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Tourism is classically regarded as travelling for recreation although this definition has been expanded in recent years to include any travel outside of one's normal working or living area.
The tourist originated when large numbers of middle class people began to join aristocratic travellers. As societies became wealthier, and people lived longer, 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 is usually interested (among other things) in the destination's climate, 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.
"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 such parameters:
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 Rome, 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 architecture, literature and art have 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 being moved 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 initially the working masses, but the owners of the machinery of production, the economic oligarchy, the factory owners, the traders, the new middle class.
Leisure travel had 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 relieve a whole variety of diseases from gout to liver disorders and bronchitis.
The British origin of this new industry is reflected in many place names: At Nice, one of the first and most well established holiday resorts on the French Riviera, the long esplanade along the sea front is known to this day as the Promenade des Anglais; and in many other historic resorts in continental Europe, old well-established palace hotels have names like the Hotel Bristol, Hotel Carlton or Hotel Majestic - reflecting the dominance of English customers to 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 during the coldest season.
Mass tourism did not really begin to develop, however, until two things had occurred.
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 in Lancashire, and Scarborough in (Yorkshire). For those in the Midlands, there were Weston-super-Mare in Somerset and Skegness in Lincolnshire, 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. A minority of resorts, such as Bath, Harrogate and Matlock, emerged inland, a trend boosted by the emergence of the Dutch company Centre Parcs.
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. Billy Butlin developed low-cost holiday camps with chalet-style budget accommodation and mass catering near many attractive beaches. Other companies, such as Pontins followed his example, but their popularity waned with the rise of package tours and the increasing comforts to which visitors became accustomed at home.
In the USA, the first great seaside resort, in the European style, was Atlantic City, New Jersey.
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:
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.
Mass tourism has been stagnating and declining in recent years. The Costa del Sol and the Baleares, which attracted millions of tourists annually during the 1980s and 1990s, and other resorts such as Cancun have seen declining tourist numbers as they have become seen as untidy or ugly or simply lacking in kudos due to their past popularity. The mass tourist economy has also been hit badly by terrorism, with specific attacks on destinations such as Bali and Kenya. For the past few decades other forms of tourism have been becoming more popular, particularly:
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