Return Trip to the Fifties; A New Book Recalls the Early Days of the Package Holiday, When a Week's Skiing Cost [Pounds Sterling]45 and Torremolinos Was a Fishing Village. Max Davidson Gets Nostalgic
Davidson, Max, Daily Mail (London)
Byline: MAX DAVIDSON
COME to Ibiza, says the brochure. 'It has the charm of a small island where nothing exciting is expected to happen.' No, it's not a misprint. It's a very old travel brochure - 1963, to be precise, when you could get an allin fortnight in the Balearic Islands for [pound]80.
In the same year, you could go skiing in Austria for [pound]45. Go Gay-Ski, catering for the 18-30 age group, promised 'evenings full of gaiety' and 'impromptu parties springing up like daisies on the lawn'. It really was an age of innocence.
The package holiday has become such a familiar part of the cultural landscape that it is easy to forget that it has been around for barely 50 years.
It was masterminded by Russian emigre Vladimir Raitz, the founder of Horizon Holidays and the co-author of a new history of package holidays.
The date was May 1950, the destination, Corsica, and the cost of Horizon's first package holiday was [pound]32 10s. That was not cheap but, at a time when air travel was heavily regulated and the cost of a scheduled return flight to Nice was [pound]70, it must have seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime bargain.
Under restrictions imposed by Clement Attlee's Labour government, who did not mind the working classes enjoying themselves but was nervous of them doing it abroad, only students and teachers could take the trip. Raitz duly advertised in The New Statesman, The Teacher's World and Nursing Mirror.
It was hardly a recipe for a wild party, but enough guinea pigs were found for an experiment of revolutionary significance. They took a coach from King's Cross to Gatwick, where they boarded a DC3 Dakota to Corsica for a six-hour flight, including a refuelling stop. Then they travelled by bus to the Camp Franco-Britannique on a beach near Calvi. They slept in tents and facilities were primitive, but who cared?
The sun was shining and the bar was open . . . an institution had been born.
'Our clients were pioneers, so they had a lot of fun,' says Raitz. 'They discovered places where there was no chance of running into their neighbours.'
Obviously, there was nothing new about foreign travel per se. Since the days of the Grand Tour, Britons with time and money to spend had been beating a path to the Continent. But until Horizon Holidays broke the mould, it had never been thought a pastime for the masses. In 1952, only 1.5 per cent of the population took a holiday abroad.
That figure was about to rocket.
After opening up Corsica, Raitz turned his attention to Majorca, where Horizon clients were nicknamed 'the Horizontals'. Times were changing fast.
One unmarried couple, who had booked separate rooms, were told not to be 'so bloody silly'. To sun and sand, a third ingredient had been added.
Nowadays, we tend to think of package tourism as a blight. 'I went back to Torremolinos recently and I was horrified,' says Raitz. 'The huge apartment blocks, the drugs, McDonald's in the old plaza . . .'
But in the Fifties, the potential negative effects of the package holiday was not immediately obvious. The moneyed classes continued to take their holidays in the south of France, Capri and cruising on the Mediterranean.
They were not bothered by hoi polloi getting in on the act, because they went elsewhere. …