History of the Package Holiday

Heading abroad – whether it is to sample a new culture or relax on a sun-soaked family holiday – has never been easier.

Before package holidays revolutionized and simplified the way we travel, booking flights, accommodation, and transport was a rigorous, expensive and time-consuming task which needed all elements to fall neatly into place.

These days, there are a number of well-known travel agents and plenty of reputable online services offering package holidays at incredible prices. Here, we’ve taken a quick look at the history of this type of holiday and how it’s changed over the years.

The story of the package holiday goes back as far as 1841 when English businessman Thomas Cook arranged his first excursion, a short train journey from Leicester to Loughborough to encourage supporters of the temperance movement to attend a rally protesting alcohol consumption.

And although his motives couldn’t be further from the current trend of holidaymakers heading off on their all-inclusive vacations, a new way of traveling was born.

With Cook’s business taking off, the natural step was to offer bigger, better holidays and by 1855 he had taken parties abroad to visit Belgium, Germany, and France.

The natural next step was to offer clients even more exotic locations. For the equivalent of £210, Cook organized a 222-day tour which incorporated The USA, Singapore, China, Japan, India, and Egypt just 17 years later.

And as if Cook’s contribution to travel had not already ensured his place in folklore, he still had more to come. In 1874, he launched the circular note, the first version of the traveler’s check.

Post-World War Two, with soldiers returning with tales of foreign lands and travel becoming easier than ever, the Horizon Holiday Group began marketing the first mass foreign package holidays. Gatwick to Corsica became the first option in 1950, before Palma, Lourdes, Costa Brava and Sardinia were added to the brochure by 1954.

The Convention On International Civil Aviation, which established rules of airspace, was amended in 1954 to allow a surge of charter planes, making package holidays even more readily available.

Three years later and British European Airways introduced a route to Valencia, the name Costa Blanca given to that area of eastern Spain to entice visitors. Spain had become a hot spot for European holidaymakers, but not by mistake. Franco had seen tourism as a major way to boost the country’s economy and had vigorously promoted the construction of tourist destinations along the huge coastline.

The boom in tourism, however, suffered its first major victim in 1974 when the Court Line Holiday empire crashed and close to 50,000 holidaymakers were left stranded and many more lost the money they had paid on booked holidays.

The package holiday ideal looked in further trouble in the early 2000s as the internet and budget airlines began offering travelers cheaper alternatives to get away.

But this highly-competitive market led to a number of airlines following in the footsteps of Court Line, with many holidaymakers returning to package holidays as they sought added security that their break would go ahead and not wishing to be caught out by hidden charges that can often come with some airlines.

In recent years those heading away have been given more control in their holidays with the arrival of dynamic packages, which offer customers the chance to build their own holidays by selecting the flights, accommodation and rental vehicles which suit their needs best.

Photo by Mesut Kaya

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