The New European: Surprise package – the remarkable story of the first modern all-inclusive holiday

They seem an increasingly unfashionable, unoriginal choice now, but package holidays were once little short of revolutionary. SOPHIA DEBOICK tells the tale of the first ever trip, and its visionary mastermind.

More than 160 years after Thomas Cook organised his first foreign excursion – a tour of Belgium, Germany and France – the business he founded is in the doldrums. The company has announced a £750 million bailout from Chinese firm Fosun to service its £1.6 billion debts.

The package holiday has long been in trouble. While the holiday market grew by almost two thirds between 1994 and 2004, the founding of the likes of Easyjet and Booking.com, along with internet usage jumping from 1% to 65% of the British population in that period, saw the DIY holiday take off and the share of the market claimed by packages fall by 10%.

It’s been a rocky road ever since, and as the concept wanes in the age of budget airlines and Airbnb, it’s difficult to grasp just how glamorous and exciting was the world that its pioneers first opened up to Brits in the aftermath of the Second World War, when the package holiday, as we would recognise them, first appeared.

Seventy years ago this summer, one of those pioneers went on a Mediterranean break expecting only relaxation. He ended up finding his life’s work, taking a few thousand pounds and creating a billion-pound industry, in the process revolutionising not just our holidays but our society…

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