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  • Naissance d’une industrie touristique: Les Anglais et la suisse au XIX siecle
  • Gary Cross
Naissance d’une industrie touristique: Les Anglais et la suisse au XIX siecle. By Laurent Tissot (Laussane: Editions Payot, 2000. 5 plus 302pp.).

Tourism surely began in the imagination. Few would deny the critical role of the British in creating the modern romance of pleasure traveling and for making Switzerland’s Alps a preeminent site for European tourism. The economic historian Laurent Tissot has documented how a complex blend of travel guidebooks and tourist agencies created a demand for a wide range of travel services to Switzerland in the 19th century. The late 18th century produced not only a new naturalistic and romantic esthetic but also the economic means for the English commercial bourgeoisie to join the aristocracy and gentry in exploring medieval ruins in the British countryside. The appeal of Switzerland was largely an extension of these same cultural and economic forces. In the 19th century, travel literature attracted British readers second only to novels, and the number of tourist guides for Switzerland increased from three in the 1780s to 16 in the 1820s, peaking at 85 by the 1880s. Gradually, Tissot notes, these guides developed into a specialized genre, providing practical information for travelers and details of cultural sites instead of local history or general description. By the 1830s, reflecting the impact of mountain climbing, the Alps lost their mysterious and menacing associations and became a site for play, contemplation, and exploration, a place where industrial people could demonstrate their skills and sensitivities. By midcentury, the guidebooks tried to make the tourist [End Page 236] independent of the local Swiss, and even reinforced British prejudice against the “grasping” local hotelkeeper and merchant. Tourism had become efficient with specified and well-trod itineraries. At the same time, specialized guides for medicinal sites, mountain climbing, even bicycling became available for seasoned travelers.

The remainder of the book focuses on travel to Switzerland itself. While in 1816, the voyage between London and Geneva was an arduous 16 days, the railroad reduced travel times to five days by 1848 and to 18 hours by 1900. Rail tourism began in England as early as 1830 and by 1848, the pleasure traveler could take a direct train/boat journey from England to Paris. Within a decade, the PLM railroad organized discounted trains for pleasure trips from Paris to Switzerland. Using scarce data, Tissot finds from 1840 a steady increase of passenger traffic between England and the continent. In the summer, most traveled to Switzerland, avoiding Italy’s heat. Only after the 1860s did more than a few not travel first class.

For most readers, the material on the tourist agencies, especially that of Thomas Cook, will be most interesting. Cook’s beginnings in 1841, as an organizer of temperance excursions on English Midland railroads, may be well known. But Tissot makes good use of business records to show the evolution of Cook’s agency into a highly efficient deliverer of tourist services to the broad British middle class. Beginning in 1863, Cook organized highly successful tours of Switzerland, eliminating the work and worry of distant travel while offering also great flexibility in selecting accommodation and itinerary. The agency encouraged group travel with its Swiss Circular Tickets that offered discount coupons and its Personally Conducted Tours of 13 to 18 days. As early as 1873, Cook presented tourists with 59 different itineraries to Switzerland. Hotel coupons reduced tourist uncertainty about price, payment, and service. Cook used his market power to persuade hotels to accept coupons and to conform to Cook’s conditions. Similarly, in 1875,Cook developed Circular Notes, the ancestor of the Travelers’ Check.

Cook certainly attracted a bourgeois clientele, extending the traditional aristocratic Grand Tour to business classes with limited time and resources for lengthy travel. But Tissot insists that Cook’s services were also available to those further down the economic scale. By the end of the century, Tissot estimates that a bank clerk could afford a three-week Cook tour to Switzerland by saving two shillings a week for a year and a half. By 1900, Switzerland became a fully rationalized and familiar “product...

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