Why media travel experts know best

[This is the original article, which was later reprinted in TravelMole]


A quick glance over the travel industry headlines this morning – the stand out story was that of my old colleague Simon Calder and the uproar created by his comments on BBC News, that it’s a buyer’s market and we should all be going on summer holiday for under £300.

The backlash I think came from travel agents who pointed out that this kind of unqualified headline is the sort of thing that encourages people to book, well, pretty crappy holidays… and then in turn fuels the resultant holidays-from-hell complaints media circus, which is a likely result of spending very little on something that matters a lot to us… our precious annual holiday.

When you put it like that, it all seems pretty obvious, but of course they don’t put it like that, do they.

You see, I know Simon a little. When I was Series Producer of BBC Holiday he presented lots of films for us and he was, hands down, the most knowledgeable travel brain among both the team and the presenters.  He is also one of the most authentic and honest people in the travel genre and was rightly trusted to give opinion and guide the narrative of features, rather than merely be a presenter of the films we producers had scripted.  But television and radio insist on short pithy sound-bites which will grab attention and give a moment of wow, or they are not considered news worthy.  Simon knows that as much as do the producers who book him to appear as the travel pundit.  Inevitably, this has an effect on the nature of the media that we consume.

It’s also worth noting that Simon is a true travel lover and I wonder if the details of luxury are less significant to him than the excitement and detail of the destination and the journey.  I’m only guessing, but perhaps a £300 package using a less than impressive digs wouldn’t worry Simon in the same way that it might many holiday makers, as his focus is not so much on the hotel pool, and he’s more likely to be out sampling the authentic local eateries than filling up on the all-inclusive buffet.  But that’s an aside and perhaps a baseless assumption…

Dangerous Balcony (on my £248 package holiday)

… the real crux of this issue is this:

While an advert for loans that “cost only £xyz” etc must also be accompanied by that end bit of speed reading “subject-to-terms-and-conditions-the-value-of-loans-can-go-up-as-well-as-down-etc”… (pause to breath), there is no such regulation (for honesty through clarity) within the content of factual programming.  So the sound-bite grabs our attention, and then there’s no rule which forces them to include the list of caveats, which illustrate this catchy on-liner failed to remind people that very cheap things are often a bit rubbish.

Perhaps there should be a similar rule applied to non-advertising content, which would make a statement like “package holidays can be bought for under £300” by regulation also be accompanied by a breathless end monologue of the nature “getting-flights-transfers-accommodation-and-atol-protection-for-under-£300-may-lead-to-a-less-than-spectacular-holiday-and-should-only-be-booked-if-you-don’t-mind-a-more-basic-standard-of-accommodation-and/or-catering-oh-and-this-price-is-only-available-from-two-regional-airports-with-a-catchment-area-of-one-twentieth-of-the-uk-and-departing-on-one-date”.


That certainly paints a different picture.

If it’s a more honest picture, do you think they should be held to that level of explanation?

If they had to add all that, and so make a much less interesting point for most of the UK viewers, do you think this piece would even have made it into the programme?

8 Responses to “Why media travel experts know best”

  1. Phil H-K (ask Id) says:

    Nicely written!

  2. I love Simon Calder.

    Interviewed him many times for FastTrack and always felt he was on the money with his observations.

  3. John Maidens says:

    A very fair and concise comment.
    Don’t know Simon. Not worked with him but have always found him entirely believable and sincere in his reports.

  4. Karen Brown says:

    Simon Calder is probably the most knowledgeable man in the universe, and is by far the most qualified man to comment on all aspects of travel…
    plus he’s decent and lovely.
    well said. x

  5. Snoman says:

    thanks guys – great feedback

    agree Karen, one of the few genuine experts among a sea of pundits and a gent of the first water

  6. Kristina Hulme says:

    Yes Simon is one of the best travel writers but he is not a travel agent working on the front line. I am part of that rare breed of independent owner travel agents who daily face clients. Simon should check out the failure rates of companies who have sold solely on price. The BBC feature details of failed companies but we as responsible agents protect clients against disappointment and failure. We do not sell on price but on experiences. There is a backpacker mentality among BBC and many journalists who don’t represent the majority of the travelling public. Yes you do get what you pay for and we benchmark our prices year on year season on season and if the price is unrealistic we want to know why . Our motto is don’t sell distressed stock to the general public and try to find the genuine offers that don’t compromise the clients expectations, we constantly look to our satisfaction levels and we realise it is harder to do that on line. We actually face our customers and live amongst them. Clients who come via the Internet are interviewed and this takes time for us to trust our own judgement but it is slowly working and they are returning to us .
    Simon should speak to more front line agents we can tell him the truth as WE see it!!!

  7. Snoman says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write Kristina!
    There is definitely a more adventurous approach to travel among the average beeb employee and more so among travel-specific journalists.

    Maybe the reporting of super cheap holidays should come with the caveat that “really cheap things are often a bit rubbish” rather than simply be reported without any qualifying info…

    … its something we try hard to be clear about with our clients here at Sno, because we’re acutely aware that our growth is largely due to repeat business and word-of-mouth recommendations.

    Thanks again for adding a travel-professional’s perspective.

  8. Danielle Jlassi says:

    Well said Richard. He didn’t say ‘package’ holiday either or ‘all inclusive’. Economical doesn’t have to mean nasty, but economical and enjoyable does usually involve a little imagination and effort. I love hearing Simon talk because he is totally devoid of snobbery or showmanship; he just loves his subject, as Rick Stein, who I admire for the same reasons, loves food, whether it’s in a top class restaurant or in a trucker’s cafe in India.

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