Obituary: Lars-Eric Lindblad (CORRECTED)
Saturday 16 July 1994
Lars-Eric Lindblad, explorer and tour operator: born Stockholm 23 January 1927; President, Lindblad Travel Inc 1958-89; founder, Creative Travel 1991; married 1948 Sonja Buschinker (one son; two daughters with Esperanza Riverand; marriage dissolved 1979), 1979 Cary Ann Butera (died 1984), 1986 Ruriko Hosaka; died Stockholm 8 July 1994.
LARS-ERIC LINDBLAD was an innovative pioneer who changed the face of the travel industry. He was a larger-than-life character whose imagination, energy, optimism and robust sense of humour made him almost a legend amongst colleagues and competitors. Bob Whitley, President of the United States Tour Operators' Association, described him as 'probably one of the most creative people who was ever involved in organising travel'.
Born in Sweden in 1927 (his father was a wine expert with the Swedish Liquor Monopoly and his mother was the daughter of a master cabinetmaker), Lindblad was a voracious reader from an early age. He was intrigued by the exploits of the great explorers - Marco Polo, Livingstone, Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen - and particularly the Swedish explorers Sven Hedin and Nils Nordenskjold.
His own first taste of travel was in the back seat of a giant Packard convertible in which his father drove the family around Sweden, Norway, Finland and Estonia before the Second World War. Later, after attending university in Zurich, he took a summer job with Thomas Cook in Stockholm, which convinced him how he would make his living. At the age of 24, he decided to leave Sweden for less restrictive pastures in the United States.
He founded his own expedition travel company, Lindblad Travel, in Westport, Connecticut, in 1958. Among his early trips were a 56- day Garden Tour Around the World, a 26-day fund-raising tour for the Archives of American Art, and a highly successful Hogbreeder's Tour of Europe.
His good fortune was to begin his career at a time when American tourists were travelling only to a handful of safe, familiar countries. The Middle East, the wilds of Africa, the islands of the Pacific, India and Japan, were largely ignored. 'My earliest dreams had been of these places,' he wrote in his autobiography, Passport to Anywhere (1993). 'I was burning with desire to go to them. Other travellers, I thought, must be feeling the same way.'
Over the years, his company opened up an extraordinary variety of destinations then exotic for the ordinary tourist. Remote areas of Africa, such as Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zaire and Gabon (where they were introduced to Albert Schweitzer), Mongolia, Bhutan, Seychelles, the Asmat region of New Guinea, Tibet, Easter Island, Antarctica and the Galapagos, were all first opened to group tourism by Lars-Eric Lindblad.
He was also the first to take American tourists to China (in 1978) and the following year inaugurated Yangtze River cruises in the MS Kun Lun, a luxurious 2,300-ton riverboat built for Chairman Mao to entertain VIPs. Her 18 staterooms ranged in size from 230 to 630 square feet.
If Lindblad's destinations broke new ground, so did his ideas on how group travel should be organised. He believed that travel should combine adventure, pleasure, and learning. He ensured that his cruises and tours were accompanied by specialist lecturers who could add an extra dimension to the trip. He also insisted that his clients should be fed well. 'Food is part of life,' he was fond of saying, and the meals on Lindblad tours - which were often more like banquets - became legendary.
Because his ambitious itineraries ventured where no tourist had gone before, he was often obliged to find new ways of transporting his clients. For his first tour to Easter Island in 1987 for example, he had to charter a DC6, add a dome to the cockpit for celestial navigation, and borrow several Lufthansa navigators to make sure the plane did not miss the tiny island after its 2,300-mile flight from Chile.
And soon after taking the first group of bona fide tourists to Antarctica in 1988, he decided to commission his own ice-working expedition cruise ship, the MSLindblad Explorer. A quarter-century after her maiden voyage in 1969, his 'little red ship' has transported many thousands of people on adventurous voyages of discovery to almost every part of the world, and it still visits Antarctica every southern summer.
An impulsive, emotional man, Lindblad tended to make quick, often instinctive decisions. Usually his instincts proved correct, but sometimes there were problems. One of his most passionate beliefs was that travel leads to understanding and thus to peace, and was everyone's right. But his company's tours to Vietnam and Cambodia in 1987-88 violated the United States' Trading with the Enemy Act, and the legal costs of defending his actions caused Lindblad Travel to close its doors. Nevertheless, he commented afterwards, 'I would do it again. To embargo travel is like burning books or imprisoning journalists.'
Lindblad himself continued in business as a consultant to various companies, including Ocean Cruise Lines and Orient Lines, both of London. He also helped form another company, aptly named Creative Travel.
Believing that the travel trade should help conserve and preserve the world's natural and cultural treasures, he was a keen supporter of organisations like the World Wide Fund for Nature, the East African Wildlife Foundation, the Rebuild Dubrovnik Fund, and many others.
Lindblad received a host of honours and awards. The King of Sweden made him a Knight of the Northern Star, while Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands awarded him the Order of the Golden Ark for services to nature conservation. He was elected to the Hall of Fame of the American Association of Travel Agents, and American Express presented him with a special trophy inscribed with the words 'For making the world a better place to live'.
When Lindblad died he was not a very wealthy man but he was intensely proud of his achievements and happy that he had been able to go everywhere and do almost everything that he wanted. In the process he made it possible for millions of armchair travellers to make their dreams come true.
Some transmission errors caused confusion in the obituary of Lars-Eric Lindblad (by Nigel Sitwell, 16 July). Lindblad's autobiography was published in 1983, not 1993; his first tour to Easter Island was in 1967, not 1987, and to Antarctica in 1966, not 1988. The mother of his two daughters was Esperanza Rivaud and his company Lindblad Travel was based in New York City for its first 20 years; it moved to Westport, Connecticut, in 1978.
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