VIEW FROM THE PRESSBOX: Some hotel room rates in France next summer have been hiked eight-fold, with £45 a night rooms going for £365. There must be a sports event coming to town. DAVID WALKER on the dilemma facing newspaper sports desks, and offers a piece of advice from Arsene Wenger
Next summer’s football European championship finals in France means that some – thankfully not all – of the nation’s travel advisers spot the opportunity to exploit the demand for rooms in tournament venue cities.
I’ve already been shown details of a hotel near Paris which usually prices its rooms at 62 Euros a-night. Next June, when Her Majesty’s Press Corps arrive, those very chambres are being touted at 500 Euros par nuit.
For the bulk of my working life I was an on-the-road reporter, so my sympathies are firmly with the men and women who have to do a demanding job over the course of a four to six week stay in a foreign country. Cynics will point out that England didn’t stick around too long at the last World Cup in Brazil, so a number of reporters came back early with the team.
But I can also see the concerns of our managing editors when they look at an event taking place so close to home, a country so easy to visit we drive our cars on to trains and ferries to head there for a day’s shopping or weekend break. We can’t claim that France is difficult to get around like, for instance Ukraine. We can’t claim it’s gripped by astonishing prices like Japan.
And we certainly can’t claim the costs of subsistence in France are extreme. Plat du jour? It’s usually a bargain.
But when the FIFA or UEFA event rolls into town, the prices are hiked and the gravy train proves irresistible to so many people.
I’ve been sent to approved hotels at Italia 90 that turned out to be flea pits. We walked out. Weirdly, one of the media assistants at the Palermo press centre then promised to get the disgruntled 10 of us into a brand new hotel just completed in the Sicilian capital. We all got penthouse suites.
She mentioned something about it being in her family or part of The Family. Given we were in Sicily, we accepted the invitation without asking too many questions.
I have a word of advice for some of those visiting France next summer. I covered the France World Cup in 1998 and had a broad portfolio. I was in attendance at England games but had the scope to travel around the south west venues – from Bordeaux via Toulouse and Montpellier down to Marseille. It was a great beat.
The problem came with the hotel prices. To avoid legal action I won’t name the kind of mediocre hotel chains that were normally cheap and cheerful but had seen the chance to send their room rates skywards. Their approach was a complete rip-off.
One day I was out at Arsenal’s training ground when manager Arsene Wenger joined the debate about French rip-offs and where to stay. He heard my duties and immediately suggested: “Why don’t you stay in Carcassone? You can get to your games from there.”
So I took a look on the map and began to investigate. I’m not joking when I say I found a five-star palace set in its own parkland that appeared to our accounts department to be an inspired budget buy. This was because my exclusive, executive hotel – also the residence chosen by Johan Cruyff and his wife – was less than half the price of a mediocre chain hotel in Bordeaux or Toulouse.
There was also an English sports writer who was admired by his colleagues across Europe for always finding the finest hotels to reside in during tournaments. It would be wrong for me to identify him and alert the beancounters at his office about his skill in selecting grand hotels at a reasonable price.
But he adopted the theory of staying outside the venue cities, preferably in a country hotel, and commuting to games. He gained a rich reward at Euro 2000 in Holland and Belgium when his balcony overlooking the hotel’s parkland was directly above the room occupied by Lennart Johanssen, the UEFA President.
I’m sure he didn’t exploit Johannsen’s penchant for staging executive meetings in his garden area, directly underneath the British journalist’s balcony. Heaven forfend!
It was a few years later when one of L’Equipe’s most travelled reporters bumped into our hero who’d enjoyed the high life and delivered a fitting tribute. “You know wherever we go in the world you always end up in the best hotel. I salute you!”
- David Walker has been Chairman of the SJA since 2013. He is the sports editor of the Daily Mirror
- Next week in View From The Pressbox: Randall Northam, sports book publisher
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