"Vorsprung durch Technik, as they say in Germany." Geoffrey Palmer's droll delivery told the story of the Schmitz, the Reinhards and the Müllers, who were driving to Spain on holiday. The moral of the story, or rather the punchline, was: "If you want to get on the beach before the Germans, you'd better buy an Audi 100."
Those were the days, eh: back in the 1980s when John Hegarty's agency BBH came up with the Audi ads. People used to go to the beach then. And they certainly took the trouble to get prime beach spots. I witnessed them in those distant days of actually having holidays. Six in the morning (I might have been coming in), and there they were, trooping off to the water's edge with their sun loungers. They may have been Germans. Sunbedsraum is not, however, and never has been a solely German form of holiday annexation. Still, it's all made for a good stereotype, and it made for a great advert.
People do still go to the beach, but it can seem a dreadfully passé thing to do when the hotel palace is awash with pools of various kinds and different attractions. Why bother heading out to sea for one of those offshore waterpark things, when there is an in-hotel version. Slides galore. Splash and more splash. It's small wonder that there is such a feverishly high demand and premium placed on the sun lounger, especially if this is a sun lounger that requires occupation by someone with an all-inclusive wristband. How awful. You've forked out for everything, only to discover that there is no sun lounger space. It's enough to make anyone lodge a claim for compensation: holiday totally ruined by Germans (or others) commandeering the sun loungers before dawn.
Of course, or so I'm led to believe, there are some rules on this at certain hotels. Or there is the official opening time for the great stampede. It's a few years ago now that someone posted a video that showed the great stampede in its frightening frenzy and, more importantly, how to avoid it. Chummy was staying at the Lagotel in Playa de Muro. He'd discovered a way into the pool area from the perimeter road. If you want to get a sun lounger by the pool before the Germans (or any other nationality), you'd better find a gap in the fence.
I'm not one of the I don't like hotels so therefore I want Airbnb brigade. I quite like hotels. But there are limits. Such as the pool. It has not been my fate to actually stay in a local all-inclusive, but work has demanded observation. Hell, sheer hell. Why anyone wishes to shoehorn him or herself (plus wristband) into a confined space next to others smelling of sweat and coconut is beyond me. Worse still is the mere act of entering the water. More sweat and coconut plus urine and God knows what else. Give me the beach and sea any day. I'm willing to chance my luck with the jellyfish. Unfortunately of course, the beach hasn't become so passé that it isn't subject to the similar need for shoehorning. That'll be saturation for you.
Holidays, some of them, are, when you think about it, distinctly odd. Social beings we humans may be, but we spend most of our existences craving and pursuing privacy and peace and quiet. What happens on holiday? Precisely the opposite. A sharing experience with a mass of humanity, some of it cavorting in the water while the pool aerobics instructor bellows orders and the PA blasts out The Merrymen and their Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot 1988 masterwork. Why?
Well, the answer to why is that an awful lot of people appear to enjoy this. But their enjoyment can be ruined because of the sun lounger shortage or pre-dawn raid. So, what have those nice people at Thomas Cook come up with? The sun lounger (aka sunbed) reservation system. Why had no one thought of this before? What a brilliant way to add a few more pounds or euros to the bottom line. For a mere 25 euros a week, you can "choose you favourite sunbed". Three hotels in the Canaries are to form part of a pilot project. If it works, then Thomas Cook will roll out the scheme to thirty hotels this summer.
Thomas Cook insist that this is all to do with the traditional holiday package being a thing of the past. "Tourists want customised products that better define their needs and lifestyles," says Thomas Cook's Chris Mottershead. Nonsense, they want to make sure they get a sunbed. It's part of the traditional holiday package.
So there you are. For a price similar to the tourist tax for seven nights in a four star, you can get a sunbed with your name on it. Holidays. Don't you just love 'em.