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Tourism in London – How It All Started

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If you’re looking for great weekend hotel deals in London, all you have to do is go online, find what you’re looking for and pay for it. You can do it all from your phone.

Tourism, so says britannica.com, is ‘the act and process of spending time away from home in pursuit of recreation, relaxation and pleasure while making use of the commercial provision of services.’

In other words, it’s going somewhere where you can see the sights, go to nice restaurants and stay in a nice hotel.

But it wasn’t always like that.


The First Tourists…


…weren’t looking for London weekend hotel deals. The earliest forms of leisure tourism can be traced back thousands of years. There was a museum of historical antiquities in Babylon in the sixth century AD that attracted visitors from all over the region and the Egyptians held religious festivals where visitors would also visit the famous buildings and works of art. They would also be sold food and drink, the services of private tour guides, (presumably tacky) souvenirs and for the open-minded, courtesans, no doubt all at extortionate mark-ups!

So nothing has really changed!

The Greeks would travel to the sites of the healing gods and the Mediterranean countries flourished, with traders and tourists flocking to the region to buy and sell goods, for religious reasons, for festivals, for medical treatment and for education.

Again, not much has really changed!

Although it’s unlikely that any mentioned weekend deals in London hotels, guidebooks covering places such as Athens, Sparta and Troy were available as early as the fourth century BC and Pausanias – possibly the first travel blogger – wrote a ‘noted description of Greece’ around 160 – 180 AD where he evaluated destinations and their facilities.

The rich built second homes close to Rome outside the hustle and bustle of the city and again, in the spirit of nothing changes, intellectuals, academics and the retired went to Naples, the fashionable jet-set went to Cumae and Baiae played host to the rowdy drunks and the all-night singers.

But that’s more or less where the concept of tourism as we know it stopped, at least for 1,500 years.

*COOL FACT* The word ‘holiday’ derives from the from the Old English word hāligdæg (holy day) from when pilgrims would travel around the world to holy sites.


Why Did Tourism Stop?


Weekend hotel deals in London, just like the amazing offers available at the Rathbone, were centuries away but the simple fact of the matter was that cross-border travel was very dangerous. In the Middle Ages, the Knights Templar provided protection to pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land, traders traversed the Silk Road living in fear of highway robbery and the world’s great explorers – Marco Polo, Magellan, Cook, Vasco da Gama, Abel Tasman and Christopher Columbus – discovered the new worlds – sometimes never to return – but what us 21st century kids consider tourism grew out of the Renaissance and through the Elizabethan Age.

Young men looking for positions in Queen Elizabeth’s court were encouraged to travel through Europe, both to finish their education and also to gain experience of different cultures, customs and languages and it’s likely that many of them were looking for weekend hotel deals in London hotels before they left or when they came back.

Often accompanied by a tutor, what was known as the Grand Tour enabled young men to let go of  the apron strings and enjoy the life, freedom and culture in Europe’s finest cities including Venice, Paris and Florence but the Napoleonic Wars put paid to young men frolicking their way around western Europe for thirty years. Weekend hotel deals in London may well have been the better option after all…


Then It Was All Sun, Sea, Sand and Sangria (well, maybe a little later…)


European tourism in the eighteenth century seemed to be dominated by the therapeutic qualities of mineral spas and what became known as ‘taking the cure’ became a status symbol. When fishing villages sprang up, the inland spas were superseded by coastal spas which were accessible by steamboats and made for social meeting points.

Maybe this was the start of tourists going back to the same place over and over (just like our guests at the Rathbone who are looking for weekend deals in London hotels who we welcome year after year)? Who knows.

Into the nineteenth century and the advent of the railway really put the concept of tourism on the metaphorical and literal map. The Industrial Revolution moved millions of people from rural living to city living and special trains were chartered especially for leisure travellers to get to coastal towns and out of the stinking cities, at least for a little while.

The train companies also saw it as an opportunity and built great railway termini like the stunning St Pancras Hotel built in the 1860s and the Victorian railway hotel at Charing Cross and – like us – they offered weekend hotel deals in London – but we bet the breakfasts weren’t as good!

Entrepreneurs like Thomas Cook started to get in on the act and organised train tickets and hotel bookings as packages, and as photography became more and more popular, so did, not coincidentally, the guidebook!


Exhibition Fever…


England – more specifically the capital – was a huge draw for tourists looking for weekend deals in London hotels and it all started with the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851 and that was followed by the Italian Exhibition (1888), the Empire of India Exhibition (1895), the Franco-British Exhibition (1908) and the Japan-British Exhibition (1910) and it solidified London’s position as a truly global city.


After the Great War


Not an inexpensive four years and it came with great loss but the silver cloud was that it aroused a sense of curiosity for foreign lands. There was large-scale migration to America and at the same time, private motoring took off thanks in no small part to Henry Ford’s Model T and both the big cities and seaside resorts became immediately accessible at times of peoples’ choosing rather than relying on train timetables.

Seaside resorts became an annual pilgrimage – much like they are today – and again un-coincidentally – hotels began permeating both the seaside resorts and the cities. That’s when people were really looking for weekend hotel deals in London.


After the Next War


Like the one before, World War II came at great expense financially, militarily and population-wise but as the 1950s came around, there was more disposable income and air travel – deregulated from only national carriers – became a faster and more comfortable way of travelling around the world for the masses, not just the rich.

Chartered flights, package tours (Thomas Cook was still at it) and the introduction of the Boeing 747 allowed for lots of people to get where they wanted to go cheaply and quickly. A three-week journey by sea to America was instantly cut to under 10 hours.

Thanks to free guidebooks that targeted all demographics including students, the working classes and women, weekend hotel deals in London became a reality and they focused on cheap eats and an increasingly popular social life including the purposely exotically-named Club Tahiti on Shaftsbury Avenue, the Campari Club in Soho and Club de la Cote d’Azur on Frith Street.

As we moved seamlessly into the 1970s and 1980s, tourists flocked to the capital looking for London weekend hotel deals and the same deals were being sourced at hotels all over the world.


Tourism in London Today


Thanks to the internet, if you type in ‘London weekend hotel deals’, ‘weekend hotel deals in London’ or even ‘weekend deals in London hotels’ you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for including some amazing offers at the Rathbone and it helps that we’re so close to the centre of the world’s most amazing city. One of many reasons why our guests keep coming back!

In fact if you’ve got a moment,  if you include over-nighters and day-trippers, London welcomes over 300 million domestic and foreign travellers each year and while we’d love to accommodate all of them, we’ve only got a limited number of rooms!

So, if you’re looking for a weekend hotel deal in London, you know exactly where to come!


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09 December 2023