A Look Into The UK’s Tourism History

In our latest blog we are taking a quick look through our tourism history here in the UK and how it has developed in to the booming industry we know it as today. Read more about it here

The UK has quite a storied history of contemporary holidaymaking – but it wasn’t until the building of the cross country railways and the extensive network of stations that this truly took off. However, it’s important to note that holidaymaking did exist, albeit on a small scale, before this public transport network was established – although excursions were mostly enjoyed by those who could afford horse drawn carriage fares, the upper classes and booming middle classes of the 18th and 19th centuries.

In the 1830’s and ‘40s the railway tourism industry began the travel industry we see today. Travel agents such as Thomas Cook began to offer what we call a ‘package holiday’ where one could book a ‘tour’ to north Wales for holiday purposes, and then throughout the 1850’s began to offer all-inclusive holidays to mainland Europe.

The history of the famous travel agent can be found at their website here, and we’ve included an excerpt below.

1845 – Thomas Cook conducts his first trip for profit. It is a railway journey to Liverpool from Leicester, Nottingham and Derby. Fares are 15/- first class and 10/- second class, with a supplementary charge for travelling by special steamer to North Wales. The handbook produced to accompany this tour is Thomas Cook’s first travel-related publication.

The Great Exhibition in Hyde Park saw curios and oddities from across the world, and people from across the UK, requiring mass transit to gaze on the collected plunder of a British Empire that had no signs of ceasing its expansion. It became a matter of national pride that even the working classes could travel and see these treasures and machines.

At the end of Victoria’s reign the travel and tourism industries were experiencing somewhat of a heyday. Railway travel, having been expanded and consistently employed, particularly during the First World War, represented mechanisation as had never been seen before. The hotel and boarding houses as we know them emerged during the early 20th century, and continued to prevail well after the advent of jet travel.

Steam train

In the 1920’s and 1930’s a young RAF pilot named Frank Whittle single-handedly laid down the initial research, designs and key concepts for the jet engine. It wasn’t until the end of the second world war, after the project being stalled by the government, that the ‘turbojet engine’ was officially recognised and began to be used in a new generation of fighter planes.

After a while, the passenger jet aircraft began to come into the fore – promising passengers quick, relatively safe travel across the world. This became somewhat of a death knell for domestic UK tourism as upwardly mobile jet-setters abandoned common holiday haunts and boarding houses for the sun. Nevertheless, it also opened the doors for people across the world to visit us.

In the modern era, the UK’s tourism industry attracts millions of visitors every year – as of 2015 it is ranked as the world’s 8th biggest tourist destination, with 36 million visitors arriving from across the world, especially from Europe. The EU’s open borders policy has enabled this in part, with the majority of visitors arriving from the mainland – London alone received 20 million visitors in 2016.

So, the railways might have had their day, but still the UK’s tourism business, both domestic and abroad, couldn’t be doing better. As we feel the financial pinch across the country in the current climate of economic uncertainty, holidaymakers might start flocking back to the traditional beaches which have stayed and waited for them for over 100 years.