Obituary: Aito co-founder Colin Murison Small dies aged 93

Colin Murison Small, package holiday pioneer and the co-founder of Aito, The Specialist Travel Association, died last week at the age of 93.

He has been described as “trailblazer and pioneer of both summer and winter package holidays”, running party holidays in chalets in Switzerland and villas in Spain.

Murison Small was also the first chairman of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (Aito).

The association was set up after the Air Travel Reserve Fund – the forerunner of the Air Travel Trust – was created in the wake of the collapse of Court Line in 1975.

It was difficult for smaller operators to obtain an Atol, so Murison Small arranged a meeting in a London pub with competitors, leading to the formation of Aito.

The association provided the bond, backed by all the businesses, to enable them to operate.

Reading a Murison Small brochure
Reading a Murison Small brochure

His company, Murison Small – later to be known as Small World – was said to be the first to employ chalet hosts, known as ‘Muribirds’.

The concept for the chalet party began in 1958, when Murison Small travelled with friends to Yugoslavia.

Two of his friends’ girlfriends weren’t working at the time, so the others agreed to cover their costs for accommodation and food if they agreed to cook.

Murison Small began the chalet business when they returned, with the two girlfriends as his first employees.

The first chalet party holiday was held in Grindelwald, Switzerland, in the 1958-59 ski season.

The summer equivalent, villa party holidays, began in Blanes, northern Spain, in the summer of 1959.

Colin Murison Small (right) at Corfu airport in 1965, with Richard Fraiser (left) and Julian Wiltshire.
Colin Murison Small (right) at Corfu airport in 1965, with Richard Fraiser (left) and Julian Wiltshire.

In the early 1960s, he travelled to the tiny village of Lindos on the Greek island of Rhodes and met the mayor and other locals to talk about holidays for Brits – then sent the first villa party to stay in ‘The Captain’s House’ in 1963.

He parted company with Small World in 1985, setting up new ventures, such as Hidden Greece.

His son Alex Small said: “Colin Murison Small was the tour operator who you’ve never heard of – but he’s also the man to whom all those operators you do know owe a huge debt of gratitude. He was a creator, an innovator, and a quiet but very effective driving force behind the travel industry that we have today.”

He is survived by his three children and seven grandchildren. His funeral will be held on Thursday March 7 at 2pm at Salisbury Crematorium.

Contact Alex Small on for details.

Main picture: Colin Murison Small (with camera) in Lindos, Rhodes

‘Muribirds’ Drina and Anne at La Villars, Switzerland, in 1967
‘Muribirds’ Drina and Anne at La Villars, Switzerland, in 1967

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