after ‘B’ day – it intends to offer a visa exemption to British visitors, provide dedicated passport control desks for flights from the UK, and allow visitors to access the Portuguese equivalent of the NHS. 

Heavily dependent as they are on income from tourism, and with their economies in freefall, I have no doubt the Greek, Spanish and Italian tourist authorities will follow the example set by Britain’s oldest ally.   

As will other countries who appreciate that, compared with holidaymakers of all other European nationalities, the British are very high spenders indeed.

Carole is going on holiday with one of her closest friends in early summer – a Rhine cruise which involves a trip on the Eurostar – so, I was particularly interested to hear what Xavier Bertrand said towards the end of January.

Upper Rhine Valley He’s President of the Hauts-de-France region and announced that French ports and the Eurotunnel will be ready for uninterrupted business, even in the event of a ‘no deal’.  

Every week that passes brings more news of commonsense preparations being made by people who actually know what they are talking about because what they are talking about is what they do for a living.  

I would much rather trust the opinions of chaps like M. Bertrand, or the senior executives whose job it is to run the ports of Dover and Calais, or the respective heads of the Irish and UK Customs Services, rather than the biased utterances of MPs and the commentariat.

Not that I don’t enjoy watching and listening to the latter – especially when they appear on late night television, reviewing the next morning’s newspapers. I don’t know if you watch those programmes, on the BBC News Channel and Sky News, but common sense flies out of the studio window when some of them get the Brexit bit between their teeth.

What they will do when it is all over, I have no idea. Maybe they will devote a little time to apologising for the mendacious rubbish they have been spouting (on both sides of the argument). But I doubt it.

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John Carter

Long-time presenter of TV’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and BBC holiday programmes

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