Erna Low (28 July 1909 – 12 February 2002) was an Austrian-born businesswoman and founder of Erna Low Travel Services Ltd., who was best known for her pioneering work developing package holidays in the ski travel industry.
Erna was born and educated in Austria, and became the Austrian javelin champion before her move to England in 1931 to carry out research for a PhD thesis. She found herself living in Bloomsbury earning a meagre living as a language tutor, and decided she needed some extra income to fund trips to Austria to see her ill mother, and also to indulge in her passion for skiing. In 1932, she placed an advert in the Morning Post “Austria, fortnight, £15 only including rail and hotel, arranged by young Viennese graduate for young people leaving Christmas.” The trip proved popular, and more soon followed. Erna made Britain her home and became a British citizen in 1940, working as a lecturer in the Royal Education Corps during the war years.
After the war, in 1947, Erna Low Travel Service Ltd came into being. Improved living standards saw more people setting their sights on holidays outside the UK, and Erna’s business quickly expanded to take tens of thousands on holiday annually. By 1972, she employed 60 staff and was generating an annual turnover of £1.5m and sold the business while it was doing well. When it struggled in 1975, she bought it back, then in 1979 sold it again. In 1981, Erna reinvented her business as Erna Low Consultants, with a focus on the European health spa market, and ran it until 1995, when she handed control to her successor Joanna Yellowlees-Bound.
Erna was decorated for her services to tourism by Italy, France and Austria. She worked in the holiday industry for over 60 years and the company she set up in 1932 under her name still continues successfully today.
Erna was honoured by the Hall of Fame in 2000.