Monday, August 01, 2011

Truffle Pig of Travel - Magan's World, Jan 2010

Sat 01 Jan 2010

Truffle pig of travel

MAGAN'S WORLD:I USED TO BE a truffle pig of travel, I think to myself as I accept yet another business card from a weary travel executive who has just flown in from Manchester that morning.

“My first time in Éire,” he says, his face etched with the suspicion that we might at any moment bundle him blindfolded into a blacked-out van and whisk him off to a lonely bog for an interrogation involving the snapping of fingers for unsatisfactory answers.

I try to feign interest as he tells me that the chain of motels he represents now offer free croissants and jam to all guests on check-in. I dutifully jot down the terms and conditions - the fact that the croissants can be substituted for oaten cakes for those with gluten allergies. No sooner has he gone than someone offering cycle tours around Lourdes approaches me, and I think to myself, how did it ever get to this - from wandering the world to circling a claustrophobic function room filled with eager and slightly desperate travel marketing managers? From truffle pig to caged swine?

What started out for me as a desire to explore the world moved naturally to a wish to record my travel in books and television documentaries, then newspapers. I just never imagined I’d end up taking notes on single supplement tariffs on American fly-drive holidays. I could walk out, of course, but it wouldn’t seem right. The travel industry has paid for my lunch, and having eaten their sea bass and drank their fine wines the least I can do is hang around and listen to their pitches.

I notice the rest of my journalist colleagues are huddled together at a corner table swapping gossip. The Big Kahuna of travel writing is holding court as usual with everyone listening attentively, even the eminent travel editor who does the weekly morning radio slot. We all show deference to the B K because of his ability to re-sell the same article so many times in different markets around the world – we want to know his secret; we want him to introduce us to his agent. I, in particular envy his contract to supply podcasts to an elite online magazine – having flogged his article a dozen times, he then reads it into a microphone and gets paid almost as much again. The few young freelancers who still remain in the business after a harrowing year are bunched together like nervous foals, glancing back and forth between Mr Radio Slot and the B K, in the hopes that either one of them might throw them a lead. Only the couple who have secured their own TV show can afford to remain aloof. They stand conspicuously apart, although even they reveal a trace of desperation as they try to wrangle a sponsorship deal from the head of a Far Eastern airline – without such deals their show will whither and they’ll be backing scrumming around the trough like the rest of us.

Overall, I’m enjoying the new leaner times, the fact that we can no longer expect our expenses to be covered by the travel company or by our editors. We now dip into our own pockets occasionally, like normal people. It was disturbing to see how quickly I got used to having my laundry bill paid for and having someone else pick up my tab. But I’d be fooling myself if I claimed that this entitles me to call myself a real traveller again. No amount of press junkets can match even one trip that I’ve chosen and paid for myself.

I may now visit more places than ever before but the truth is that from being a truffle pig of travel I am not far from turning into a porcine concubine to the PR industry.