Grilled: Simon Calder, travel correspondent, The Independent

The Independent's Simon Calder sheds light on which travel event is PR purgatory and whether globetrotting really is tougher than it sounds...

Grilled: Simon Calder, travel correspondent, The Independent

As a child I wanted to be…
Anywhere but Crawley. Which worked out well; I started hitch-hiking when I was 12, and discovered that the world beyond a Sussex New Town was really rather wonderful. I’m still hitching, and still discovering that travel is an immense force for good. Tourism spreads wealth from richer countries to poorer destinations, creating jobs by the hundreds of millions, and providing life-enriching experiences.
What are your feelings as you come into work?
Well, that all depends how you define ‘work’. If any travel writer tries to tell you, "Ooh, it’s tougher than it sounds," don’t believe a word. Travelling the world and being paid for reflecting on the people you meet and the places you see is a rare privilege, and a blessing that I count every day.
Why do you do this job?
Because of the joy of surveying my inbox. Nothing gives me more pleasure than reading press releases of dubious interest and relevance. Actually that’s not entirely true. I probably get 1,000 press releases a week; I’m not sure of the exact number because I’m too busy deleting them to count. Perhaps one of those might catch my eye before I hit DEL (a computer key, not a colleague) – usually if it’s from a PR who I know contacts me only when he or she has something genuinely relevant and important to say.

The rest are consigned to the outer reaches of cyberspace – though when a hapless office junior is instructed by some unthinking manager to phone around to ask if the release arrived and is of interest, I tend to fib and say, "Yes, yes," to spare their feelings.
What is the worst time to pitch to you?
If it’s a succinct and well-targeted pitch, there’s no such thing as a bad time. If it’s irrelevant to any story I might ever want to cover, there’s no good time.
What one thing gets in the way of you doing your job?
The PR activity that is inevitably entangled with [trade show] World Travel Market. The travel industry’s annual autumn shindig at ExCeL is sheer PR purgatory. Delegations converge on east London from around 200 countries, usually led by a tourism dignitary who fondly imagines that nothing will excite the British media more than the prospect of hearing his/her vision for attracting more high-spending tourists.

PRs are obliged to manage the expectations of such clients while trying to persuade cantankerous hacks like me that the deputy tourism minister really does have some pearls of wisdom to enthral readers of The Independent; it’s a pretty good definition of the term "thankless task". Normally I don’t make it past day one before leaving the country, but I appreciate PRs don’t have that opportunity.
What makes a great story for you?
That’s not for me to say; it’s for the readers to decide. But there’s a recurring consumer theme: the UK has the best travel industry in the world, yet every so often a big company behaves appallingly and causes expense, stress and sometimes grief for customers. Investigating such stories can produce  worthwhile results.
What’s in your lunch box?
My lunch.
What is your view of PR professionals?
Astute, inspired and responsive – well, the good ones are.
Which outlet do you most admire for its news coverage and why?
I start and end my day with BBC 5 Live, which delivers a formidable breadth and depth of views from a refreshingly non-metropolitan perspective.
What is your management style: shouter, weeper or supportive friend?
I’m not sure I have any style, as you might discern from my dress sense.
What is your greatest career fear?
Ceasing to work in the industry of human happiness.

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