Journal: TWUKSection:
Title: Issue Date: 23/04/01
Author: Page Number: 22
Copyright: Other

Packaging history into a right riveting read

Vladimir Raitz, pioneer of mass tourism, together with travel and aviation journalist Roger Bray, has written the definitive history of the package holiday. Mike Toynbee reports

Today’s generation of travel professionals might find it hard to believe that mass tourism as we know it did not exist 50 years ago.

Overseas travel was still the prerogative of adventurers and a well-heeled minority.

All that changed in 1948 when a post-war ban on foreign holidays was lifted and the package tour was born.

One of the earliest exponents was Vladimir Raitz, a 27-year-old Russian émigré working for Reuters, whose holiday in Corsica in 1949 laid the foundation of what was to become one of the UK’s premier operators – Horizon Holidays.

He writes: “Back in London, the idea of supplying clients to my friends in Corsica was increasingly appealing. It would be straightforward and uncomplicated, a sideline to my day job at Reuters.

“What could be simpler? Charter a plane, put a couple of ads in the papers, and the public would come rolling in.”

It sounds absurdly easy, but against a British European Airways’ monopoly on short-haul flights from the UK, it proved something of a challenge.

Raitz recounts the rise and fall of one of Britain’s most admired travel companies – Horizon Holidays – whose hallmark was quality.

Asked once to rank the major tour companies on seven different counts, from the company with the fewest complaints to the one agents would choose for their own holiday, the trade put Horizon as the first choice in all seven categories. In 1970 the company had its most profitable year.

However, by 1974 the world oil crisis, three-day week, cut-throat competition among the major operators and bonding demands on the part of the Civil Aviation Authority had all taken their toll.

Horizon’s fate was sealed and the company was taken over by Court Line. Raitz lost the lot, including a house in Chelsea and much more.

“I was at the nadir of my existence,” he writes.

Court Line, of which loss-making Clarksons was now a part, crashed in August 1974, taking Horizon and 4S with it.

Some 40,000 customers were abroad at the time and 100,000 were affected by the collapse.

It was the biggest travel failure the industry had suffered and is still regarded by many as a landmark event.

The birth of resort islands such as Majorca and Ibiza, affinity groups, such as the famously named West Hartlepool Bird Fanciers’ Circle, ABTA’s code of practice, consumer protection, flotations and failures, including ILG and Laker Airways, are among the events chronicled in this thorough history, which everyone in the business should read.

The book includes a fascinating industry chronology, from Thomas Cook’s pioneering train excursion from Leicester to Loughborough in 1841 right up to the acquisition Thomson Holidays by Preussag last year.

What next? “Reports that the inclusive holiday was teetering on the brink of extinction have proved as premature as those of Mark Twain’s death once were,” writes Bray.

And Vladimir? At 79, he is still involved in the business, running tours to Cuba.

Making history: the first air service between London to Sardinia was run in conjunction with Horizon Holidays in 1954

Enterprising: Vladimir Raitz, travel pioneer and co-author of Flight To The Sun