Saturday, 25 June 2016

Brexit vote pushes up travel costs

Touring France - cost rises
Holidays in the immediate future look certain to be more expensive in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. And the choice of flights from the UK could shrink as airlines forecast the number of Britons travelling abroad by air could drop severely. The £ was down approximately 4.6% against the euro today compared with its value on on Thursday and 7.4% against the US dollar. So far the impact has been significant, though not quite as severe as that feared by the investor George Soros shortly before the referendum. Nobody can predict how sterling will move in the longer term, but it can be predicted confidently that for those on tight budgets travel costs will remain very uncertain for some time. Visitors to this website leaving on holiday in the next few days should have no difficulty working out the immediate effect. But I'll do the sums anyway. If you were driving to France, for example, and had been expecting to spend, say, £2500 for two while there , the cost will be a minimum of £115 more than if the country had voted remain. The increase on a holiday to the US with the same amount of spending on the ground envisaged will be a little higher at £185. What's not immediately clear is the impact on tour operators' prices. Unless there is some unexpected early recovery in sterling their costs will also rise. But many operators - and certainly the larger ones - will have bought some or all of the currency they need to pay for hotels rooms, for example, on the forward markets. So they should not need to up their package prices unless they gambled that a vote to remain would prompt a significant jump in the value of sterling. The International Air Transport Association, whose membership includes the world's major carriers , warns the number of UK passengers could fall by 3% - 5% by 2020. Carriers including easyJet have moved to reassure customers that there will be no short term effect but have urged the Government to treat the future of open skies in Europe as a priority. I must repeat earlier warnings that unless the present agreement survives - and EU airlines are still able to operate between any of the countries covered, choice of destinations will shrink. The same will inevitably happen if stopping the free movement of labour means passenger traffic is reduced. This could affect routes to central and eastern Europe in particular. The eventual effect of such shrinkage could also be a time in fares - but that threat is some way off. One key question is whether EHIC (the European Health Insurance Card) will survive Brexit. For the time being there will be no change. It's always advisable to buy private insurance in any cases EHIC doesn't cover all costs- such as that of an ambulance to hospital. Protection for package travellers against the collapse of tour operators will also remain in place and, because of the massive weight of work now necessary to renegotiate more important arrangements with Europe, may survive in its present form for some years.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Lost in Translation

El Corte Ingles is, roughly speaking, the Spanish equivalent of John Lewis. Though it was probably not the best place to start looking, I went to the department store chain's Bilbao branch in search of some authentic rope soled espadrilles. A helpful man in the men's shoe department looked a little confused, then directed me to the third floor, saying I should ask for espadenyes. Espadenyes is the Catalan for espadrilles. Use of the name in Catalunya was first recorded nearly 700 years ago but they are also traditional footwear in the Basque country. When I inquired on the third floor, a woman server looked blank. So I asked the receptionist at a hotel where I had been staying. He also looked blank. What goes on, I wondered. Hadn't these shoes - once worn by peasants - been made by some shops in the Spanish Basque region for a century or more. Surely they hadn't yielded entirely to the trainer and the flip flop? The receptionist went to ask a colleague. Enlightenment dawned. I should ask for alpargatas, he explained, and Googled a shop in the old town where I could get them. Now, the briefest of research after the event reveals that Basque emigrants to Argentina took the shoes with them and it was there that the third alternative name was coined. The shopkeeper on the Calle Somera knew exactly what I wanted, prodding them a range of colours. These days the rope soles are reinforced using some synthetic material but they are as near as damn it to the real thing. Sometimes, of course, they are kept on with lacing around the ankle. I read that these were made fashionable by Lauren Bacall, who wore them in the 1948 movie Key Largo, and enjoyed a revival in New York in the 1980s, after Don Johnson sported them in Miami Vice, when a pair could fetch nearly $500. Now one of my sons tells me they're "on trend" again. Call them what you like, mine are just for slopping around in. I bought one pair in black pair and a second in cream and they cost me, at the current exchange rate, the extremely unfashionable total of £16.