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S Robson, 13 January 2003, "Thomas Cook to Space Tourism - Are They Really That Different?", 13 January 2003, MA in Applied Research and Consulting.
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Thomas Cook to Space Tourism - Are They Really That Different?
With relation to 'the Tourist Gaze'
Simon Robson
Introduction: Thomas Cook meets Space Tourism
The fifth of July 1841. Crowds cheering, five hundred and seventy people (Burkart and Medlik, 1981 p15), board a relatively unfamiliar steel contraption named a steam locomotive. Excitement abounds, both on the platform and within the poorly equipped, 3rd class, travel accommodation (Withey, 1997 p136). In great glory and, no doubt, acres of steam the party leaves Leicester station on their history-making trip to Loughborough. The age of rail tourism was upon those lucky few. "From this acorn grew the mighty oak of modern tourism" (Brendon, 1991 p8).

Next consider April the first 2001. Almost one hundred and sixty years later and Dennis Tito is sitting in a similarly unfamiliar hunk of metal - this time it is a Russian space rocket. Not only are there people cheering from the ground, there are people around the world watching in ( Tito is crammed into a tiny space module aware that his place in history is assured. As thousands of tons of complex fuels explode, forcing downwards, the rocket lifts. A new age is upon us - the age of space tourism, Dennis Tito will be the first tourist in space (The Guardian: 1).

These moments are undeniably key within the history of modern leisure tourism. Yet they seem not only distant in time but also in concept. I shall investigate the relative properties of each of these moments, aiming to see if they are really all that different. I shall not be swayed by the obvious differences or romantic similarities, instead I shall weigh them up and attempt to arrive at a sensible conclusion.

Why Thomas Cook and Space Tourism?

It is undoubtedly true that the task of defining tourism is not as easy as it may appear (Holloway, 1989 p9). This is especially true when considering tourism separated by one hundred and sixty years. Yet the Institute of Tourism produced a usable, if slightly laboured, definition in 1976:

"Tourism is the temporary short-term movement of people to destinations outside the places where they normally live and work, and activities during their stay at these destinations; it includes movements for all purposes, as well as day visits and excursions" (From Holloway, 1989 p9-10).

I do not wish to get drawn into a discussion regarding the finer points of the definition of tourism, however this statement is key for my work. It allows me to demonstrate how I could possibly consider comparing two things as disparate as a short train journey and an expedition into space. Both trips contain the vital elements that are needed to adhere to this definition of tourism. They both were a "temporary movement outside the places where the people involved normally work and live" (Burkart and Medlik, 1981 p3). It may be said that space tourism is a dream that we have little chance of experiencing in reality ( Yet those people on the trip to Loughborough dare never have dreamt that they would be experiencing such a trip.

Similarities between the two key moments.

The most striking similarity between the two areas of tourism I have chosen to investigate is their place in history. It is almost unarguable that they are pioneers (The Express: 1, Pudney, 1953 p57). A pioneer is an innovator or developer of something new (Collins English Dictionary, 1987). It can be argued that neither were strictly the first (I shall come to that later), however both fit into the description perfectly. Both were innovative ideas, yet they were also involved in the development of the idea. There had been many claims that Thomas Cook had not been the first man to consider tours (Holloway, 1991 p26), he is still afforded the honour of being a pioneer: "(in) conducting the first public Excursion Train Cooks reputation as a pioneer may stand" (Pudney, 1953 p57). I should not be too critical of Pudney for he has produced a comprehensive account of Cook's life. However it has been noted that public excursions existed before Cook. It is his pre-eminence in the development of early tourism that affords him his elevated position. In fact he was recognised as such a pioneer by the public that "The Thomas Cook company...have received thousands of letters from people asking about the availability of trips to space" (Hilton 1967).

Yet despite this optimism in the strength and ability of the firm it was not until 2001 that the first (paying) tourist arrived in space ( Dennis Tito paid $20M to become the world's first space tourist ( In self-recognition of his feat he had already proclaimed himself the worlds first "citizen explorer" (The Times: 1). However it was left to NASA to cement his place in history as an innovator or developer. NASA had, up to this point, been strongly against the idea of a tourist floating around the jointly developed International Space Station which has cost $66 billion (The Express: 1). However NASA were still able to realise the extent of the trips' significance during a discussion with the same national newspaper. "NASA admitted yesterday that Mr Tito will pioneer an era of space travel for tourists" (The Express: 1).

The people undertaking the trip with Thomas Cook are as important as the man himself: "The passengers were treated as conquering heroes...they were treated as persons who had performed a considerable feat" (Rae 1891 p24). They are also the pioneers, regarded then as so, as Tito is regarded today as a pioneer. Yet I must question if Tito's achievement, as a pioneer, will prove to be as significant. In both cases the tourists are buying the temporary use of a strange environment (Holloway 1998 p9). Yet each time, in different ways, the people involved were going into the unknown, a new area, and this is what makes them pioneers.

When something has not been attempted before, and there is no proof that it will work, there are often problems in the near and distant future to be overcome (Lickorish, 1991 p61). Both Thomas Cook and Dennis Tito faced great adversity in their quest. It took Cook several weeks, with little sleep, to organise his first excursion from idea to completion (Swinglehurst, 1982 p9), and it took Tito even longer, he was in negotiations for over a year ( Tito was quoted as saying "I would like to be seen as a serious man who had a dream and perused it in the face of great difficulty" (The Guardian: 2). I am unsure whether Tito faced adversity in the same manner as Cook (after all he could afford lawyers to undertake solutions to his problems) but what is clear is that they both battled, and succeeded against the odds. NASA were the thorn in Tito's side (The Express: 1), as was lack of money in Cook's case - he had to sell many of his works at half price (Swinglehurst, 1982 p13). Luckily Tito had a great ally in the Russian Space Federation ( In much the same way the owner (Mr Bell) of the Leicester-Loughborough train line assisted Cook (Brendon, 1991 p5). Without such great support neither of the trips would have been possible. These great supporters were both in for the money; the train line was losing money (Swinglehurst, 1982 p9) if not as financially crippled as the Russians were.

Despite this support, there was a great deal of concern building up to the first key moment. Thomas Cook is known to have been particularly concerned about the possible turnout on the day of his first excursion (Swinglehurst, 1982 p9). He was not to be let down, the train was full carrying between 485 and 570 passengers; with thousands more people viewing from the platform and on bridges along the route (Brendon, 1991 p6). However this pales into insignificance when compared with the troubles faced by the Russian rocket before take-off. This trip was delayed by four days due to three of the International Space Stations computers breaking down (The Express: 2). This passage is designed to study the inception of the new ideas; the sequence experienced by Cook is startlingly similar to that experienced by Tito.

The proposal to undertake this paper came under the assumption that both of the events were important firsts in history. They are to some extent, however it is worth some discussion. If Cook cannot be rewarded with the birth of the excursion it is certain that he became the dominant exponent early in its life (Withey, 1997 p136-137). In my quest to discover an excursion, similar in style to Cooks, that pre-dated his; I scoured early copies of The Times. Eventually I came across an advert on page one of the edition from 31/03/1841. This involved transportation from London to Gravesend and Sheerness to take place on April 4th. It also could include reduced entry to the zoological gardens, proving that package tours existed before Cook. However this excursion pre-dates Cook by over a year as the advert states that "the excursion, as above, which last year gave such satisfaction, will be repeated" (The Times: 2).

Dennis Tito was also not the first paying customer to tour in space. In December 1990 the world's first fare-paying passenger Toyohiro Akiyama went into space (Collins, 1991). His $11 million to spend a week aboard the Soviet space station MIR was the first money exchanged for a flight into space (Collins, 1991). However due to the fact that the media firm Akiyama worked for provided the $11M it is different to Tito; who provided the money himself. So both of the important moments I am covering were not actually (strictly) the first. However the more significant similarity is that they are regarded to be the pioneers for other reasons. Cook started the accompanied tour (Pudney, 1953 p57) and Tito was self-funded (The Guardian: 1). So for different reasons they both deserve their place as not as the first, but the most important.

"The introduction of new technology holds considerable potential for change in tourism, and can not only increase the numbers of tourists, it can also significantly alter the nature and scope of the attractions which they can travel to see." (Butler and Pearce 1995 p5)

These trips would not have been possible had it not been for the constructive use of a new technology. Yes I agree that the first man in space was in 1961, and the railways were taking paying customer's fifteen years before Cook's excursion to Loughborough (Burkart and Medlik, 1981 p3). However in both cases it is the clever negotiations and use of a rocket and a train that is so delightfully forward thinking. It has been noted that tourism is a matter of being elsewhere, the purchasing of a temporary environment, and to be elsewhere implies the use of transport (Burkart and Medlik 1981 p3, Holloway 1998 p4). In both cases there was a need to be somewhere (a dream [Holloway, 1998 p4]), and a method to get there. The inspired part, the part that makes these two occurrences stand out, is the utilisation of a transportation that appears to be out of the reach of the tourists. Thomas Cook, by taking advantage of the new technology, did significantly alter the nature and scope of the attractions that could be viewed. Yet it is easy to criticise Cook and Tito. The adoption of new technology was a simple step, as the owners of both the locomotives and rockets, were desperate for money (, Swinglehurst, 1982 p9).

Tito has positioned himself as a space tourism agent, using the Russian space rockets, and may very well succeed (The Guardian: 3). Top space official Mike Hawes concluded that tourists in space are inevitable. (The Express: 1). Going into space is often referred to as "the final frontier". The nature of attractions on offer in space is unique, the pinnacle of travelling. Thomas Cook opened the world's eyes to the first wave of modern tourism through the use of the newly developed power of the railways (Swinglehurst, 1982 p7). Tito has managed to cap the latest chapter of modern tourism by achieving what is currently considered to be the ultimate trip, by utilising modern technology. It is this adoption of the new technology that brings the two events together, yet we shall have to wait to see if Tito's is as groundbreaking and influential as Cook's.

By using new technology both trips were risking ridicule due to the perceived dangers involved. It is apparent to many of us today that transportation into space is a highly risky undertaking, and that safety is of concern. The safety of space vehicles is a key area that has to be assured before the public's trust is gained (Ashford and Collins, 1990). However a similar concern to this was evident during the growth of the railways. "It was supposed that no journey by rail could be undertaken without serious loss of life" (Rae 1891 p12). This displays the contempt that potential passengers gave the railway firms in the early years of steam. However Cook showed genius by declaring and convincing people that the railways were safe, in 1878 Thomas Cook's firm cited figures to show that railways killed one in 45 million (Brendon, 1991 p14). It will take some time for space travel to figure such astounding safety figures, yet it may be possible. If space tourism is ever to become an important industry it needs to establish a level of safety that is acceptable to the travellers. However the important point to consider it that rail travel, like space travel, at its time of inception, was considered to be highly dangerous.

This danger is a factor when considering the attention created by the two events. Cook was hugely passionate about temperance writing literature, producing leaflets and attending local temperance meetings (Brendon, 1991 p30). Cook was always thinking about how he could promote his passion and realised that "organising a railway excursion...would...gain publicity" (Brendon 1991 p5). Gathering a crowd two or three thousand strong, onlookers from every railway bridge on the way and being greeted by a crush of temperance supporters and onlookers (Brendon 1991 p6) is an amazing success regarding publicity. Creating excitement plus media attention was how to measure success, yet it is amazingly similar to the feelings of the Russian Space Agency. Just by looking at the number of articles I uncovered in British national newspapers it can be seen that Tito's flight was of interest world-wide. Several web-sites have sections dedicated to Tito; there was even a web site where you could watch the take-off live - However like the temperance trip there was deeper meaning behind the media attention. The Russian Space Federation wanted to display to the world that they needed to get additional funding to support their ailing space industry. Russian spacecraft builder Yuri Semyouov was quick to point out the political aspect of the trip by stating "commercial flights give us the chance to compensate for (reduced) budget funds" (The Guardian: 2). So we can see that the trips were influenced by the political feelings of the organisers and participants.

Lastly I must comment on the potential and realised markets leading from these trips. Cook developed his initial idea of an accompanied excursion, fully inclusive into a multi million pound business. This is beyond doubt, however it is less clear to see where the future of space tourism leads. Rick Tumlinson (the man who engineered Tito's flight) believes the market could be worth billions ( Another web-site believes that "space visits will be as common as travelling on aeroplanes" ( However this is an as yet unrealised similarity, but the potential is apparent, with the development of new technologies.

Differences between the two trips

Despite the similarity that both had political meanings behind their happening, the monetary differences are extensive. Although Cook became a very rich man due to his astute business dealings in tours it appears they started because of his beliefs, not monetary gain as he became obsessed with temperance (Brendon, 1991 p28). When he died he left little cash due to his unrelenting support of his chosen charities (Brendon, 1991: p221). It was "about midway between Harborough and Leicester" that Cook realised that "the newly developed power of steam railways and locomotion could be made subservient to the promotion of temperance" (Swinglehurst 1982 p7). As I have already noted it is clear that Cook was a very passionate man when it came to temperance. One can only draw belief from his statement (from later in life) that this was his only reason for conducting the tour. His life before this displayed a man with little thought for money unless it was for the cause, his whole career was a 'mission' (Brendon, 1991: p18). Cook did not make any profit for the first four years of his excursions business, leaving it until 1845 to start scraping a measly profit from the takings (Swinglehurst, 1982 p17). Therefore I must conclude that Cook, on his first excursion, gave little regard for financial gain.

The Russians, however, centred their whole operation on the financial gain. Yes, they were making a point regarding the lack of funding, referring to it as a motivating factor. However this lack of funds led to the acceptance of Tito's planned trip into space ( The fare for the entire trip was $20 million (, a large portion of which is profit. This is in sharp contrast to the one shilling (reduced fare), charged by Cook on his first trip.

This highly geared up agency also produces other contrasts to the way Thomas Cook developed his first rail trip. Although no figures are available (due to a certain level of secrecy) it is clear that the Russian Space Agency consists of many thousands of employees. A great number of these will have been involved in the development of trip and the essential marketing surrounding it. Group discussions and international negotiations were very far from Cook's mind when he undertook the planning of his trip to Loughborough. It has been noted that the early excursions were only spare time activities, until 1845 (Swinglehurst 1982 Ch1). So where, before Tito's trip, the concentration was on the specific event, Cook had to concentrate on other activities during the preparation of the trip to Loughborough. Not only this but Cook was the only person organising and controlling all of the aspects of the trip. It also must be noted that although Tito approached the Russian Space Agency, regarding a possible trip into inner Earth orbit, the Russians handled all of the development. Tito had to accept his trip was in the control of the Russian Space Agency. However it must be added that these contrasts were vital to the success of the relative trips.

The number of people involved leads me on to one of the most striking differences between the two key moments. Cooks first trip carried "a large body of excursionists, variously numbered at 570 and 485" (Brendon 1991 p6). I agree the distance may not have been as vast as a trip into space, but this is an impressive number. However the first tourist in space was exactly that. He was the only one - and it is likely to be some time before a firm or organisation will be capable of transporting more than one. This difference is notable yet does not seem to push the two trips apart. Both were constrained by the design of the vehicle of passage and limited to specific numbers. It is worth remembering that there were 2000 people left on the station platform when the excursionists departed to Loughborough.

As can be seen with the attempts by NASA to, at the very least, hinder the proposal of a space tourist, there are many legal obstacles to be overcome (Collins, 1996). Apart from the obvious legality of not overfilling the train, with the excess numbers his publicity had created, Cook faced no such restrictions. However "activities in both the atmosphere and space are governed by a complex regulatory framework which does not permit commercial passenger flights" (Collins 1996). It is probable that the Russian Space Authority was able to overcome such regulations due to its large presence in space, although again the discussions that led to the confirmation of the first space tourist are shrouded in secrecy. However any attempt to expand the area of space tourism is likely to result in a large-scale protest from both NASA and other regulatory bodies. Because of this Dennis Tito and Buzz Aldrin (both great supporters of the fledgling space tourism industry) urged lawmakers to try to persuade NASA that space tourism could become a boom industry (The Express: 3). These complex regulations and stubborn resistance from objectors may scupper the determined efforts to assist the space tourism industry.

Thomas Cook was allowed to succeed partially due to the lack of regulations, in fact he was given assistance (both in good will and monetary) by the Midland Counties Railway Company (Swinglehurst, 1982 p7-9). I stated that a similarity between the two trips was their importance in the birth of a huge industry. I was careful however, to suggest that space tourism has potential that must be realised. These regulations, if unaltered, will not enable the industry to grow and the importance of the moment of Tito's will remain unrealised.

How is the Gaze associated with these two key moments?

The first reason why I chose to study these two specific key moments was their effectiveness in satisfying the title I chose. However it is the second reason that I to investigate here: the gaze element contained within the two events. This is prevalent in both the travelling and also at the "event" at the end of the journey, and is apparent in both of my examples. It also must be noted that I am to concentrate on the experiences regarding the gaze of the participants only.

Although it is an amazing experience to travel in a rocket to space the real highlight is the view when the initial journey is completed. This is in contrast to the emphasis placed upon the journey to Loughborough in 1841.

Railway Glances (part of):

But onward, snorting wild,
Like a monster in its glee,
The locomotive flies with us,
A passing sketch to see.

(J. Bradshawe Walker, from Cook, 1845 p23)

This poem utilised by Cook to convey the aspect of speed in his trips, highlights what many of the excursionists revelled in. Indeed they were on the way to a temperance meeting but it was the experience of the journey that would stick in the minds of many. In the 1840's this was about as about as fast as man could go. Experiencing the world passing as a blur is an everyday occurrence in the third millennium, yet it was a dream unfulfilled by many in the 1840's. Not everybody appreciated this gaze to its full potential: "going by railroad I do not consider as travelling at all; it is merely being 'sent' to a place, and very little different from being a parcel" (John Ruskin [Pudney, 1953]). Despite some people disliking the idea of travelling on trains Cook liked the idea of the speed and efficiency associated with them. It allowed people to see the world like it had never been viewed before. However the speed when travelling into space is so extreme that the gaze is unappreciable; so the space tourist has to wait until in orbit to experience the ultimate gaze.

Where a temperance meeting would have been quite a regular occurrence in 1841 "observing the Earth and terrestrial phenomena from a porthole in lower earth orbit is quite fascinating" (Collins and Ashford, IAF Conference). It really is a gaze that is impossible to quantify in scale unless you have experienced it, however everyone who has visited space speaks movingly of seeing the planet Earth against the background of space (Collins 1991). Both discussing space travel with people who have experienced it and the general public the view of the entire Earth is always number one on the list of priorities (Collins and Ashford, IAF Conference). Tito certainly considered it to be very important as he was "(planning) to do some photography" adding "but (he) can't step outside, although the view from the window will be sensational" (The Guardian: 1).

So it can be seen that the gaze is an important in different ways to both of my key moments in modern tourism. In both cases it played an important part in the magic of the event. If it had not been for the stunning speed portrayed by the views on the trip from Leicester in 1841 then the trip would have lacked a vital element. The trippers would not have been considered to be heroes by the throngs of watchers, and the trip may not have been as successful. Similarly a key aspect of a space trip (along with the obvious appeal of anti-gravity) is the essential view.

There are some key differences in the gaze though. It has already been noted that the important gaze occurs at different times in the journey for each of the trips yet there is another aspect, which must be considered the length of the gaze. Cook wrote, "a rapid glance is all that can be obtained of places and objects" (Cook 1845 p4). The gaze is transformed into the briefest of snippets, hastily or briefly viewing the objects. When viewing the Earth from space this brief glance is transformed into an extended gaze: "astronauts and cosmonauts have spent hours looking out of their space craft windows" (Collins 1991). The Earth may be ever changing but essentially the gaze experienced is very different. So although it is a vital part of the experience in both of my key moments the gaze is experienced in many different forms, at different times of the trip.


So I have displayed that there are many similarities between Cooks trip from Leicester to Loughborough and Tito's voyage into space as the first space tourist. They are pioneers that struggled against adversity. Yet they were not the first of the breed utilising this (relatively) new technology. There also was an essential element powering them, giving them a passion to battle for something. Linked in with the need to undertake the trips for a reason is the fact that attention, from the media and public in general, was an important factor. Lastly I discussed the market for both of the services provided. In the sixteen decades since Thomas Cook first undertook an excursion the market has become huge, however space tourism may not even get past the first few stages of growth. I included it as a similarity because of the tremendous potential that exists. After all 65% of people aged under 25 would like a holiday in space (Collins and Ashford, IAF Conference). Maybe some of the similarities stem from the adoption of a new idea in a specific sector. However the implementation of the idea is refreshingly similar.

There are also several key differences identified. Money was not a huge driving factor for Cook (even if it was for the rail firm). He was also unrestrained by a web of regulations. It is important to highlight that in Cook's case one man organised a trip for hundreds, in Tito's one man benefited from the organisation of hundreds. The gaze also displayed significant influences in the undertaking of both of the trips. It is a defining factor in the appeal of both of the cases, and despite the differences in the gaze it does, ultimately, draw the two together.

I must also question the respective relevance of the events in modern tourism history. Cook does stand out due to the fact that he, his firm and the rest of the industry succeeded so heartily. However he was beaten to the first excursion, and sooner rather than later somebody would have created the magic that began the era of modern tourism. Although it is much easier to be critical of the claims made for Tito's trip into space, with regards of importance, it may turn out to be more important than Cook. He was a man with a dream and the finances to do it, and has opened the door for other similarly minded rich men (and maybe soon women). Without his efforts the space tourist may have remained fiction, and for this he must be applauded. However Cook gains his greatness for adhering to his cause and progressing the industry for decades, Tito as the self appointed "space agent" (The Guardian: 3) needs to show similar qualities to gain such prominence.

Despite the obvious differences I must conclude that these two key moments in the history of modern tourism are both similar in design and execution. Both were very successful and hoped to lead to further successes. Much in the same way that Cook believed people were entitled to excursions, the ability to experience space travel is now considered to be one of the four fundamental reasons why space tourism should become a large and dynamic space activity (Rogers, 2000).

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Conference Proceedings / Website research.
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  1. Advert for Excursion, The Times: 2, 31/03/1841.
  2. First Space Tourist Blasts Off, The Times: 1, 01/05/2001.
  3. Meet the Middleman - Dennis Tito Comes Down to Earth as a Space Travel Agent, The Guardian: 2, London, 09/05/2001.
  4. Small Step for Man - Giant Leap for Tourism, The Guardian: 3, London, 27/04/2001.
  5. Space Crew Welcome First Paying Guest, The Guardian: 1, London, 01/05/2001.
  6. Space Tourist Hitch, The Express: 2, London, 27/04/2001.
  7. Space Tourist Over The Moon, The Express: 1, London, 26/04/2001.
  8. Tourists in Orbit Plea, The Express: 3, London, 28/06/2001.
S Robson, 13 January 2003, "Thomas Cook to Space Tourism - Are They Really That Different?", 13 January 2003, MA in Applied Research and Consulting.
Also downloadable from cook to space tourism are they really that different.shtml

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