Tourism In Britain Q&A: Travel Writer Sally Shalam

Sally Shalam, a regular contributor at the Guardian, is an experienced travel writer with a strong focus on tourism in the United Kingdom. Her archive at the Guardian is full of wonderfully detailed reviews of accommodations across the UK. Many of these reviews are republished on Shalam’s website, Sally Shalam’s Britain, which organizes her reviews into helpful categories – my personal favorites: Pubs with Rooms and Urban Bed & Breakfast.

Q: Sally Shalam, how would you define your occupation?

A: I’m a hotel critic and freelance travel writer who focuses primarily on Britain. I also provide consulting.

Q: How long have you been working in the travel media?

A: I have been a journalist all my working life, but it was at the Daily Telegraph that the travel editor spotted me coming to work with a rucksack. I was backpacking a lot at that time. I’d work for several weeks and save up then take a month or so out to travel, often leaving for the airport straight from a shift at the paper.

One day she said, “I think you’d better come and work for me.” That would have been in 1990 or 1991. It’s even surprised me to realize that’s more than 20 years ago.

Q: When did you begin to deepen your focus on the UK?

A: In around 2001 or 2002. I was Travel Editor at the London Evening Standard and could, in theory, send myself anywhere in the world but found traveling in Britain and the unfolding boutique hotel scene more rewarding.

Q: What in your view is the most underrated corner of Britain?

A: Well it depends who is doing the underrating, of course, but I would say that wilderness is the most underrated and least marketed aspect of Britain. It is easy to forget that it is still possible to find total wilderness on this relatively tiny island and that there is really no need to sit on a plane for 24 hours to get away from it all.

We also have a lot of coastal towns with a legacy of incredible Regency and ’30s architecture, crying out for regeneration. I think that the government has no real clue as to how marketable Britain and British tradition and culture are abroad or how valuable regional branding is in terms of domestic tourism.

Q: Describe a perfect weeklong trip around the UK.

A: Point your car in any direction and drive around the whole island.

Q: Point to some larger trends in UK travel over the last half-decade. Hotels, restaurants, holiday philosophy?

A: The biggest trend is the rise of the B&B. More of us are running them, booking them, talking about them. We even watch them on TV. In food terms, we are finally enjoying the fruits of these shores more.

Q: What’s your favorite beach town in the UK?

A: I grew up in a Sussex village on the coast and went to school in Worthing, which has a fantastic ’30s lido, which used to be filled with seawater. I like to explore the coast and love Whitby, North Yorkshire, and Saundersfoot in Wales. At the moment Hastings is exciting because the £4m Jerwood Gallery just opened there.

Q: Where’s your next jaunt?

A: A new hotel, an old hotel and a spa in Cornwall – leaving in about 10 minutes.