Posts Tagged ‘British Guild of Travel Writers’

Neat and Teide

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Coming home from a trip away tends to leave me with mixed feelings. There’s always the brutal reality of work that must be done, bills that have to be paid, all tinged with the regret of curtailing an enjoyable experience and meeting new people. Sometimes I wonder which bit is fantasy and which the reality, and while I was very sorry to leave Tenerife on Sunday night, even though the weather had been a little below par on occasions, it was tinged with an element of relief when I saw the news yesterday.

The rain was getting pretty heavy as I departed Sunday evening, but by Monday, Santa Cruz, where I was on Saturday, looked rather more like a war zone, with streets covered in mud and debris left by the flood waters. But I guess it’s something they’re used to – I remember similar conditions in 2002, during the preamble to my circumnavigation of the world in Spirit of Cardiff. We were delayed by bad weather on our passage from Cardiff to Gibraltar, when a major storm hit Tenerife and flash floods in Santa Cruz killed several people and made hundreds homeless.

My memories of Santa Cruz, however, are rather happier. I had the opportunity to find out about the carnival – second only to Rio, so they say. The biggest surprise, however, was not only being treated to a spirited performance by the drum ensemble Zankotada, but getting the chance to play as well. And so it was that my fellow members of the British Guild of Travel Writers and I grabbed ourselves a drum each, and split into groups depending on whether we had big bass drums, smaller tom-toms or snares. Amazingly it wasn’t long before we were not only in the groove, but considered good enough to go out into the street and put on an impromptu performance for bemused pedestrians and clients of a restaurant just down the road.

Mount TeideThe majority of Brits holidaying in Tenerife tend to go for the beaches and the nightlife, but there’s a lot more besides. There’s some fine walking to be had, and whilst I didn’t get the chance to yomp up it, 3,718 metres Mount Teide certainly looked very tempting, although you can always cheat and take the cable car. Teide is an active volcano, and the landscape around it has an eerie Martian quality (no wonder they actually test robots to be sent to Mars here). Anaga rain forestSo it was a complete contrast when I finally got to pull on my walking boots and do a little hike in the ancient laurisilver forest of the Anaga Rural Park. It was virtually all downhill (more tiring than you might think). The rain forest reminded me of New Zealand, but the robins here seem to be bigger, fluffier and even more friendly than the ones at home.

Flying all the way to the Canaries for an Annual General Meeting might seem a bit over the top, but after all, this was for a bunch of travel writers. And while we were there, they did a great job of showing us what Tenerife has to offer. It’s certainly a place I’d like to explore more.

Tenerife Tourism

Fair trading? Only when it suits.

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

A couple of months ago I blogged on the subject of what has become known as Penguingate, where book publishers Penguin had struck an anti-competitive deal with retailer WH Smith for the latter to stock only their travel book titles in airport, railway and motorway book stalls.

The consequences of this will be a hugely restricted choice of travel guides in the very places where you might be expected to make an impulse purchase. A large number of organisations trying to protect the interests of authors who might be affected by this agreement have spent a lot of time making representations to the Government and various bodies who might have helped, not least the Office of Fair Trading. But it seems the matter has been dealt a death blow by the very organisation you might think best equipped to help.

In a letter to the British Guild of Travel Writers, the Office of Fair Trading said: “We use our prioritisation principles to ensure that we make appropriate judgments about which projects and programmes of work we undertake across all areas of our responsibility, in order to make the best use of our finite resources in terms of real benefits for UK consumers.”

This is bollocks-speak for “We can’t be arsed. You’re not important enough.” They seem to have missed the point that it’s not just a few hundred writers affected by this, but many thousands – quite possibly millions – of members of the public. If the Office of Fair Trading doesn’t have the resources to pursue matters that quite clearly fall within their remit, and that fair trading only applies when they think it’s important enough, then perhaps they need a different name.

But ultimately any consumer who objects to being taken for a ride by unfair and anti-competitive stitch-ups can still make their voices heard. Simply don’t buy anything from WH Smith!


Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

I don’t know about you, but I find airports pretty dire places on the whole. One of my few respites is browsing around WH Smith, looking at travel books, the latest novels, along with newspapers and magazines. But for the time being I’m going to be steering clear.

Recently WH Smith did a deal with book publishers Penguin to stock only their foreign travel guides in their outlets in UK airports, railway stations and motorway service areas. On the face of it this might not seem that significant, but see how many other booksellers you can find in these places. Which means that if you happen to be passing through and decide you want to make an impulse purchase, the only choice you have will be from Penguin’s imprints of Dorling Kindersley, Rough Guides and Sawdays Guides. If you have a hankering for Lonely Planet, Bradt, AA Guides, Michelin, Insight, Berlitz or Frommers, it’ll be tough luck.

So in other words, what has happened is a stitch-up. Or in more legal terms, it’s anti-competetive. From the consumer’s point of view it’s a raw deal. Your choice is seriously restricted, particularly as the coverage afforded by the Penguin guides is far from universal. WH Smith argue that they’re making life easier for you by restricting choice for the “time-pressed” traveller. But honestly, how many time-pressed people do you see milling around airport terminals? I see zillions bored out of their skulls.

The British Guild of Travel Writers, of which I am a member, has been involved in writing to the Office of Fair Trading, lobbying ministers and generally making a noise about it, but many other organisations have too, including the Society of Authors. It could possibly be having an effect, as both WH Smith and BAA (for whom WH Smith are the sole booksellers) have hinted that the arrangement may be reviewed. But that strikes me as a bit of a cop-out while the heat is on.

WH Smith might be the only place in a BAA airport where you can buy a travel book, but they don’t have that luxury in the High Street. So if you feel sufficiently outraged at having your choice restricted, and want to make your voice heard in the Penguingate saga, do it with your feet!