The following questions come from the Greek philosopher Epictetus (55 A.D.-135 A.D.) describing the pleasures of a journey to the Olympic Games: “Don’t you swelter all day in the sun? Aren’t you all jammed in with the crowds? Isn’t it hard to get a bath? Aren’t you soaked to the bone whenever it rains? Don’t the din and the shouting and the other petty annoyances drive you completely mad? But of course you put up with it all because it’s an unforgettable spectacle.”
The ancient Romans were known for many amazing achievements -- Roman numerals certainly come to mind -- but did you know that they were responsible for creating the tourist industry? They developed the original Grand Tour, an itinerary from the lost city of Troy to the Acropolis, from the Colossus of Rhodes to Egypt, where the inaugural Nile cruise took them to the remotest parts of the empire.
Fast forward to the period between the middle of the 18th century to the start of World War I, where we see remarkable changes in leisure travel. Those changes involved the sheer volume of travelers, technology, choices of destinations and even opinions of what was considered worth seeing (travel snobbery).
Back in 1760, when travelers completed the Channel crossing arriving in Ostend or Calais, they had several modes of land transportation to choose from. If you were extremely wealthy you simply purchased or hired a private carriage and horses -- a simple economy class category good for two passengers or an elaborate full size, comfortable for five “post class,” which translated into fresh horses and drivers at designated stations along the main roads at various mileage intervals. There were even guide books listing post stations. Some included detailed maps. Some posting stations also served meals. Posting was the number one choice for most wealthy travelers.
Of course, not everyone had the financial resources to travel “post class” so they booked “diligence class.” Picture three stage coaches hitched together with a platform across the top for luggage and extra passengers. The “diligence class” could carry up to 30 passengers and traveled between major cities in France, Switzerland and Germany. Fares were cheap and schedules were somewhat reliable.
The least expensive category or class of travel was the vetturino system. In some European countries like Italy, diligence class was very limited and posting too expensive, so vetturino class was very popular. vetturinos were self-appointed guides who contracted with travelers to provide transportation, lodging and meals along a specified route for a single price.
Is any of this starting to sound somewhat familiar? Here we are in the year 2012 and we have private jets wholly owned or time shared. I read recently that at least a dozen of the new 747-800s being built by Boeing are privately owned. Depending on ones budget there are a variety of classes of air service ranging from private compartments that sleep two comfortably, lie down beds in business class, premium economy on transatlantic service, economy plus -- and let’s not forget coach.
I’m not exactly sure just how many river vessels ply the waters of the Nile, but capacity has come a long way since Roman times. A review of the 2012 U.S. Tour Operators Association Directory shows just how successful the vetturino style of traveling has developed into today’s leisure travel world.
I’ve heard it said that there is no such thing as a new idea -- just old ones that marketing provides with a new makeover and introduces it to a new generation or audience. I’m not sure if that’s really true or not -- does history repeat itself? All I know is that I keep hearing in my mind that popular song written by Peter Allen and recorded by Ann Murray in the 1980s called “Every Thing Old is New Again.”
I remember how much I liked that song and I’ll always recall the beginning of my own personal leisure travel history – a 1964 vintage vetturino class with MTI Vacations. I traveled from Chicago to Los Angeles to Honolulu to San Francisco to Las Vegas and back to sweet home Chicago.
Larry McCarthy, a 26-year veteran of the travel industry, is director-travel industry relations for the Globus family of brands, which includes Globus, Cosmos, Monograms and Avalon Waterways.