|Title||The very model of a modern travel agency? : the Polytechnic Touring Association 1888-1962|
This thesis provides an original contribution to the history of modern British travel and tourism, in the form of the first full-length analysis of the Polytechnic Touring Association (PTA). It seeks to establish whether the PTA was distinctive among contemporary travel agencies; whether it was successful; and in what senses it might be considered as ‘modern’. Apart from Thomas Cook, virtually no modern British travel agency has been the subject of detailed historical investigation.
Beginning with an examination of the PTA’s late Victorian origins in its parent institution, Quintin Hogg’s Polytechnic, the thesis contextualises both organisations within a wider history of leisure, with specific reference to ‘rational recreation’ and respectability. Using Polytechnic records and comparative material from other emerging travel agencies, it builds a profile of the early PTA’s operations including the key managers and staff members, the finances and the evolving portfolio of UK and foreign destinations. It considers accounts of Polytechnic/PTA tours from the inhouse magazine, again in conjunction with comparative material from other agencies, situating those accounts in the context of postcolonial theories relating to travel writing, in particular Orientalism and anti-conquest. Finally, it traces the PTA’s history as a privately owned company between 1911 and 1962, siting the company within historiographical debates on modernity.
The overall conclusion is that the PTA was a distinctive, significant and successful player in the growing British travel and tourism industry. While other travel agencies had ‘rational recreational’ and educational origins, the PTA was distinctive in terms of the numbers of tourists for whom it catered and the balance of its portfolio. Polytechnic/PTA travel accounts up to 1911, considered as a body of writing, formed an ideology of ‘collective Continentalism’ which represented aspects of modernity. Their emphasis on simple fun and enjoyment suggested a degree of willingness to edge close to the boundaries of respectability while on holiday. After its change of status in 1911, the PTA became an effective adaptor to changing economic and social conditions – if not the pioneer it claimed to be, in emulation of the Polytechnic. By its latter days in the 1950s, now known as Poly Travel, it was a sizeable and well-respected firm, though not as modern – in the sense of being new and innovative – as perhaps it had been in its early years.