WHAT IS A PACKAGE HOLIDAY?
Traditionally, it consists of a charter flight and a week or fortnight's accommodation. It can be very cost-effective, with tour operators managing aircraft seats and hotel beds at maximum occupancy, aiming to keep the cost-per-head ratio to a minimum.
Legally, a holiday comprises at least one overnight stay and consists of a pre-arranged combination of elements - typically a flight plus accommodation or car rental - that is sold at an inclusive price. This definition is important, because it gives holiday-makers considerable legal protection, of which more later.
WHEN DID THEY START?
Thomas Cook took his first paying passengers abroad in 1851; his company became the world's leading travel organiser. After the First World War, something like mass package tourism developed for families wishing to see the battlefields on which their husbands and brothers had died. The first discernable holiday packages were sold by Harry Chandler, founder of the Travel Club of Upminster, who arranged trips to Portugal before the Second World War. But package holidays for the masses were pioneered in 1950 by Vladimir Raitz, the founder of Horizon.
The initial package holidays from Britain to the Med were from Gatwick, via Lyon, to Calvi in Corsica, where there is still a Club Horizon railway station on the coast. Horizon and others soon moved into Mallorca and the Costa Brava.
Many early package holiday-makers travelled by coach, but during the 1970s jet aircraft became the standard form of transport to the sun; second- hand Comets and Boeing 707s were pressed into service, along with brand- new BAC 1-11s and Boeing 737s.
Package holidays began to spread further afield. Greece became very popular, and before too long holidays were being offered to such exotic destinations as The Gambia.
Things continued relatively unchanged until recently, when the package industry was wrong-footed by the low-cost airlines boom. The imminent demise of the package holiday has been predicted for at least a decade. Until this year, the figures have always confounded the doom merchants: sales of Mediterranean packages stand at around 15 million annually. But package travel is indisputably declining relative to the rest of the market.
I'M NOT SURE I WANT TO JOIN THE BUCKET-AND- SPADE BRIGADE
Granted, beach package holidays may not suit everyone, but before you turn your nose up you should consider the many advantages of buying one. Firstly, convenience of booking. Not everyone has the time or inclination to trawl through guide books, flight timetables or the internet for the best deals.
Secondly, with your flights, accommodation, transfers and maybe even meals paid for upfront, the likely total cost of your holiday should be much more apparent from the outset.
Tour operators exercise a lot of financial buying power, especially in the big Mediterranean resorts. This means they have the pick of the hotels, and can offer very competitive prices - especially away from the peak late-July and August season.
Then there is the obligation for holiday companies to deliver what is promised. If the brochure boasts facilities like swimming pools, clubs for children and sports facilities, these must be delivered. Generally, those on package holidays can call on the services of a local representative who can help with excursions, car hire and sorting out problems. In theory, package holidays should be worry-free.
If the company goes bust, under the Atol scheme you will get your cash back - or, if you are already away, be flown home - probably after completing your holiday.
If you book components separately, you should always try to pay by credit card for anything costing over pounds 100 (even if there's a surcharge), as you then have recourse via the credit-card company if the supplier of a component fails. …