Opinion: Pound’s fall will hit poorest tourism workers

Simon Calder, travel editor, The IndependentTwo years is an age in travel. This week I found myself in the happy position of making a return visit to Phuket – for my money the most beautiful and diverse of all Thailand’s islands.

Did I mention money? Even in these serene surroundings, it’s difficult to shrug off the storm warnings for sterling.

In November 2006, I was getting 70 baht for each pound, and able to live like the King of Siam. At the time, British travellers were masters of the universe, financially speaking. The pound was cheerfully changing hands at a rate of close to €1.50 and $2.

This month, with sterling sinking to an all-time low against the eurozone and US currencies, my pathetic pound is worth just 50 baht. But the worrying thing is not that your life savings and mine have shrunk alarmingly in the past couple of years. It is the effect of that slump on how we behave as consumers.

As every British traveller gets used to reduced circumstances, my fears are for the people who need to benefit from our holiday spending.

I am not talking about investors who are keeping the faith that Britain has a travel industry to be proud of, and retaining their holdings in TUI Travel, Thomas Cook and British Airways.

Nor am I losing sleep over the fortunes of hoteliers in Dubai and Manhattan. The fact we Brits will be less likely to do our Christmas shopping in the United Arab Emirates and US is of little relevance to enterprises who will benefit instead from the new rich men of Europe – those lucky enough to earn in euros.

My concern is for the tourism workers in developing countries where the British make up a large slice of the total market.

The dollar may have ceded some ground to the euro in the past seven years, but it remains the only true world currency – the average Bolivian or Botswanan will tell you in an instant the value of his or her currency relative to the US dollar.

Tourism services across much of Africa and Latin America are priced in dollars (indeed, Panama and Ecuador have dispensed with national currencies and make do with the mighty greenback).

Ground prices across the developing world have risen by up to one-third in sterling. If the buck stops us travelling, communities on the Kenyan coast and the plains of the Masai Mara who depend on high-spending Brits will suffer.

Thinking twice – whether to have a second Singha beer as the sun sinks over the Andaman Sea, or to trade down to Portugal instead of Peru – might be good for UK travellers in the short term, but it could prove bad for the world in the long term.

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