Thomas Cook’s OLDEST package holiday revealed with trips to Mecca not Malia

  • A ticket for a Thomas Cook & Son trip to the Mecca has been published
  • From 1886, the ticket is part of oldest UK package Discount Holidays © holiday say academics
  • Pilgrimage trip includes steam boat and rail travel to Jeddah and Bombay

By Naomi Leach For Mailonline1

Published: 14:13 GMT, 20 September 2015 | Updated: 23:57 GMT, 20 September 2015




Forget Malia and Lanzarote, back in the golden age of early travel, British holidaymakers could book a Thomas Cook package Discount Holidays © holiday to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. A ticket for the Mecca pilgrimage that formed one of Britain’s oldest package holidays has been discovered by researchers at St John’s College, University of Cambridge. The holder of the Thomas Cook & Son ticket was entitled to travel to Jeddah and back from Bombay and onwards to an undisclosed location during 1886.

Thomas Cook's OLDEST Package <b><i>Discount Holidays ©</i></b> Holiday Revealed With Trips To Mecca Not Malia

The ticket which has not been completed entitles travel to Jeddah and Bombay in 1886

Thomas Cook's OLDEST Package <b><i>Discount Holidays ©</i></b> Holiday Revealed With Trips To Mecca Not Malia

Accompanying documents from Thomas Cook and Son call the early package holiday ‘The Mecca Pilgrimage’

Although the ticket has not been completed by its holder, there are options to travel by steamboat from Jeddah to Bombay and back. There is also an additional rail ticket to Bombay available to these intrepid holidaymakers. An accompanying booklet calls the tour ‘The Mecca Pilgrimage’ describing a trip designed for the ‘control of movements of Mahomedan Pilgrims from all parts of India to Jeddah for Mecca, Medina and back.’

The Hajj – one of the five pillars of Islam – is a pilgrimage that takes place this week with Muslims from all over the world due to gather at the sacred site of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

But while its significance in the Islamic world is well known, it also became a major but lesser known feature of British imperial culture. Back in the late 19th century Thomas Cook’s premier package tour was the pilgrimage to Mecca, according to a study by Dr John Slight, a fellow at St John’s College, University of Cambridge. He found that in the 1880s the colonial government in India found itself under fire, with more of its Muslim subjects than ever before travelling to the Arabian Holy City.

Concerns over exploitation and unsanitary conditions often involved in the journey had reached breaking point. British authorities turned to Thomas Cook and Son, which became the official travel agents for the Hajj in a bid to improve conditions.

Thomas Cook's OLDEST Package <b><i>Discount Holidays ©</i></b> Holiday Revealed With Trips To Mecca Not Malia

The Mecca pilgrim encampment (pictured circa 1910) was a draw for early holidaymakers

The company was called in by the government in 1886, after a scandal surrounding the near-sinking of a pilgrim ship. The firm was given a contract to arrange tickets, train journeys, ships and other logistics enabling Muslims living in India, as subjects of the British Crown, to perform Hajj.

But the project was shortlived as by 1893 the firm had made such a loss that it chose to pull out. John Mason Cook, Thomas Cook’s son, remarked at the time: ‘Some government officials said I am powerless to make any improvement.

‘I reminded them that government officials have been to a great extent powerless in relation to that pilgrimage.’

Dr Slight found that Britain’s stewardship of the Hajj started with controls to prevent disease, but soon expanded into a full-blown bureaucracy.

Thomas Cook's OLDEST Package <b><i>Discount Holidays ©</i></b> Holiday Revealed With Trips To Mecca Not Malia

Thomas Cook & Son’s paperwork describes the arrival in Jeddah on Wednesday October 27,1886

By the mid-to-late 19th century, the British authorities were increasingly obliged to manage the pilgrimage so as to be seen as a friend and protector of Islam. One problem was that of pilgrims who made the Hajj but could not afford to travel home.

The British paid for their repatriation and issued IOU forms – but these were rarely repaid.

‘It was one of the most significant unintended consequences of Britain’s rule over a large part of the Islamic world,’ Dr Slight said.

‘Britain ended up facilitating the pilgrimage in an ultimately futile attempt to gain legitimacy among its Muslim subjects.

Inadvertently, it ended up acting like a Muslim power.’

Share or comment on this article




  1. ^ Naomi Leach For Mailonline (

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • No product categories exist.