Brits not big on geography, want beer and beaches
According to The Times (the one they publish in London) more than half of a sample of British tourists were mildly surprised to discover that Cyprus was not part of mainland Greece. This sample of British holidaymakers had one thing in common: they had all recently been to Cyprus.
Despite flying there and spending days in Limassol, Paphos or thereabouts, more than one in two British holidaymakers had come away from Cyprus oblivious that a) Cyprus is an island, and b) it is rather far removed from the bits of Greece that are stuck onto Europe like a dangly cow's udder. (I suppose they deserve some credit for at least spotting that the locals all tended to speak Greek and not, say, Italian or Spanish.)
The same survey found that 49% of Brits thought Turkey was where mapmakers insist the Ukraine belongs, and almost a third pointed at France when asked to locate Greece on a map of Europe.
I know these things because this column is being written in leafy Berkshire, a county west of London that is on flight paths into, out of and around the British capital. Every 30 seconds or so a plane roars overhead landing or taking off from London Heathrow, the world's busiest airport. It is August and the aircraft are loaded with camera-toting Chinese tourists dreaming of Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard, Beefeaters, the novelty of warm brown beer and delusions about bumping into the queen or somebody really important, like One Direction or David Beckham.
The planes are also heading hither and thither carrying millions of British bus drivers and chip shop managers who, along with their families, can afford to go overseas once a year. Many of them, along with their overweight tattooed, lavishly pierced families, will make their way to places like Larnaca and Istanbul, most of them oblivious to the difference between Turk and Greek.
They will spend on getting lagered up, try local cuisine on the first day but quickly decide wop food is no good for them and eat burgers and battered hake and chips for the rest of their stays. They will spend all day on the beach, burning to a crisp to get the tans that merit them a measure of social cachet back in Rotherham or Wolverhampton.
(In the past few days there has been sniggering in the UK about paparazzi photos of David Cameron, on a beach in Cornwall. In case the unflattering shots of the PM taking his cozzie off under his towel haven't reached South Africa: Cameron evidently has been enjoying too many bacon butties in the House of Commons dining room, and white South African children would be in trouble if they allowed themselves to get half as sunburnt as did the lobster-pink head of Her Majesty's government.)
The point I'm building up to is this: there are more than 60 million people in the UK and most of them can somehow afford to go overseas on holiday. But our tourist industry has always made the mistake of focusing on the ones from southern England, from places like Berkshire (the minority who have their own teeth and can do unassisted, joined-up writing). So we don't have easyjet charter flights disgorging thousands of punters from Newcastle and Liverpool and Swansea every day because we've got our marketing wrong. We should be selling ourselves as "sunny South Africa, just on the other side of Spain".
Instead of promising them game drives and Zulu dancing, we should be marketing our hole in the ozone layer: deep, leathery brown tans in three days, guaranteed!? And promising Poms what they want: "Why get trashed in Torremolinos at three quid a pop when you can get pissed in Port Alfred or motherless in Muizenberg"? "Fresh Sefrican lager, on the beach, for a pound a pint. Come to the land of endless sunshine and very cheap beer. No Spanish required."
All we need to do is pretend we are slightly south of the Costa del Sol. Nobody will ever know.