Thomas Cook Invents Organized Tourism

Thomas Cook
(1808 – 1892)

On 5 July 1841, British pioneer of organized tourism Thomas Cook arranged to take a group of 540 temperance campaigners from Leicester Campbell Street station to a rally in Loughborough, eleven miles away. This led him to start his own business founding the world’s first and most famous travel agency.

Thomas Cook apprenticed at a cabinet maker and later became a Baptist preacher touring through the country to distribute his believe and pamphlets. For several years, he published Baptist and Temperance pamphlets before becoming a minister in 1828. Cook organized anti-liquor processions, meetings and lectures. While the local train system was enlarged, Cook came to the idea of organizing trips for temperance campaigners. The first journey took 540 of them to the eleven mile far away Loughborough. In 1841 he managed to arrange that every passenger should pay one shilling including a rail ticket as well as food and beverages for the journey. Cook himself received a small share of the money and the first privately chartered excursion was a success.

Cook started advertising his journeys and organized further summer trips for church members. The business began flourishing and further railway companies agreed a partnership as long as he found enough passengers. Unfortunately, Cook as firstly not a very smart advertiser of his business wherefore he had to face bankruptcy in 1846. But luckily the Great Exhibition in London came up and apparently he arranged trips for a total of 165000 people, this time not only church members. This success led him to organize journeys abroad and soon he took curious tourists to Egypt, the United States, or Italy, there were almost no limits. The great deals, Cook was able to negotiate, he made tourism affordable for almost everyone, and not only for the wealthy part of the society. Workers were able to explore Europe and beyond.

When Cook formed a partnership with his son, the business expanded but also often collided with his Christian beliefs. To manage these controversies, the entrepreneur opened a small temperance hotel above his office. Also he began selling travelling accessories, and developed new business models to make the trip as comfortable as possible. After Thomas Cook retired, the company was led by his son and grandchildren, who opened several offices around the world including Australia and the Middle East.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a short lecture by professor Richard Evans on The Victorian Grand Tour, a explanation how tourism in the Victorian Era was quite different from what it is today.

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