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Tourism is travelling for recreation.

The tourist originated when large numbers of middle class people began join aristocratic travellers. As societies became wealthier, and people longer-lived, it became not only possible but probable that lower-middle and middle class people steadily employed would retire in good health and with some significant savings.

The tourist can be interested (among other things) in the new place's culture or its nature. Wealthy people have always traveled to distant parts of the world, not incidentally to some other purpose, but as an end in itself: to see great buildings or other works of art; to learn new languages; or to taste new cuisines.

Organised tourism is now a major industry around the world. Many national economies are now heavily reliant on tourism.

The term tourism is sometimes used pejoratively, implying a shallow interest in the societies and natural wonders that the tourist visits.


The words tourist and tourism were first used as official terms in 1937 by the League of Nations but the tourism industry is much older than that. It was defined as people travelling abroad for periods of over 24 hrs, but the term may also include travelling within ones' own country, and in a broad sense it can include daytrips.

Basically, "tourism", like any other form of economic activity, occurs when the essential parameters come together to make it happen. In this case there are three essential parameters:

  1. Disposable income, i.e. money, to spend on non-essentials
  2. Time in which to do so.
  3. Infrastructure in the form of accommodation facilities and means of transport.

Individually, sufficient health is also a condition, and of course the inclination to travel. Furthermore, in some countries there are or have been legal restrictions on travelling, especially abroad.

The word tour gained common acceptance in the eighteenth century, when the Grand Tour of Europe became part of the upbringing of the educated and wealthy British nobleman or cultured gentleman. Grand tours were taken in particular by young people to complete their education. They travelled all over Europe, but notably to places of cultural and aesthetic interest, such as Paris, Tuscany and the Alps.

Most major British artists of the eighteenth century did the Grand tour, as did their great European contemporaries such as Claude Lorrain. Classical literature and art had always drawn visitors to Rome, Naples, Florence. The Romantic movement (inspired throughout Europe by the English poets William Blake and Lord Byron, among others), extended this to gothick countryside, the Alps, fast flowing rivers, mountain gorges, etc.

The British Aristocracy were particularly keen on the Grand Tour, using the occasion to gather art treasures from all over Europe to add to their collections. The volume of art treasures going to Britain in this way was unequalled anywhere else in Europe, and explains the richness of many private and public collections in Britain today. Yet tourism in those days, aimed essentially at the very top of the social ladder and at the well educated, was fundamentally a cultural activity. These first tourists, though undertaking their Grand Tour, were more travellers than tourists.

Tourism in the modern sense of the word did not develop until the nineteenth century; that was leisure travel, which today forms the larger part of the tourist industry.

Again the leisure industry was a British invention, for sociological reasons. Britain was the first European country to industrialize, and the industrial society was the first society to offer time for leisure to a growing number of people. Not the working masses in the first place, but the owners of the machinery of production, the economic oligarchy, the factory owners, the traders, the new middle class.

Leisure travel had of course developed as an offshoot of cultural tourism, partly as health tourism. Some English travellers, after visiting the warm lands of the South of Europe, decided to stay there either for the cold season or for the rest of their lives, but this was a very minor development. It was not until the nineteenth century that leisure tourism really began to develop, as people began to "winter" in warmer climates, or to visit places with health-giving mineral waters, in order to cure a whole variety of diseases from gout to liver disorders and bronchitis.

The British origin of this new industry can be recognized in the many names: At Nice, one of the first and most well established holiday resorts on the French Riviera, to understand the name of the long esplanade along the sea front, one must first realize that Continental people often confuse between British and English. This dam-like is still said in those days as la promenade desAnglais where the two last words are concatenated such as they are pronounced in French (the s of des being said as if the first letter of zanglais). In many other historic resorts in continental Europe, old well established palace hotels have names like the Hotel Bristol, Hôtel Carlton or Hotel Majestic - reflecting the largely British customers for whom these resorts catered in the early years.

Even winter sports, as a leisure activity rather than as a means of transport, were largely invented by the British leisured classes. It was English tourists who invented winter sports at the Swiss village of Zermatt (Valais). Until the first tourists appeared, the villagers of Zermatt just thought of the long snowy winter as being a time when the best thing to do was to stay indoors and make cuckoo clocks or other small mechanical items.

Organized sport was already well established in Britain long before it reached other countries. The vocabulary of sport bears witness to this: rugby, football, and boxing are all British sports, and even Tennis, originally a French sport, was formalized and codified by the British, who invented the first national championship in the nineteenth century, at Wimbledon. Winter sports were a natural answer for a leisured class, looking for amusement in Winter..

Mass tourism did not really begin to develop, however, until two things had occurred. a) improvements in communications allowed the transport of large numbers of people in a short space of time to places of leisure interest, and b) greater numbers of people began to enjoy the benefits of leisure time. The biggest development of all was the invention of the railways, which brought Britain's seaside within easy distance of Britain's large urban centres.

The father of modern mass tourism was Thomas Cook who, on July 5, 1841, organised the first package tour in history, by chartering a train to take a group of teetotalers from Leicester to a rally in Loughborough, some twenty miles away. Cook immediately saw the potential for business development in the sector, and became the world's first tour operator.

He was soon followed by others, with the result that the tourist industry developed rapidly in early Victorian Britain. Initially it was supported by the growing middle classes, who had time off from their work, and who could afford the luxury of travel and possibly even staying for periods of time in boarding houses. However, the Bank Holiday Act of 1871 introduced, for the first time, a statutory right for workers to take holidays, even if they were not paid at the time.

The combination of short holiday periods, travel facilities and distances meant that the first holiday resorts to develop in Britain were towns on the seaside, situated as close as possible to the growing industrial connurbations. For those in the industrial north, there were Blackpool (Lancashire) and Scarborough (Yorkshire). For those in the Midlands, there was Weston Super Mare, for those in London there were Southend on Sea, Broadstairs, Brighton, Eastbourne, and a whole collection of other lesser known places. But for a century, tourism remained a national industry, with foreign travel being reserved, as before, for the rich or the culturally curious.

Similar processes occurred in other countries, though at a slower rate, given that nineteenth century Britain was far ahead of any other nation in the world in the process of industrialisation. In the USA, the first great seaside resort, in the European style, was Atlantic City, New Jersey. In Europe, early resorts included Ostend (for the people of Brussels), and Boulogne-sur-Mer (Pas-de-Calais) and Deauville (Calvados) (for Parisians).

Even so, increasing speed on railways meant that the tourist industry could develop slowly, even internationally. By 1901, the number of people crossing the English Channel from England to France or Belgium had already passed 0.5 million per year.

Other phenomena that helped develop the travel industry were paid holidays:

  • 1.5 million manual workers in Britain had paid holidays by 1925
  • 11 million by 1939 (30% of the population in families with paid holidays)

What the railway did for domestic tourism in the nineteenth century, the aeroplane and the package tour have done for international tourism in the last 30 years. For the worker living in greater London, Brindisi today is hardly less accessible than Brighton was 100 years ago. Tourism has become a multi-billion pound international industry, and one that is growing in developed countries (source countries) at a rate considerably faster than annual growth levels. Receptive tourism is also growing at a very rapid rate in many developing countries, where it is often the most important economic activity in local GDP.

Tourism in specific countries

Information on tourism and touring in several countries is available in:

See also: Popular tourist regions, History of tourism, Hotel, Agritourism, Transport, Backpacking, Tourism in literature, Ecotourism, Sex tourism, Hospitality Services

External Links

  • Lonely Planet Destinations Guide--a great resource for finding information about a particular location.
  • StateGuide--destination 'cheat sheet' for researching vacation, relocation, retirement, and military sites in the US. Approx. 4500 towns.
  • CountryGuide--editor-maintained directory of links for researching country travel, vacations, relocation, or retirement.
  • CapitanCook --an open content, Wiki, global travel guide.
  • Hospitality Club --a free global network of people offering hospitality to each other when traveling.
  • LOCALink.US -- A travel wiki as a current information repository for locals and traveler's of the western hemisphere (includes classified ads and maps).


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