Man with Suitcase - CC0 by Mantas Hesthaven

A Brief History of Tourism

The tourism business is at least 2,000 years old. It began when
wealthy citizens of ancient Rome, deciding they would rather spend their
summers away from the city, took trips to the countryside and the

A tourist industry soon sprang up to cater for the Romans’
travel and accommodation needs, and for a while it thrived. But Roman
tourism ended with its empire, and for hundreds of years the turbulent
economic, social and military situation in Europe made frequent, safe
travel out of the question.

During the medieval era, however, tourism again appeared thanks to a
growing interest in pilgrimages. The organisers arranged the tourism
basics of itineraries and places to eat and sleep. And from records such
as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, it’s evident that many pilgrims were
keen to relax and enjoy themselves as well as visit a holy shrine. In
fact it’s from the Old English word hāligdæg (holy day) that “holiday”

But it was two other factors hundreds of years later
that encouraged the start of more widespread and regular tourism: health
and culture. Those who could afford to do so began to visit the spa and
seaside towns of eighteenth century Europe to benefit from the spring
waters and fresh air. Others, most notably the English, took educational
holidays to countries such as Italy with the intention of studying
paintings, sculptures and architecture, and visiting historical sites.

Straightforward leisure tourism took hold when industrialisation across
Europe gave rise to an affluent middle class with an increasing amount
of free time. Entrepreneurs started to build tourist hotels with an
infrastructure of roads, carriages and ferries. Tourism began to take
shape as an international industry.

The industry was popular and
steadily successful from the early nineteenth century. But for the most
part, it was expensive and limited to a small number of locations. Then
everything suddenly changed. In the 1960s, a growing number of people
had disposable incomes, and with this extra money came a desire for a
different lifestyle. At the same time, reasonably-priced commercial
aircraft were able to carry passengers to and from any airport in the

Mass tourism had arrived, and with it there came an
extraordinary growth in facilities. Fishing villages on the southern
coast of Spain, for instance, became resorts that were household names.
Elsewhere, business people capitalised on the demand for tourist
attractions and constructed leisure and theme parks.

driving force behind these rapid developments was cash. In 2006, the
international tourism receipts for the three most popular destinations –
France, Spain and the United States – totalled $179.7 billion. The
number of visitors who contributed this sum was 188.7 million.

With figures such as these, many countries around the globe work hard to
encourage travellers to visit them. The result in recent years is the
boom in long haul flights to destinations that can supply tourists with
sun almost every week of the year.

Unfortunately, it’s this
scramble to grab a share of the tourist industry that is sometimes
damaging environments unable to sustain large numbers of visitors. There
are also concerns about the pollution generated by the ever-rising
volume of tourist flights, cruise ships and road traffic. And on top of
these problems are increasing fuel costs; the demise of established
resorts that have over-expanded; fluctuating exchange rates for
currencies; and the credit crunch.

The tourism industry will no
doubt adapt to new demands and circumstances. But despite some
optimistic predictions from tourism agencies for its continued growth,
this business may well find that its most successful era, for the time
being anyway, is past.