x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

As the gunsmoke clears it is time to book your holiday

If civil strife is over and the currency is weak, it's time to go travelling.

The golden age of travel may be over, but time your vacation well and enjoy a full stomach and a fuller suitcase.
The golden age of travel may be over, but time your vacation well and enjoy a full stomach and a fuller suitcase.

It was one of the Rothschilds who came up with the first investment strategy: "Buy on the sound of gunfire, sell on the sound of treaties being signed." His theory was that as the bangs went off everybody would be running for the exit, so one could pick up a bargain. Once peace broke out, confidence would return even if the fundamentals were unsound, so it was a good time to sell. I have never had much luck with stockmarket investing - every share I buy halves in value, regardless of whether there are bombs going off or Mont Blanc pens being emptied of ink. But I have a travelling tip, adapted from Lord Rothschild's mantra: "When a currency tumbles and the shooting stops, book your holiday."

Not only will you get a cheaper holiday but there will be fewer people about. The golden age of travel may be over but at times it can be recreated. Evelyn Waugh published a travel book in the 1940s called When the Going was Good. For him, the golden age of travel was the 1930s, perhaps because at the time of the Great Depression few were tooling around on boats or aeroplanes. On occasions I have struck gold on my travels. 2002 was a very good year. This included attendance at a World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. The rand was in a miserable state, heading towards 20 rand to the pound sterling. This might have been bad news for the beleaguered importers and a matter of grave concern for the country's central bank governor but it was mightily pleasing for me. For once in my life I shopped like my wife, filling my suitcase with new clothes and buying another suitcase and filling that too. Eating out was marvellous fun. I recall a team of us going out for sushi. Eight of us ate as much as we could, then I settled a derisory bill of just US$80 (Dh295).

Next stop was Argentina. Having tried unsuccessfully to peg the peso to the dollar at one-to-one, in January 2002 it abandoned its efforts. By the time I arrived there were four pesos to every dollar. Once more shopping was a joy and eating out positively risible. I even considered buying an apartment in La Recoleta, the swankiest part of Buenos Aires, but I didn't, mainly because I had spent all the money on bluefin tuna. If I had, my investment would have more than quadrupled by now.

By now you will have got the gist of my theory. A fortnight ago I went to Thailand. Four weeks earlier there were rioters in the roads; now there's just traffic jams. But the hotels are empty and the salesmen are delighted to see you. For a country that derives a good portion of its revenue from tourism, having blood on the streets is a disaster. But for the canny traveller, it's a positive boon. You can get tables at all the best restaurants, there is hardly a queue at the Grand Palace and there are yards of silk for sale at discounted prices at all the Jim Thompson shops.

It is tempting to conclude that with the redshirts moved on, the country will return to normal. However, everybody I spoke to suggested that what we were experiencing was just the lull before the storm. One American who had lived in the country for more than 20 years with a thriving import business had been horrified by what he saw. "We all love Thailand for the peace and calm of its people," he said. "But I have never before witnessed such an outpouring of anger."

Travellers to Thailand are unlikely to be targeted but they could easily be caught up in further rioting. Of course, if you have plenty of money or time, that won't bother you because you can afford to hole up at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel until the airport reopens or the roads clear, but it could be a lengthy stay. Thais are talking about "Prong Dong" or reconciliation, but there is a clear divide between the ruling classes led by Old Etonian prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his opponents, the supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the deposed and now exiled former prime minister.

Even Mr Abhisit, known at Eton as "Veggie", isn't convinced that the deep economic and social rifts in Thailand, which in part sparked the demonstrations, can be healed by his road map to reconciliation, which includes new elections at a date yet to be determined and an impartial investigation into the killings of almost 90 people during the two-month-long crisis. "Even if 80 per cent of the people support this plan it's not enough. It's possible success would need upward of 95 per cent," he said.

That is looking increasingly unlikely. Much as I love Thailand, I think I may have to start looking around for another holiday destination. Japan is clearly out, for its currency is defying gravity. Greece is also impossible, because who wants to spend a holiday on the quayside? Jamaica might be fun, particularly now Mr Coke has been apprehended and in any case my favourite hideaway Goldeneye, where Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond books, is far away from the action. More attractive perhaps is China, which must be worth a visit soon. There is little chance of insurrection, so it's time to get there before the yuan's revaluation really kicks in.

rwright@thenational.ae