The History of the Package Holiday

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We are so used to booking package holidays that we have a tendency to forget that package holidays are a relatively recent invention, at least for ordinary people. The story of how holiday packages became available is an interesting one.

Thomas Cook – The first package tours

In 1841, Thomas Cook, who was a cabinetmaker, decided to offer a tour for temperance supporters. He arranged a chartered train trip to take them from Leicester to Loughborough and the first traditional travel agency firm was born.

In 1855, the firm branched out and offered the first tours outside of the UK. Mr Cook took two groups to Belgium, Germany and France. He organised everything, the transport, hotels and meals making these the first traditional package holidays. In 1865, Mr Cook visited America and mapped out a USA tour. His biggest tour took place in 1872 when he took a group to Egypt via China. The trip took 8 months and covered 25,000 miles.

The Thomas Cook brand is still going strong today. Mr Cook also invented the traveller’s cheque.

Vladimir Ratiz – Holidays for the masses

Over the following few decades other firms started doing something similar, but they were small and did not really offer package holidays for the masses. The person credited with doing this is Vladimir Ratiz who founded the Horizon Holiday Group in 1949.

His family were Russian Jews who had left the Soviet Union. They had spent time in Warsaw and Berlin before settling in London, so Vladimir was well travelled.

In fact, he was on holiday in Corsica when he had the idea to offer cheap package holidays to others. When he returned home, he took £3,000 that his grandmother had left him and set up his travel firm. He chartered a surplus Dakota DC3 and flew 11 people to Corsica putting them up in tents when they got there.

By chartering the jet, he was able to offer the holidays for just £32.50 per head. At the time, flights to Nice cost double that. His first trip was a success and he knew he had a winning formula.

Within a few years, he was taking thousands to Spain. Given the fact that, at the time, Franco still controlled the country there was some opposition from the UK government. However, the British public relished the chance to enjoy a week or two in the sun. Within a year or two other firms started to set up their travel firms. Many of the UK’s biggest travel countries became established during the late 50s to the mid 70s.

Pedro Zaragoza – The godfather of mass tourism

The other pioneers of package holidays were the people that built the hotels and resorts to house the tourists. One of those people was Pedro Zaragoza who became the mayor of Benidorm in 1950.

He took over a dying fishing village and transformed it into one of Spain’s biggest tourist destinations providing accommodation for many of the early package holiday tourists. Mr Zaragoza famously rode for 8 hours on a Vespa to see Franco in Madrid and ask him to allow holidaymakers to wear bikinis on Benidorm beaches. At the time, two-piece swimsuits were banned on Spanish beaches. Surprisingly, Franco agreed.

Naturally, other people have contributed to the development of the holiday industry, but without these three key players, most of us would still not be able to afford to travel. We have a great deal to thank them for.


Since a boy i have been fascinated by travel, people and places which is the reason i have been in the travel industry for over 20 years in numerous roles sales, marketing, operations & e-commerce. These days i run a boutique digital marketing agency in Tunbridge Wells called All Amplified Media specialising in Digital Marketing for online travel agencies.

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