Page last updated at 04:49 GMT, Monday, 21 April 2008 05:49 UK

Has the booze cruise come to an end?

By Chris Mason
BBC News, Calais

Beer supermarket owner, David West
Mr West said he has seen sterling's value decline for 20 years

It has almost become a British institution.

Returning from a holiday in Europe, no trip was complete without a trip to a giant warehouse full of very cheap drink - and loading the car so full there was barely room for the suitcase.

Others hired a van and headed to France for the weekend for no other reason than to stock up on their favourite tipple - in bulk.

But could the so-called "Booze Cruise" now be under threat - because of the exchange rate between Sterling and the Euro?

At Eastenders cash and carry in Calais - one of around half a dozen wine and beer supermarkets in the town - evidence of the impact is clear.

It's not a place you could mistake for being French.

The warehouse is painted a garish yellow - and the Eastenders lettering is in the same style as the BBC1 soap.

It is very, very hard on customers and they're not sure whether it's worth coming in any more
David West, supermarket owner

A pink London taxi, perched on top of a nearby garage roof, adds a certain something too.

The business has been run by the West family for around 20 years.

Setting up here in France was all about offering one unique selling point - cheap alcohol.

But, thanks to the exchange rate, it's not quite so cheap any more.

The pound has hit its lowest level ever against the euro this month - and it's estimated to have lost about 17% of its value in the course of a year.

Research by the Post Office shows that a year ago changing 100 would have bought 139 euros.

To get the same number of euros now, would mean having to change around 117.

A shopper loads his car with alcohol
Some shoppers are still keen to fill their cars with alcohol

Great news for British businesses exporting to Europe, and potentially for the British tourist industry too. But not for businesses like Eastenders.

"It's putting prices up here by about a fifth," David West, who runs the warehouse, says.

"It is very, very hard on customers and they're not sure whether it's worth coming in any more.

If you add 20% onto the price of anything - it doesn't matter what kind of business you are in - it is going to be hard."

There is still a steady trickle of tourists pulling into the car park, many of whom ready to fill supermarket trolleys.

But their numbers are dwindling, Mr West says, and they are buying less.

John Wyon-Brown, 61, from Lyme Regis in Dorset, is still prepared to make a stop.

He and his wife and two friends have just got off the ferry, a 10-minute drive away - and are en-route to the south of France on holiday.

"The exchange rate is appalling. It is dire," Mr Wyon-Brown says.

'Cut back'

He has been on French soil for less than an hour - but already he's noticed that each pound of spending money isn't going as far.

"Looking at the price of fuel, and then the price of booze here - we can see it is good for the French going to England, but bad for the English coming here. We have had to cut back."

As far as the exchange rate is concerned, Mr West is pessimistic about the future.

"In 20 years of business - seeing the pound fluctuate against first the French franc and now the euro, I've never seen Sterling gain substantially. I have never seen it go up in the same way as it's come down. I hope I am wrong, but I suspect I won't be."

"This has a knock on effect for everybody," Mr West acknowledges.

"And anyone planning a holiday over here - or anywhere that has the Euro, is really going to notice the difference this summer."

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