Historians have unearthed the startling fact that the first ever package holidays were aimed at Muslims travelling to the city of Mecca. Thomas Cook was the first company to conceptualise what are now referred to as package holidays and its first destination was the Middle Eastern holy city.
Researchers have unearthed tickets dating from the mid-1880s which enabled the holder to travel from what was then the Indian city of Bombay to Jeddah, the gateway to Mecca. At this time, India was a British colony and its rulers asked Thomas Cook for help in arranging travel for Muslims so that they could make the Hajj pilgrimage.
The British government enlisted Thomas Cook’s aid following an incident in which a ship laden with Indian pilgrims almost sank en route. All Muslims have to make the Hajj pilgrimage a minimum of once in their lifetimes if they are physically capable of doing so.
The revelation that the UK company best known for its holidays in the sun was instrumental in taking Muslims on their Mecca pilgrimages has amazed many. Paul Smith is an archivist with Thomas Cook and he stated the firm was proud of its illustrious inheritance.
Cambridge researcher Dr John Slight delved into Thomas Cook’s history for his forthcoming book ‘The British Empire and the Hajj’. In the tome he claims that the pilgrimage was a worry for the British government while it ruled the Indian subcontinent.
He also notes that some Britons were inspired into making the Hajj themselves or even converting to Islam. One notable traveller was eminent 19th century adventurer Richard Burton who masqueraded as an Arab doctor to gain entry to Mecca.