Our industry is consumed by many passions, but history is not one of them. Whatever Delta might have done yesterday (as opposed to its "genius bar" decisions of this morning) is quickly forgotten.
If you read much that is written about our industry these days, you would believe that it is just a matter of time before the point-and-click insurgency wins its final battle against the honored tradition of sit and listen.
So on this summer day, having just finished a week in my office actually meeting people face to face, sipping a bit of pinot noir with more than a few of my office guests and hearing of the health victories and one terrible defeat of people I care about who happen to be clients, I am wondering if I am the last one in the building. If I am, you will have to find someone else to turn off the lights.
I've been wondering how this whole thing really started. When did the first travel firm open its doors?
How long have folks been doing what I've been doing?
Who was the first dream maker, the first "fixer" with the instinct to make nearly anything possible?
What exactly is our chosen vocation's ancestral heritage?
A little bit of research took me back to Yorkshire, England, where Richard Cox, the son of a lawyer, was born. A good education later, he became a clerk to the English general Lord Ligonier. The fellow who had held the post of "military agent" died, and Richard Cox was named to take his place. That was May 1758, a pivotal moment in our travel history.
Ligonier came to lead the famed Flanders campaigns in the War of the Austrian Succession. He needed winter housing, long underwear and more than a couple of weapons.
His clerk, Cox, became the chief provider, the man who could get it done. He handled the movement of men from regiment to battlefield, perhaps the first affinity group handled by an "agent."
Now heed this part, because it is important: Cox knew how to seek out and attract really good business partners. So he ended up partnering with a fellow named Drummond, one of London's most successful bankers.
Cox and Drummond thrived. When Robert Clive stormed the Gheria fortress in India, Cox and Drummond managed to receive repayment from the East India Company, got proceeds from the plunder and had it converted to silver in India, where it was shipped back to London and placed under the control of the Royal Artillery. Oh, the lad was good!
Now you mustn't think that our Mr. Cox, the world's first travel agent, worked 24/7. He had no CrackBerry habit. He made himself a bit of free time in his house on Albemarle Street, just across the road from where the Ritz Hotel stands today.
We actually have receipts from his wine cellars, so with some accuracy I can report that in one year alone, 240 bottles of fine port vintage were consumed, along with similar amounts of claret, sherry (not the cooking kind), Madeira and champagne.
Now that's my kind of travel agent. And in a sense, I suppose we are all his descendants.
Cox kept arranging things: large movements of munitions, food stores, troops and even a tourist or two.
What made Richard Cox and his companies successful was his service to the military officers he served.
In the early 19th century, many of these officers, using Cox's services as a fixer and arranger of all things required, found themselves to be, shall we say, poor savers. The Epsom Downs racetrack beckoned, as did notorious crews of money lenders.
When these involvements got them in trouble, they came to Cox to fix them. He usually obliged and waived his fees in the process. By doing so, he built trust and loyalty. Those were his strong points, and they are a part of our vocational DNA.
The business of arranging all kinds of stuff for the British military suffered a downturn in the 1920s, caused by the German surrender in 1918.
In 1922, Cox and Drummond merged briefly with the Harry S. King Bank. The "arrangements by Cox and Kings" moved into new offices on Pall Mall. But the company suffered, and it sold out to Lloyd's Bank in 1923.
In the 1930s, Lloyd sold to a firm in India, where Cox and Kings flourished. An unexpected change in the British banking laws forced the company in India to sell off its nonbanking interests.
It was thus that Cox and Kings, the oldest "arrangers" and the world's first travel agency, was sold to private interests. This year, Cox and Kings is celebrating its 250th anniversary.
There is no available information concerning the amount of port consumed annually at corporate headquarters.
Contributing editor Richard Turen owns Churchill and Turen, a vacation-planning firm that has been named to Conde Nast's list of the World's Top Travel Specialists since the list began. Contact him at [email protected].