Back in 1950, package holidays were seen as adventurous and full of glamour; then, the sheen began to wear off. Now, it seems that the all-inclusive getaway is back and better than ever, according to a recent piece by The Independent.
In the beginning, then-new package holiday companies offered “Mediterranean sun, wine at nine pence a bottle and meat-filled meals”—a pretty big deal in post-war Britain where rationing was still in place. The downside was that flights were made on rickety war-surplus planes, the landing was not at an airport but an airstrip built by the American army, and accommodation was in ex-army tents. But on the upside, these first tourists starting their package holiday in Corsica were greeted by a municipal band and a delegation bearing flowers. And, compared with the chancy British weather, they must really have loved that sunshine.
The idea of the package holiday has evolved since then. Tour operators realised that the things standing in the way of the ideal holiday for the Brits were a fear of flying, a fear of foreign food, and a fear of foreigners in general. But these obstacles were by no means insurmountable to the holiday companies. They improved their planes, so they were not so rackety, they took care of all the details of booking and food so that tourists didn’t have to deal with the foreigners if they didn’t want to, and as for food – chips with everything took care of that.
Regarding the accommodation, the mayor of Benidorm in Spain, Pedro Zaragoza, had a splendid idea – he would re-invigorate the fortunes of the failing fishing village by making it into a tourist haven. He built the vista of skyscraper hotels, swimming pools and tennis courts that has been the model for resorts ever since. He even battled the threat of ex-communication to allow visitors to stroll the streets in immodest bikinis, banning the pious locals from saying one word about it.
And for one final touch – the package holidays were undercutting a standard flight by so much that in 1960 the aviation authorities decreed that they had to cost at least the same amount. So to justify the price hike, the package holiday operators started to include unlimited free alcohol with the holiday. Now all the ingredients for the now-stereotypical experience were there: the concrete, the chips, the booze, the swimsuit wearing tourists who wouldn’t venture far from the resort or talk to the locals.
For a time this suited tourists ideally; but by the mid-eighties things had gone too far, and the package holiday went into decline. Many modern travellers want quite the opposite experience. They want to try local cuisines and practice their language skills; they want to visit local beauty spots and see how the locals live.
With the rise of the Internet, travellers have more flexibility: They can book accommodation online and search out the cheapest low cost flights for themselves. In 2008 package holidays were down to 37% of holidays booked. But last year’s figures showed package holidays were right back up, and 51% of holidaymakers had chosen the package option.
It turns out that package tour providers can still be cheaper than booking separately because of economies of scale, and what’s more they’ve made a great effort to cater for modern sensibilities.
“The package holiday has become a different animal since the decline,” says ABTA’s (the Association of British Travel Agents) Sean Tipton.
“Customers now understand it offers huge variety, including complicated itineraries, but with all the old positives like convenience. You can go on your own tailor-made safari, just you and the guide. You can have a yachting holiday in the Med. So long as it’s sold at an all-inclusive price, with transport and another service (which will be accommodation 99.9 per cent of the time) then it’s a package.” And nowadays you can pick the length of your holiday to suit you and your family, not just the tour operator. “It used to be, that’s what you get. Seven nights or 14, and such inflexibility used to be a real weakness. Now you can go for as long or short as you like.”