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On December 26, 1958, a group of twelve travelers, who were the first ever to go on a skiing trip to a chalet, departed from London Victoria by train towards the port of Newhaven. They spent the night sailing to Dieppe on the northern coast of France and then embarked on a lengthy train ride to Grindelwald, Switzerland. At that time, after the war, the vacation seemed like an unattainable fantasy: two weeks of skiing while being taken care of by hosts in a chalet and having access to unlimited wine.
Colin Murison Small, who recently passed away at the age of 93, served as their guide and organizer.
Mr. Murison Small, a pioneer in the travel industry, is not a familiar name to most modern travelers. However, his bold vision and innovative ideas played a crucial role in shaping the British holiday experience that we know today.
The main factor behind the success of the first season was its affordability. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the trip, the organizer shared that each participant paid 30 guineas [£31.50] for transportation and all-inclusive lodging. Based on the average wage during the late 1950s, it would take approximately one month of work to earn enough money for the trip.
The cost of that vacation is currently £625, which is less than the average weekly wage in Britain in 2024.
Upon returning to the chalet, the catering provided tea, followed by unlimited affordable wine at dinner.
In 1959, it took the average man three weeks of work to earn the funds necessary for a two-week vacation, while it took women five weeks.
In the past, the lodging was basic due to financial constraints, as British citizens were only allowed a foreign currency allowance of £25.
Mr. Murison Small was responsible for establishing the position of chalet host, which involved preparing delicious meals and creating a warm atmosphere for guests. This allowed even strangers to feel like close friends. He founded a company called Murison Small Ltd (later renamed Small World) that provided services for both solo travelers and groups of two or more. Guests could book with confidence, knowing they would be among like-minded individuals.
The concept had been born the previous summer. In 1958 Mr Murison Small had travelled with friends to Yugoslavia for a bargain holiday on the Adriatic coast. Two of his pals’ girlfriends were unemployed at the time, so the others agreed to cover their costs for accommodation and food if they cooked.
Colin Murison Small came up with a fantastic business concept. He quickly established the position, and these two women were hired as his initial staff members for the upcoming winter season.
Sir Arnold Lunn began arranging ski vacations for the wealthy British elite as far back as 1899. However, it was not until Mr Murison Small negotiated lower prices that the average person could consider taking a winter-sports holiday. The business owner achieved cost savings by leasing chalets for the entire ski season, hiring British women to work there, and providing an all-inclusive package with no hidden fees.
As part of the agreement, customers were required to provide assistance.
The morning meal included two sizable containers. One contained oatmeal, while the other held hot water. Next to the water container were newly laid eggs – and a writing utensil for labeling your egg. The chalet hosts dined with the visitors and everyone helped with clearing tables and washing dishes. The hosts’ purpose was not to serve, but to create a welcoming atmosphere for clients – and at home, you would typically cook your own egg by boiling it.
The idea quickly gained popularity. Despite losing £50 in the first season, Mr Murison Small persisted and expanded to top resorts throughout the Alps by 2008. By then, the concept of chalets had become more formalized and the job title of “Muribirds” for the hosts was no longer politically correct.
In 1959, Colin Murison Small introduced a unique winter sports vacation option and later adapted it for summer packages in Spain’s Costa Brava. The inaugural villa party trip took place in Blanes, located near Lloret de Mar.
However, his deepest affection was for Greece. In the 1960s, the tour operator introduced Lindos in Rhodes as a popular destination for British tourists. The area boasted a stunning acropolis and a wide, sandy beach, making it an ideal location. During his visit, he met with the mayor and the owner of the most impressive house in the village, both of whom were in the town square. The inaugural group of visitors stayed at “The Captain’s House”, as it was known.
In 1965, Small World purchased tickets for the initial charter flight from the United Kingdom to Athens. During this period, the majority of British tourists traveled to Athens and then continued their journey to the islands via ferry. However, airports on the islands soon became more accessible, satisfying the public’s desire for “direct flights, brief transfers, and no ancient artifacts, please,” as succinctly stated by Murison Small.
During the early 1970s, the travel industry in the UK experienced a period of instability. Numerous individuals were left stranded or without funds due to the collapse of holiday companies. For instance, in 1974, 40,000 holidaymakers were left stranded overseas and an additional 60,000 suffered financial losses as a result of the collapse of Court Line.
In order to safeguard travelers from potential failures, the Atol scheme, which has been in operation for 50 years, was created. However, smaller companies were unable to meet the strict bonding requirements on their own. Mr. Murison Small organized a meeting with his competitors at a pub in London and was elected as the head of the newly established Association of Independent Tour Operators (Aito), which offers crucial financial protection.
In 1985, Colin Murison Small left Small World and started a new venture called Hidden Greece. He used a rating system called “The Martian Factor” to rate each destination on a scale of 1 to 10, with higher numbers indicating a greater chance of encountering other British travelers.
“He noted that Greeks will always act like Greeks, while also handling the anticipations of potential customers.”
“Greeks do not prostitute their way of life to please the tourist: they carry on rising with the sun, enjoying lukewarm food and turning shouting matches into an art form.
Some may not enjoy certain parts of Greek life, such as waking up to the sound of roosters, early bus schedules, or loud neighbors disrupting sleep. However, our customers continue to come back because they enjoy our cozy, mostly family-owned accommodations where hospitality is valued over subservience.
The tourism sector, which centers around promoting human happiness, flourishes when individuals come together in beautiful destinations around the globe. Colin Murison Small, throughout his successful and notable career, demonstrated his passion for travelers and the locals who welcome them.
Simon Calder, also recognized as The Man Who Funds His Journeys, has been composing about trips for The Independent since nineteen ninety-four. In his regular viewpoint article, he delves into a significant travel topic – and its implications for you.