Obituary: Vladimir Raitz - founder of the package holiday

Obituary: Vladimir Raitz - founder of the package holiday

Vladimir Raitz, a pioneer of the package holiday, died recently at the age of 88 having played a profound role in shaping the UK travel industry.

Raitz was the first to offer charter flights and all-inclusive holidays, organising his premier package in May 1950 – when 11 paying passengers flew to Corsica aboard a government-surplus Dakota DC3, stopping to refuel in Nice and sleeping in tents on arrival.

They paid £32.50 all in, less than half the cost of a scheduled flight to Nice at the time. Raitz later recalled: “When we arrived at Corsica airport, there was nothing at all.”

The company he founded to organise such trips - with £3,000 left him by his grandmother - was Horizon Holidays, its name reflecting the view from an aircraft window.

It would go on to become one of the UK’s biggest tour operators, flying clients to Majorca, Malaga and the fishing village of Tossa de Mar on the Costa Brava – though not without opposition in the UK, as Spain was then under the dictatorship of General Franco.

Raitz also had to deal with barriers from business rivals and government. British European Airways, a forerunner of British Airways, objected to him flying to Corsica even though it did not.

The government initially suggested he would not gain clearance to operate and then restricted charter passengers to students and teachers.

For a long time, ministers also restricted the spending money holidaymakers could take overseas – at one point to £25 – and it would be 1971 before tour operators were allowed to sell packages for less than the normal scheduled fare on a route.

Yet in no time dozens of companies were emulating Horizon. By 1960, 2.25 million Britons were holidaying abroad and by 1967 five million.

In 1965, Raitz acquired two package holiday companies on behalf of newspaper publishing group The Thomson Organisation – Sky Tours and Riviera Holidays.  Along with a small carrier allied to Sky Tours, Britannia Airways, these were merged to form Thomson Holidays. Five years later, Raitz founded Club 18-30.

He prided himself on the quality Horizon holidays maintained while making foreign travel affordable to growing numbers, despite a background of increasing complaints about “cowboy” operators and substandard hotels in the 1960s.

However, an intensifying price war coupled with the oil crisis of 1973 put Horizon in trouble. In 1974 the company was taken over by Court Line, parent of the UK’s biggest tour operator at the time, Clarksons Travel Group.

Later the same year,Clarksons collapsed owing cash to 100,000 holidaymakers. The ensuing crisis led the government to found a consumer financial protection system that would become the Atol scheme of today.

Despite the collapse, Raitz remained in travel for many years through his involvement with the Association of British Travel Agents – now Abta – as a board member of Air Malta, as managing director of Medallion Holidays, organising tours on behalf of the Maltese Tourist Board, and in other roles. By the late 1970s, the social revolution he had helped to trigger had permanently transformed the holiday expectations of millions.

Ironically, Raitz had been born in Moscow in 1922 in the midst of a revolution that his middle-class family – all but his father – fled, first to Berlin and then to Vienna. Raitz never saw his father again.

Being Jewish, the family were forced to flee again from Hitler and arrived in London in 1936 with Vladimir unable to speak a word of English. Yet he managed to study at the London School of Economics before working as a news agency translator during World War Two.

It was while on a holiday in Calvi, in Corsica, in 1949 that Raitz conceived the idea of chartering an aircraft for holidaymakers, leading him to establish Horizon in October that year.

Subsequently, Raitz was pleased to have provided “a fortnight in the Mediterranean sun to a wide segment of the British public”, something that previously had been “the prerogative of well-to-do members of the bourgeoisie”.

He noted: “The man in the street acquired a taste for wine, for foreign food, started to learn French, Spanish or Italian, made friends in the foreign lands he visited – in fact, become more cosmopolitan. . . It’s marvellous that 12 or 13 million people can have a Mediterranean holiday.”

Much of the shape of modern British life stems from this travel revolution – the demand for olive oil and international cooking, wine and Continental lager, cafe culture and late-night drinking.

But Raitz also recognised a downside to mass tourism, noting in 1989 that Benidorm “looks bloody awful” and insisting: “I hate to see resorts being despoiled.” He was a man who would have been at home with more recent attempts to develop sustainability in tourism.

Vladimir Raitz: born May 23, 1922; died August 31, 2010

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