Maureen: the travel industry’s favourite columnist – 4 Jan 2007

Witch way now?

Every family has its own Christmas rituals, be it attending midnight mass, wishing on the sixpence in the Christmas pudding, playing Trivial Pursuit after lunch or serving up the pre- dinner drinks in the hideous set of glasses that your in-laws bought for your wedding.

In our house, without fail, we settle down on Christmas Eve to watch The Wizard of Oz.

And every year without fail, someone comments: “Did you know the original Tin Man nearly died because he was allergic to the aluminium powder they put on his face?” Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a smart Alec in the sitting room.

Every time I watch the film, I can’t help but be enormously jealous of the Wicked Witch of the West. Not because of her stiff broom – though God only knows I need one. No, the thing I covet is her crystal ball.

Wouldn’t it be great to look into the future and see what the year holds? Each year it strikes me that travel and tourism is ever more precarious and uncertain. There is so much beyond our control.

In 2006 our business had an unsettled a year as any. Think about the awful bombings in Turkey last summer, or the terror alert in August that had passengers at UK airports queuing to hand over bottled water and tubes of lip gloss to security officials as if they were class A drugs.

By November, lip gloss on board aircraft was still a concern, but was eclipsed by the apparent ease with which lethal polonium 210 found its way on to flights, with the NHS Direct healthline receiving thousands of calls from anxious travellers. Crumbs, get me to the Emerald City as fast as you can!

It’s in the stars

In Oz, they might have the swirling mists in a crystal sphere to help direct their action, but we have Russell Grant, renowned stargazer, to guide us.

Surely Mr Grant, who has graced the odd function in the travel industry before now, knows a thing or two about our situation.

He must be aware of the disappearance of smaller, specialist operators as well as high street agencies, must have watched the rise in homeworkers and the growing confidence of the public in bypassing the travel agent entirely to go it alone on the Internet.

In my own quest for reassurance that I’ll still have a job, a function, a divine purpose in 2007, I visited his website for my horoscope. Turns out I’ve a mixed year ahead.

What with one lunar eclipse or another, I’m likely to find a source of income coming to an abrupt end (worrying), the chance of a career in holistic medicine (unlikely) and that baby I’ve apparently been trying for (impossible).

Green herring

Truth is, none of us knows what lies ahead. I want to think that 2007 will be a successful year for the industry, but there are already challenges awaiting us and the most immediate involves another hike in air taxes.

We all know that global warming is an issue that no-one can ignore, but I do wonder if Mr Brown’s doubling of Air Passenger Duty, due to come into place in February, is the whiter than white (or greener than green) strategy it purports to be. It strikes me that this is just another stealth tax and that money raised will not be spent on renewable energy projects, though I’d love to be proved wrong.

There is a great deal of evidence that our industry is working hard to offset the damage to the environment by air travel. And let’s not forget that unleashing our western, wealthier consumers on the poorer but sunnier parts of the globe is a good thing for many communities. I try to encourage my clients to buy outside the resort to venture into the indigenous communities for their souvenirs.

Smile, smile, smile

So, we’ll be selling increasingly expensive holidays to a public whose belts will be tightening. We’ll need every retail tactic going. I suggest whitening toothpaste across the board for those gleaming smiles that are going to close deals. Either that or we’re going to have to mug Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, for her wand.

Happy New Year!

Maureen Hill works at Wessex World Travel, Gillingham, Dorset

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