Featured image with an illustration of a Victorian woman in front of hotel room doors with wreaths hanging from them

Nowadays, the holiday season represents one of the busiest periods for the hospitality industry. Many tourists decide to travel around Christmas and New Year, which makes this season very profitable for hotels. These holidays help properties keep occupancy rates high during winter, a period that would be, otherwise, of low occupancy, as climate conditions are not the best for touristic activities.  

In fact, many people prefer to travel in late December, as they get a few days off work to spend with their family and friends. Some groups even make bookings a year or two before this period, as it is common that hotels run out of rooms or greatly increase their prices.  

However, the holiday season in the tourism sector has not always been like that. People did not travel as much before; hotels were not so accessible; and Christmas, as we know it today, did not exist: all these changes date back to the 19th century. 

The changes in the 19th century. 

The 19th century was marked by many developments, such as population growth, industrialization, urbanization, and the transport revolution. These changes not only impacted industries, but also the way people lived, including their traveling habits.  

The increase in travel was a cause and consequence of transportation development. On the one hand, people needed to travel long distances in short periods, so the steam locomotive made it possible. On the other hand, as transportation improved, more and more people became interested in traveling.   

There were also developments in mass media, which contributed to popularize travel guides, creating a desire for tourism. These changes also increased the influence of magazines and newspapers. Media had a great influence on lifestyle and helped to create the new traditional Christmas celebration.  

Changes in Christmas 

Christmas has been around since the 4th century when it was proclaimed by the Bishop of Rome. This holiday has always been related to consumerism. But, before the 19th century, it was related only to food consumption.  

The 19th century created the traditional Christmas as we know it today. Carols, crackers, cards, Christmas trees, presents, and even Santa Claus were added to the celebration in the Victorian era; some of these traditions came from countries such as Germany and the US. 

All these innovations at Christmas are also related to manufacturing and commercial interests. Christmas presents, for example, were promoted by retailers who would benefit from selling products.  

Another example is the Christmas tree, which was popularized in England by an illustration of the royal family around a decorated tree. This was only made possible by mass media, which made a German tradition seem British 

These changes also helped to create the current idea of the holiday season as a period for traveling, which was also influenced by changes in the hospitality industry.  

Changes in the hospitality industry 

The Victorian era was also prosperous for the hotel business in England. It was then that the hospitality industry changed from an innkeeping model to professional hotel management.  

The innkeeping model had some problems. For example, many guests complained about the quality of rooms and services. Guests from the high society also did not fancy the food served in these places, as it did not resemble the French cuisine these customers were used to.  

Another problem with the innkeeping model was that guests did not know the price before booking a room, which was a nuisance, as innkeepers could charge as much as they wanted for a stay.  

With building material coming through the railways, larger hotels were built. This is the same period that marked the beginning of hotel groups in England. All these properties used professional hotel management, which improved the services. From then on, rooms were priced before the stay, so guests could know how much they would be charged for a room.  

And what did it mean for customers? 

It meant that they could plan their trip and expenses with accommodation, which was crucial for anyone on a budget.  

Working families, for example, could not afford overpriced services. Having prices established after the stay was unfeasible for them.  

After these changes in hospitality, it is natural that the hotel business popularized and appealed to more customer segments. In the 19th century, a period of rest in late December was about to become a golden season for the hospitality and tourism industries.  

Christmas and hotels in the 19th century 

With changes throughout the Victorian era, Christmas became a traditional holiday as we know it today. Even though, the customs of reuniting the family and spending quality time together have remained.  

And many families started to see traveling as a way to share experiences with loved ones.  The fact that hotels became more popular gave a big push to it.  

Another factor that contributed to tourism in the holiday season was the construction of new railways. Before that, people who worked or studied away would hardly come home to spend a short period. But, with the steam locomotive, workers and children away at school were able to travel home for the holiday. This way, reuniting the family at Christmas became more usual.  

However, people still needed to be discharged from their obligations as workers or students. In England, another measure taken was the establishment of Christmas as a paid holiday in the 1870s, the same period it was established in the US, too. This way most families could enjoy leisure activities in the holiday season, including traveling. 

From the 19th century on, the bonds between Christmas and the hospitality industry have only grown stronger. The results of these developments can be seen today, with many hotels preparing Christmas thematic rooms and offering special packages for the holiday season. More than just a celebration or a common holiday, Christmas has become a whole experience in the hospitality and travel sectors