‘What planet are you on - we’re bargain Britain’
At a time when hard-pressed British holiday businesses are talking up the staycation, it is an opinion about as welcome as a downpour on a summer's day.
Questioning the notion that holidaying at home is an automatic way to save money, the author of Lonely Planet's new Great Britain guidebook writes: 'If you're on a tight budget, there's no getting away from it – Britain ain't cheap.
'Public transport, admission fees, restaurants and hotel rooms all tend to be expensive compared with their equivalents in many other European countries.'
Pouring even more cold water on any idea of bargain Britain – cue thunder and lightning – David Else asserts that 'Brits won't stand for paying over the odds on holiday at home and will look to go abroad, especially in the current economic climate'.
However, his rallying call to 'bring back Great British value' has been met with stunned indignation by the region's holiday businesses.
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Peter Williamson, chairman of the Norfolk Tourist Attractions Association, described Mr Else's sweeping statement as 'ridiculous' and 'headline grabbing', insisting admission prices were 'substantially lower than most places in Europe'.
Citing the example of his own attraction, Merrivale Model Village in Great Yarmouth, he said the adult admission price of �6.50 compared very favourably to the 12 euros cost of a similar attraction in Tenerife.
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Mr Williamson added that the cost of food and drink in attractions abroad was also often considerably more expensive.
A quick EDP survey found that the adult admission price for Banham Zoo and Africa Alive, near Lowestoft – �14.95 – compared favourably to the 23-euro admission price for Hannover Zoo in north Germany and 13 euros for the smaller Les Sables d'Olonne zoo in west France.
And Martin Dupee, head of operations at Banham and Africa Alive, said their competitive rates were achieved despite an unlevel playing field with the rest of Europe.
He said: 'Attractions in many European countries receive a concession on VAT and pay as little as 5-7pc compared to the 20pc paid by those in Britain. The British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions has been working with and lobbying government on this matter.'
The region's hoteliers are equally insistent that Brits don't have to go abroad to get – in Mr Else's words – 'more bang for their buck'.
Linda Dyble, chairman of Yarmouth Tourist Authority's hotels and guesthouses group, said: 'Since the start of the economic recession, room rates have dropped nationally and people might expect to pay 20pc less for the same room four years ago.'
She said the verdict of guests staying at her Kensington Hotel on Yarmouth seafront was that the room rate – �65 for a double with full breakfast in early season – represented excellent value. 'We have a lot of guests from the continent who say the value for money compares very favourably with countries such as Germany, Austria and Holland,' she said.
VisitNorwich spokesman Keith Brown was also quick to contest Mr Else's assertions, arguing that the economic climate put an onus on businesses to deliver value for money.
He said: 'Britain, England and the east of England in particular are seeing more opportunities to grow tourism as far fewer people are travelling abroad.
'That is not only down to the exchange rate making overseas travel considerably more expensive but the fact consumers are showing far more enthusiasm for discovering the beauty of what can be found much closer to home.'
Nicola Colchester, a partner in The Ship Inn, South Walsham and The Recruiting Sergeant, Horstead – two well-known Broads pub restaurants – said a key to their continuing success through the recession was providing good value for money as well as using good produce.
She said in her experience, restaurant prices in France, for example, tended to be far more inflated.
'Only once in 20 years has someone told me they did not think something was good value for money,' she said.
One field where Mr Else's assessment does hold true is public transport, according to rail watchdog Passenger Focus.
Ashwin Kumar, Passenger Focus rail director, said: 'Our research shows that Britain's passengers pay some of the most expensive rail fares in Europe. Fully flexible long-distance tickets are nearly twice as expensive as Germany, the next most costly, and three times dearer than other countries in Europe. Our off-peak restricted tickets are slightly more expensive than fully flexible tickets in most other countries.'
Speaking to the EDP, Mr Else concedes that the regions can offer good value and 'for savvy Brits who do their homework Britain can still offer good value'.
And he said: 'There is no doubt that Britain is great; in my opinion its history, scenery and people make it one of the most fascinating places in the world to explore.'