Tales of a travel addict

Get ready to welcome the BRICs


There are now more than one billion people holidaying abroad each year and it’s growing by almost 4 per cent annually. To put that in context, in 1804 there were one billion people on the entire planet, and 50 years ago mass tourism didn’t even exist.

The first ever package holiday left Gatwick for Corsica in 1950. It was the whim of a Reuters reporter, Vladimir Raitz, who had been on holiday in Corsica and thought it would be fun to charter a plane, put some ads in the paper and bring punters out to support the bistros and auberges of his Corsican friends. His idea developed into Horizon Holidays, which became one of Britain’s leading operators.

Tourism is now worth €749 billion annually and its growth has led to seismic economic, social, cultural and anthropological shifts. It’s one of the key developments in post-war western society.

Thomas Cook was the pioneer, with his first train excursion from Leicester to a Temperance rally in Loughborough in 1841. By negotiating deals with the railways, taverns and hotels, he was able to offer discounts, although first he had to familiarise people with the very notion of a holiday.

It was Cook who popularised the concept of things such as sightseeing and tracking the footsteps of famous figures. Previously, this had been the preserve of the idle rich. He convinced the great estates to open their gates for a fee, and meticulously laid out tours of sites linked with people like Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. He developed so many concepts that we take for granted today: tour guides, guidebooks, hotel coupons and travellers’ cheques.

By 1868 “Cook and Son” were offering their first long-haul trip – a caravan of 65 riding horses and 87 pack horses to the Holy Land. In place of an air marshal they had 77 soldiers armed with carbines. The company went on to develop package deals to the Americas by sea, and in 1919 they experimented with tourism by aircraft. Post-war affluence and the decline of local seaside resorts made people consider going abroad.

By the mid-1970s, 70-80 per cent of Scandinavian adults went on holiday, while only 25 per cent of Italians did.

Now everything is changing again. Last year, Chinese tourists became the largest global spenders, shelling out €76 billion abroad, a 40 per cent increase on the year before. Who knows what oil shortages and climate shift may bring, but already 83 million Chinese tourists are travelling overseas each year, and there are hundreds of millions more yet to come. Expect every resort to adapt to Chinese tastes or face decline.

The other three Bric countries – Brazil, Russia and India – are embracing tourism with equal vigour.

Who in Ireland will be their Thomas Cook? Mass tourism 50 years from now will be as unimaginable as today’s was 50 years ago. But it’s definitely more likely to be Yi lù píng an than Bon voyage.

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