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At midday on Wednesday, 9 November 2011, I will be interviewed by BBC Hardtalk’s Stephen Sackur at the World Travel Market as part of World Responsible Tourism Day.

To mark the event, my publisher is offering a special deal on my book The Final Call.

Anyone attending can purchase the book for the discounted price of £6, which includes free UK p&p.  To order, please call 01206 255 800 and quote “WTM2011”.

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A blog written for Comment is Free about Ed Miliband’s comments about how he will not act to curb aviation emissions because he doesn’t “want to have a situation where only rich people can afford to fly”…

Very interesting – and telling – words this week from Ed Miliband regarding the so-called “right to fly”. The climate change and energy secretary told the Guardian that he didn’t “want to have a situation where only rich people can afford to fly”, and would therefore not be seeking to include aviation within the government’s broad commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050.

“Where I disagree with other people on aviation is if you did 80% cuts across the board, as some people have called for on aviation, you would go back to 1974 levels of flying,” he said. Miliband picked out the airport within his own constituency, Doncaster Sheffield, as an example. “People in my constituency have benefited from being able to have foreign travel which, 40 years ago, the middle classes took for granted,” he said. “There are sacrifices and changes in lifestyle necessary. But the job of government is to facilitate them and understand people’s lives and what they value.”

What Miliband seems to be saying is that flying is now so important to people’s lives in the UK that it deserves to be treated as a special case. It should be largely immune to the tough targets and systematic transition that all other sectors are going to have to experience if exacting carbon reductions are ever to be achieved. So rather than have fair, across-the-board cuts, Miliband is firing the starter gun for every sector to throw up its hands and say that it too deserves special exemption. To take this to its logical conclusion, someone is going to have to make the decision about who deserves such favouritism.

If aviation is going to be allowed to grow and emit without restrictions, another sector is going to have to make up the shortfall. If we really love flying so much, who do we want this to be? The NHS? Universities? Local authorities? If we really want to start prioritising our most valued services and facilities in this manner, then we need to urgently have that discussion.

But I’m not comfortable whenever the class issue is thrown into the ring to support the aviation lobby’s argument. Miliband is the latest person to fall for this old chestnut. It has been a debating tool for years, but it never stands up to scrutiny.

Let’s look at Doncaster Sheffield airport, as Miliband is asking – even if it isn’t wholly representative. It accounted for less than half of 1% of the total number of UK passengers passing through our airports in 2007, according to the latest Civil Aviation Authority figures, but it does have the highest percentage – 94% – of so-called “leisure” travellers of all the UK airports. These are the types of passengers that come in for the most criticism when people are talking about the growth in discretionary flying over the past decade or so. (This category includes “visiting friends and relatives” – so-called VFRs – which is arguably the least discretionary of all the reasons to fly, but that often gets drowned out in this debate.)

What “class” are these passengers? And has there been a significant shift in their demographic profile over the years? ABC1-type analysis seems to largely ignored or viewed as inherently flawed these days, so let’s look at something most people understand – income. Civil Aviation Authority figures (pdf) for 2007/2008 say that the mean household income of leisure passengers using Doncaster Sheffield airport was £41,016. This compares to the latest Office for National Statistics figures, which state that the average UK household income in 2006/07 was £30,000. The mismatch doesn’t exactly lead you to shout “working class all aboard” – and this is for an airport you would consider to support Miliband’s argument given its higher-than-average volume of so-called “cheap flights”.

When the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University looked at the “socio-demographic characteristics of [UK] air passengers” in its 2006 report Predict and Provide (p29, pdf), it concluded that the “available evidence suggests that flying is largely undertaken by those in richer households, and that most of the growth in flying is coming from people in such households flying more often”. Again, it doesn’t exactly support Miliband’s argument that the skies are now awash with the working class, say, taking mini-breaks to Europe, or visiting their second homes abroad.

And all this in the week when the airline industry – already one of the most cosseted sectors in the world due to its advantageous tax breaks on fuel – is saying it is suffering an “annus horribilis“. Are we really going to fall for yet another well-orchestrated sob story from the world’s fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions?

An article for the Guardian’s Travel section about my stay at Trelowarren in Cornwall…

We’re in a corner of Cornwall that has some of the most spectacular beaches, local food and heritage in the county, but all my young children want to do is look at the “big machine that eats trees”, otherwise known as the woodchip boiler. I wish I’d never mentioned it.

The Trelowarren estate on the Lizard peninsula has been welcoming guests since, well, no one’s exactly sure — the residing family, the Vyvyans, have been there for 600 years and their 1,000-acre property is mentioned in the Domesday Book — but in the past few years the estate has become synonymous with a distinctly modern phenomenon, the green holiday. And its seven-tonne state-of-the-art boiler, one of the largest of its type in the country, has a big part to play.

In a familiar tale of son-and-heir-forced-to-think-of-creative-ways-to-save-crumbling-estate, Sir Ferrers Vyvyan, Trelowarren’s 13th baronet, decided to shun the well-trodden route of opening up the house to the cream-tea brigade, or hosting a festival in the grounds, and instead decided to position the estate at the vanguard of luxury eco-friendly self-catering holidays.

“Carbon neutral” is a much abused term, but Trelowarren is now tantalisingly close — a “couple of years”, says Sir Ferrers — to being able to claim that label. At least half of the estate is forested, and Sir Ferrers realised early on in his 30-year, £12m programme to overhaul its fortunes that by reintroducing the art of coppicing he could use the renewable energy source growing all around him to provide heating and hot water to the self-catering cottages scattered across the grounds. In fact, so much heat now flows from the boiler that it also warms the estate’s large outdoor swimming pool. “Guests love using the pool at Christmas,” he says.

The long-term plan is to have 31 self-catering units on the estate, almost half of which are already up and running. This is no building site, though, as the development is being carried out in stages. Nine of the original estate cottages have been renovated — the first opened in 2000 — but are conventionally heated using, for example, oil-fired ranges. So the eco-purists will probably prefer to stay in one of the eight newly built two storey, two- to-four-bedroom houses, which include a raft of environmental innovations, such as twin-frame timber panelling to increase thermal efficiency, non-toxic paints, marmoleum-lined bathrooms, walls insulated with recycled newspaper, pressure-tested windows, low-energy lighting and rainwater harvesting.

Inside, the eco-properties are dressed in the Conran aesthetic — a jolting contrast to the homely (mercifully, chintz-free) charm of the original estate cottages. There’s no scrimping on mod cons, though, for when the fickle Cornish weather makes an afternoon curled up in front of a wood stove and a DVD seem the best option. There are no complementary bikes, but they can be hired from a local firm on request.

That is a minor grumble, though. Trelowarren is about as green as it gets for this sort of holiday in the UK. What is refreshing about it is the way the owners have resisted the usual short cuts, such as carbon off setting, energy purchased via “green tariff s” and so on . And you can literally buy into their vision, because Trelowarren claims to be the world’s first eco timeshare. If you have a spare £4,500, you can invest in, say one week’s use of a cottage every February for 30 years — though prices rise sharply for summer use.

But you don’t go on holiday to talk about U-values, kilowatt hours and price-earnings ratios. Sniffing out the best food available is usually on most people’s minds, and just a short stroll from the new eco-buildings is the estate’s stable block, which houses the New Yard Restaurant. A destination in itself, the restaurant holds two AA rosettes and claims that 90% of the ingredients in its dishes are sourced within a 20-mile radius. We particularly liked the Cornish spring lamb and line-caught sea bass, but the kitchen will also put together a picnic for those wanting to head off and explore the grounds, which offer an undulating jigsaw of lush pastures stocked with rare breed cattle and woodland carpeted — when we visited — with wild garlic. Head north and the estate reaches down towards the tidal inlets of the Helford river.

You could spend two weeks here without moving far from Trelowarren, but one trip worth taking is to Kynance Cove, one of Cornwall’s most spectacular beaches, which lies just to the west of Lizard Point, Britain’s most southerly tip. In keeping with th e green vibe, the beach cafe is accessible only by foot and the power needed to chill the drinks and toast the sandwiches is produced by photovoltaic solar panels on the roof.

A trip to the Lizard isn’t complete these days without visiting Tregellast Barton Farm near St Keverne, where the famous Roskilly’s organic ice cream is produced. If you fantasise about gorging yourself silly on ice cream or fudge made with clotted cream, then this is the place for you. We atoned for our calorific crimes with a walk along the shingle that takes you along the inlet from the beach beneath St-Anthony-in-Meneage, before reoffending at an evening barbecue at the Shipwrights Arms in Helford.

But, despite all the other distractions, talk on the way home was still of that boiler. “How many trees can it eat in a whole day?”

· 01326 222105, trelowarren.co.uk. From £450 (two-bed cottage, low season) to £2,650 (four-bed, high season) for a week. You can book a biodiesel taxi to pick you up from Truro station, 45 mins drive away, through biotravel.co.uk.

A news report written for the Guardian’s Saturday edition about the increasing number of Britons choosing to holiday in the UK this summer…

Dig out the bucket and spade. Dust down the knotted hanky. The British are falling back in love with holidaying at home.

Travel operators are reporting a marked shift in holiday habits among Britons this summer with a sharp rise in people choosing to take a break in the UK instead of going abroad. The strength of the euro, uncertainties about the economy, airport frustrations and rising fuel costs have all combined to increase the appeal of, say, a weekend in Weymouth or a fortnight in the Fens.

The change of holiday habits is not just thrifty, but also environmentally friendly, says Anna Jones, climate campaigner at Greenpeace UK: “People and businesses are realising that it makes economic and environmental sense to fly less. Holidaying closer to home is better for British tourism and better for the climate. It’s time the government recognised this too and started investing in improving the rail network instead of climate-wrecking runways.”

Self-catering holidays are proving particularly popular with Britons eager to maintain a tight control on their expenditure. Hoseasons, the UK’s largest self-catering specialist which “takes one million people on holiday a year”, said it has now almost sold out of accommodation for July and August. Bookings in Cumbria and the Lakes are up 34% on last year, it said, with Norfolk and Suffolk showing similar growth.

Lastminute.com said that its domestic holiday bookings are up 16% year-on-year. Meanwhile, Advantage, which represents 700 of the UK’s independent travel agents, reported a 5% fall in bookings year-on-year in overseas package holidays.

“We are hearing from the industry that bookings are up in British resorts,” said Sian Brenchley, spokesperson for VisitBritain, which rates tourism as Britain’s fifth largest industry, worth £85bn a year. “Holidaymakers are taking a second look at holidaying at home – and are being pleasantly surprised by what they find.”

The strength of the euro against sterling – yesterday one pound was worth €1.25, a 15% fall on this time last year – has left many UK travellers returning from eurozone countries this year reporting a steep rise in costs. For the first time in decades, staying in Britain is being perceived by many Britons as a cheaper option than going to, say, France, Italy or Spain.

Increases in airline fuel surcharges and disillusionment with airports are also playing their part, say industry analysts. The delays at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 in March are fresh in the memory and the problems have continued into the summer: a Heathrow baggage handlers union told the Commons transport select committee on Wednesday that 930 bags a day are still missing their onward flights from Terminal 5.

Despite last summer’s washout – and an inclement start to this summer – weather is not as an important a factor to Britons as it once was, according to Richard Carrick, chief executive of Hoseasons: “Our appetite for sun has waned, it seems. Thirty years ago it was of primary importance for tourists, but now it ranks beneath factors such as food, range of activities, and quality of accommodation. The age of the ‘fly and flop’ holiday is over.”

Carrick adds that another important trend is that people are taking more, yet shorter, trips: “The average Briton has 25 days of holiday entitlement a year – this hasn’t changed for over a decade – but because they travel more often they don’t want to travel so far, especially if they are driving with today’s fuel costs. We are seeing that 2-3 hours driving time is the typical limit for Britons holidaying domestically this year. It means bookings are not quite as strong in far-flung places such as Cornwall and Scotland.”

Haven Holidays, which operates 35 holiday parks across the UK said its sales are up 7% on this period last year, but that it has had to innovate to attract these extra customers. For example, it is offering £20 petrol vouchers with its holidays this year to “ease the pain” of driving costs. In contrast to the holiday camps of yesteryear, its holiday parks now offer facilities ranging from health spas to Starbucks cafes.

I was recently interviewed by Tom Heap for an episode of Radio 4’s environmental strand Costing the Earth which focused on the environmental impact of tourism. It was first broadcast on Thursday, May 15, but is now available on the BBC’s iPlayer here. The show also spawned a feature on the BBC News website’s Magazine.

A blog written for the Guardian’s Travel website about the rise of the ‘long-haul minibreak’…

When did spending more than 14 hours in a plane over a long weekend suddenly become enjoyable, rather than a punishment that befalls only the hardiest of business travellers?

What have I missed? Are airport queues no more? Has in-flight dining suddenly become a gastronomic delight? Does everyone now get a fully reclining seat and limitless leg room? Have they found a cure for deep vein thrombosis? Is there a pill to pop to nullify jet lag?

I only ask because it seems that we have now entered an era where “long-haul minibreaks” are becoming the norm for a well-heeled section of British society. According to a recent survey by Halifax, last year 3.7 million Britons chose to fly to destinations seven hours away or more in the pursuit of leisure. The travel insurer predicts that this will increase by a third this year meaning that 4.9 million tourists from the UK will be jetting off to places such as Hong Kong, New York, Vancouver, Dubai, Las Vegas and Rio de Janeiro on so-called “breakneck breaks”.

“Better airline quality, the lure of winter sun, favourable exchange rates, and cheaper long-haul flights have created a boom in demand for long-haul mini-breaks, with millions of us enduring long flights for a weekend break on the other side of the globe,” said Paul Birkhead, a senior manager at Halifax.

Other factors are also promising to make this new form of entertainment more attractive, such as the forthcoming “open skies” agreement for routes across the Atlantic which is predicted to make such routes even cheaper. Throw in the proposed third runway at Heathrow and second runway at Stanstead and those living in the south-east – which the survey identifies as where many of the breakneck breakers reside – and millions more could soon be spending the weekend sipping mojitos in Manhattan rather than mowing the lawn in Marlow.

It is all madness, of course. This is exactly why environmentalists – and increasingly a wide coalition of other groups – are fighting so hard to rein in the growth in aviation. The popular myth that they are trying to “stop the poor from flying” is a convenient smokescreen. As Civil Aviation Authority data shows (see chapter three of this report), there is actually very little evidence, if any, that the era of low-cost carriers has suddenly “democratised the skies” for one and all, as the airlines and their lobbyists would have you believe. Anyway, the fight to stop airport expansion isn’t about stopping those that fly once a year to the Med for their annual two-week holiday, it’s about curbing the still relatively small section of society that is now addicted to “binge flying” – those that fly three or more times a year for leisure. These are the people who are driving much of the growth in aviation in the UK – and its resultant emissions, which currently account for about 13% of the country’s overall greenhouse gas burden.

And the addiction analogy is useful in this context because the more we allow such trips to flourish, the more “hooked” the travellers become. That’s exactly why so many people are fighting airport expansion – it’s an attempt to cut off the supply at its source.

But beyond the compelling environmental arguments that should dissuade those that promote and consume long-haul minibreaks, there lies, I feel, another interesting phenomenon: the ever-increasing degree of importance most of us attach to where and how we travel for leisure when it comes to sending out the right signals about our social standing. Why would anyone travel to, say, Hong Kong for the weekend other than to show off in the office or among friends the next week that they had done so? The reality is that once you’d accounted for the flying time, you would have had time to do little more than have a couple of nice meals, spend a few hours shopping and catch some sleep in an identikit hotel room. Would you really have even “seen” Hong Kong in that short time? Was it really worth causing such a disproportionately high environmental impact over such a short period for such a superficial example of travel-by-numbers?

Friends of the Earth was quite right to label such journeys as “indulgent”, given the fact that few in the UK can still claim ignorance when it comes to knowing about aviation’s environmental legacy.

We will always have a “sod you” section of society that does what it wants regardless of the consequences to others, but my own view is that they should have to pay a high price for their current freedom to wilfully pollute. Yet more tinkering by the Chancellor with aviation taxation is expected today, but another far more important influence is soon set to collide with and disrupt the growth in aviation – rising oil prices. Many airlines now buy – or hedge – their fuel more than a year in advance to try to outrun price pressures. With some predicting that oil could reach $200 a barrel by the end of the year, the era of cheap flights could soon be at an end, with or without the campaigning efforts of environmentalists.

Congratulations to St Ives in west Cornwall for being voted the best seaside town in Great Britain and Ireland by a panel of judges convened by the Guardian. For me, it was the obvious choice from the shortlist below, but it’s still nice to see the much-maligned British seaside being celebrated.