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Back to the Future: celebrating our heritage of 150 years in travel

December 14, 2021

The Orient Express: An old Wagonlit sleeper car.

‘If you want to know the future, look to the past,’ they say. We are at a time of year that’s ripe with reflection and ambition. As we all look back at twelve months of hard work - at what went well and what didn’t – and make plans for 2022, does it help to look further back than a calendar year? 

Almost every society that has developed over thousands of years has attempted to preserve its history and pass on wisdom and experience to future generations. Learning one’s heritage is a reckoning, asking one to consider the legacies that will underpin future decisions.

Throughout 2022, we will celebrate 150 years in travel, taking a look at travel in the past and travel in the future, a future CWT is excited to shape and enable, and that is undeniably about innovation and forging new paths.

We trace our own heritage back to 1872, when Belgian engineer and industrialist, George Nagelmackers, sold the American concept of sleeping cars to European rail operators. Until then, passengers had stopped each night at the Grand Railway Hotel of the town they were in and continued their journey in the morning - so sleeping through the night while moving not only revolutionised the time involved, but also the manner in which it was done. So new was the concept that he had to establish a business selling the product itself, as the railways were not equipped to do so.

Another aspect of our lineage, and one of the earliest travel agencies in the US, Ask Mr Foster, was founded in Florida sixteen years later to handle burgeoning demand, and the pace of travel change accelerated from then onwards.

The first airline, the German Airship company DELAG, was founded in 1909, and the first scheduled commercial airline flight in the US (in a wood and muslin flying boat) took place in less than five years later. and, with the rapid growth of airlines in the 1920s, the age of commercial travel was fully upon us. And new opportunities kept coming to satisfy demand - the first airport rental car service, Avis Rent a Car was created in 1946, and airline reservation systems were developed to help with the incoming jet age of travel. 

100 years after Mr Nagelmackers’ rail innovation, Carlson Wagonlit Travel was launched as the first truly global travel management company. The timing reflected the growth of global organisations seeking a single provider in all regions of the world. 

At around the same time, the birth of the internet gave rise to new ways of planning and booking travel. Online booking tools began to emerge and the rise of email heralded the beginning of the digital transformation of travel.

Re-branded simply as CWT, in 2019, we launched our travel platform, myCWT – enabling buyers and traveling employees to engage with our services through six channels – mobile, web, messaging, email, phone and their preferred online booking tool.

From the not so humble train to high-speed services hovering above tracks, from travel by ship to rocket ships traveling into space, we see an exciting horizon for travel in the future. Look out for our celebration of 150 years in travel throughout 2022.


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