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Looking back on how package travel has revolutionised the industry for UK travellers with ABTA

Date posted: 30.11.2023

As we celebrate the Golden Anniversary of the ATOL financial protection scheme, we are looking back at how the package holiday market has changed since the first ATOLs were issued to UK travel firms in the summer of 1973.

Anyone who organises a holiday financially protected by the ATOL scheme can relax knowing that they will not be out of pocket or left abroad in the rare event that their tour operator collapses. You can check if your air package trip is financially protected by ATOL by using the handy online tool on our website.

Image of Sean Tipton from ABTA
Sean Tipton – ABTA

We asked Sean Tipton from the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) for his views on how overseas travel has opened up for millions of British holidaymakers in the last half century. ABTA represents UK travel agents, tour operators and the wider travel industry.

“The phrase “cheap package holidays” often appears in articles about the growth of overseas holidays in the 1970s.This slightly disparaging term hides a much more attractive reality; the opening up of foreign travel to people on average salaries, which has now become a normal part of UK life and an accepted fact.

But, cast your mind back 50 years. Before then, flying overseas had largely been the preserve of the well off, glamorous yes, but very expensive. This began to change in the early 70s with the introduction of the Boeing 747, the Jumbo jet, which with an unprecedented 350 passengers, enabled airlines to lower prices. Also, a number of ABTA member revolutionary entrepreneurs had set up package tour companies which worked in partnership with local hotels to offer the glamour of overseas holidays but at affordable prices.

TV fed this growing demand with shows such as the Holiday Programme and Wish You Were Here amongst the most popular primetime shows, inspiring viewers with then exotic, alluring locations such as Majorca and the Costa Brava.

It must be remembered that prior to this time going overseas for a holiday was for most, relatively uncommon and could be quite intimidating for many. Tour operators provided a degree of reassurance with English speaking reps, airport transfers and in many cases English food. This was also a time when our language skills were characteristically rusty, and English was also nowhere as widely spoken abroad as it is now.

We were much more insular, and much less adventurous in our eating habits. Pasta was generally only available in blue waxed paper in Italian delis or hooped in tins, and olive oil was only bought from the chemist to use as an ear wax dissolver. It is fair to say that the 50 years of foreign travel since the first ATOLs were issued have gone a very long way to making our diets and tastes much more varied and sophisticated.

Prices in Mediterranean favourites such as Spain were generally lower than the UK making us all feel rather rich with our exotic wads of pesetas, lira and drachmae. The joy of guaranteed sunshine and warm seas were a magical contrast to people more used to the grey skies and cold seas of UK seaside resorts.

The UK travel agent was a big part of the expansion of foreign holidays – helping people find the right holiday for them. And they are still just as relevant today. While you can still find them on the high street, ABTA member agents are also providing excellent service online and across social media.

Fifty years on, the package holiday still remains the best way to travel in terms of the financial protection it offers customers. But they can look a lot different – anything can be a package holiday, from a tour around Japan to a week’s holiday in the Med.

It is not what you do or where you go, rather how you book it, that makes it a package holiday. And like 50 years ago, ABTA member travel agents and tour operators continue to help customers find the best holiday for them.

Ask your parents and grandparents of their memories of this time and I can guarantee you they will have very happy memories of the first time they had the joy of joining the jet set and flying off on their holidays to destinations previously only available in their dreams.”

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