E By Gum

Boy, am I excited by the news that Devon is to be allowed, as part of England, to develop e-tourism. That's what we're promised under proposals made by Tessa Jowell, the Tourism Minister (presumably also the E-Tourism Minister). And what's more, all this comes at the same exciting time as we can look forward to a regional parliament, quite possibly an E-Parliament, in which members will be there virtually all the time.

But we have to be careful. As new Exeter City boss Mike Lewis said, "In football, if you count your chickens before they're hatched, you often find that a lot of them are dead." There's so much to be learned from that wise saying. I mean, in tourism, if you count your visitors before they've logged on, you often find that that their servers are down. And in a regional parliament, if you count your budget before it's been spent, you often find that your microphones have been stolen.

I could go on, but too many wise words in a column like this could start getting it a bad name.

So what is e-tourism, exactly?

Well, it's a special new brand of tourism, for which you will need a browser. A browser is a tourist who comes and looks round your shops, but doesn't purchase anything. He or she looks at your produce, all kitemarked Made In The South West Out Of Real Cream, pokes it about a bit, and then jingles out of the shop. Browsers are essential to e-tourism, because they give the impression that there's a bit of a crowd, and that always brings in the punters.

You will also need a mouse. A mouse is a nervous tourist, who hops on a bus down to Newton Poppleford, and looks round, and thinks, "Blimey, this is so crowded!", and buys some local cheese, and then runs away just as fast as it can go, chased by a farmer's wife.

Another e-tourist is a keystroke. This one comes down and stands outside the white-washed cottage in the middle of Dartmoor, and strokes the key, saying "Look! a real cottage! With a thatch! And postcards!" They stand outside for the whole fortnight, which is good news for the beaches, because they're packed enough as it is.

And what the beaches are packed with, in the world of e-tourism, is surfers. Surfers. You know about them already, right? They sit on the beach, playing with their laptops (this is not allowed on all the beaches in the area, be warned), looking at digitised pictures of the sea, and listening to the lonely pre-recorded sensurround sound of gulls.

Popular e-tourists are screen-savers. These come down to the South-West, and go to the local cinema to watch the summer blockbusters. They go in, pay a whacking great price for their tickets, then put their towels over the seat whilst they go downtown in search of micro-chips, and other fast food, like cookies.

Absolutely essential e-tourists are drivers. Drivers are to be found on the hard shoulder of the M5 (the information superhighway), searching engines, and looking out through the most recent Windows they can find. Some of them have only got Windows 95, so they still think Exeter's a town (cheek!), and that there is still a cone hot-line (a popular ice-cream service under the Major government).

The South-West will also get a great deal of e-tourism from hackers. These are perhaps the least desirable e-tourists, as they have a tendency to bash away at world heritage cliffs, and they also have nasty coughs - you don't need me to tell you what type. They use up a lot of space, and they spread viruses. You can spot one a mile off. Just make sure you don't get any closer than that.

Nightlife is for the hard-disco types. They often have sizeable memories. They're the sort of e-tourists who go up to a bar and ask for fifteen breezers, thirteen pints, two packets of smoky bacon, and so on. Do not mess with them. If you want to bully e-tourists, go for the floppies. You can pull them in and out of your drives, and insist on them getting e-tourist information in single file. Floppies are small e-tourists, who are quite happy to live out of a case, and often get lost. If you come across one asking the way to Dawlish Warren, stick a label on it, and push it gently in the right direction.

No e-tourist industry is complete without web-designers. The best place for them is near water, where they can catch all the midges and flies to their hearts' content. They speak a special sort of language called hypertext, as in "What an extremely large cafe this is! What a capital Capital city this is! This place is even more attractive than Cincinatti! Where is Spider Long? Look at the size of your oggies!"

Occasionally you'll get an e-tourist called a RAM. This one often heads deep into the country, and goes sheep-spotting. There's a close relation called a ROM, who is only interested in books about sheep.

Of particular benefit to the e-region are word-processors. These happy tourists spend their holidays looking at ancient inscriptions in country churches and city-streets, and translating them for the benefit of all who would like to know about their finds, local or visitor alike. Sometimes they come with wizards and spell-checks, in which case, they have probably brought the full-set of Harry Potter books, tapes, DVDs, board-games and arcade games with which to spend their fortnight off. If they approach your shop, have a Harry Potter sticker ready (as in "Harry Potter came to Crediton") to make almost anything buyable. Also, get some crates of HP sauce in; they're easily fooled.

Some e-tourist toddlers come with a mother-board, on which they paddle happily into the waves, until it is time to shutdown, log off, and get ready to restart the next day.

Yes, e-tourists are the coming thing, and we should embrace them. They're usually compatible, and they're nearly always PC, so mind your language (the ones with Macs are just the usually minority who are gloomy about the weather). And the great thing about e-tourists is that they are often not really there! They can spend a fortune on bucket, spade and (especially) net, without ever causing you any bother. This summer will be great!

From Express and Echo