Travel expert Simon Calder talks to ITC on the changes he’s seen in the past 40 years and why booking with a reputable tour operator should never be undervalued
“In the summer of ’74, I was seeking international travel connections. But not, sadly, the capitalised kind that are expertly created in Chester.
In those days, my global ambitions involved working at Gatwick airport as a cleaner for a couple of months to fund a few weeks of hitch-hiking around Europe. Tony and Maureen Wheeler had only just finished Travelling Across Asia on the Cheap, so guidebooks were in their infancy. It was a question of making it up as you went along, while keeping a sharp eye out for villains and the police (who, in some distant parts of the continent, were sometimes difficult to distinguish).
Four decades on, I celebrate the reality that, wherever you’re going, the UK is the best place to start. Thanks to thriving competition, we have the widest range of air connections of any large nation at the keenest fares. We are also blessed with an abundance of expertise – with the world’s most accomplished tour operators and travel agents.
At the last Abta Convention, the startling revelation was made that the proportion of people booking a holiday on their smartphone had fallen from 14% to 11%. My credibility of the survey promptly fell to zero. Not because of the apparent shift away from technology – but because I don’t believe that one person in nine books travel products more complex than the odd train or plane ticket, let alone something as important as a holiday, on their phone!
Some people seem to be of the opinion that, as the amount of information available online increases, the value of talking to a travel specialist diminishes. In fact, expertise becomes even more valuable. To reach that cherished Caribbean hideaway or Indian Ocean rainforest, you need someone to guide you through the jungle of misinformation that stands between you and the perfect holiday.
‘But it costs more,’ goes the refrain from people who are looking no further than the bottom line – not beyond into the realms of ‘who you gonna call?’ should weather, volcanoes or politics intervene upon the serene enjoyment of your holiday.
The signs are that people are beginning to understand that the true value of a holiday goes beyond the simple pounds and pence of a flight and hotel. There’s the anticipation of a trip created by experts, rather than the apprehension over whether you have spelled everyone’s name right online. The holiday itself is likely to be more joyful if it has been personally created for your needs by someone who, with respect, has been doing this more often and for longer than you. And the priceless memories of a holiday are likely to be much more intense and gratifying if they are of a journey that enriched you – and the host community.
So, congratulations to ITC on reaching this milestone – and a firm prediction that, in 2054, the value of expertise will be equally appreciated. See you on the moon.”