Tourism Explained: Definition, History, Types

photograph of travel items book, glasses, brown straw hat, pink scarf, blue jeans, dark sunglasses and green coconut on wood with words tourism explained, definition, history, types written in green box

Tourism is one of the biggest global industries, with a market size of $2 trillion. It primarily depends on the environment of a particular region: physical, cultural and socio-economic. Eventually, it grows from the natural features of that location and the hospitality of the population. In the past 5 years, the tourism industry created one in four new jobs. The sector expanded so much that today we teach it in schools. And travelling at least once a year is now a common practice, especially in developed countries.

Definitions: Tourism, Tourist, Traveler, Visitor

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is the responsible body for promoting sustainable, responsible and universally accessible tourism.

According to it,

Tourism is a social, cultural and economic phenomenon that involves the movement of people. It can be to places or countries outside their normal environment for personal or business purposes.

Such people are called tourists and tourism relates to their activities including expenditure.

A tourist is a visitor if his/her trip includes an overnight stay or a same-day visit.

A traveller is someone who moves from different geographic locations for any duration and purpose.

A visitor is a traveller taking a trip to a destination outside his/her usual environment for less than a year. The main purpose is leisure, business or personal other than to be employed.

Thus, a visitor is a specific type of traveller and tourism is a subset of travel.

History of tourism

Tourism is a relatively new concept. For sure, the word appeared in the English language in the last century. But, throughout history, people often travelled and stayed in places outside their home range. Back then, they were respectfully called travellers. Travel was mainly for the rich, educated and society leaders. Travelling for relaxation or as an enjoyable activity is quite recent.

Eventually, in the 18th century, as the population increased and people had more wealth, tourism expanded. This took place in 4 main phases.

1.      Early days (medieval times to early 17th century)

In the early days (prehistory travel), the first signs of industrial growth changed a way of life established over centuries. People became richer, more educated and had more interest in other countries. The merchant and professional classes extended. Reinforced by the Reformation, travel became widely accepted.

2.      Railway age (Early 19th century to 1918)

Over time, better transportation massively increased travel opportunities. The railway age debuted and people were eager to explore unknown places. It marked the beginning of mass travel. And, within a short period of time, resorts and travel agencies popped up.

3.      Interwar period (1918 to 1939/45)

But, as of 1918, travel abruptly halted due to the First World War that started in 1914. Yet, this interwar period would completely change the future of tourism.

We ameliorated roads and made huge investments in aviation. It was also the age of motor cars and foreign trips significantly increased in Europe. Travelling became more flexible and leisure activities boomed.

However, in 1930, the great depression once more halted tourism expansion. Eventually, the Second World War in 1939/45 altogether stopped it.

4.      Mass tourism (1945 to date)

Since the Second World War to date, the travel industry has been expanding. So many changes occurred in the world from better working conditions to technological advancement. Holiday-making in Europe especially peaked with mass car ownership.

Also, the aviation industry took off after 1945, surpassing the imagination of travellers. A trip from London to Hong Kong was only 13 hours on a non-stop flight. Business trips from Europe to North America rose. Long-distance travel hence became popular. New destinations emerged at cheaper prices.

In this way, the travel industry grew by year, interrupted every now and then by recession and war. And today, unfortunately, by the COVID-19 pandemic.

International tourism

The UNWTO estimates that in the 1950s, there were around 25 million tourist arrivals. In 2018, it reached 1.4 billion tourist arrivals, a smashing 56-fold increase.

With aviation and ease of travel, tourism decreased in Europe by around 50% to other remote regions in the world. Today, trips to Asia and the Pacific trips are increasing but France still attracts the majority of tourists.

The map shows the number of tourists per country (Max Roser, from Our World in Data).

Forms of tourism

Basically, there are 3 forms of tourism:

  1. Domestic tourism: residents of a country travel within the country only.
  2. Inbound tourism: non-residents travel in the given country.
  3. Outbound tourism: residents travel outside the given country.

Consequently, we derive the 3 categories of tourism from these 3 forms:

  1. Internal: comprising of domestic tourism and inbound tourism.
  2. National: comprising of domestic tourism and outbound tourism.
  3. International: comprising inbound tourism and outbound tourism.

Types of tourism

Since 1945, tourism has developed into a robust industry, becoming more specialized. The number of international airlines grew and we got accustomed to air travel. What’s more, tour arrangements became more flexible which further contributed to the present structure of the industry.

Market segments

However, no single destination nor attraction can meet the needs and wants of all tourists. For instance, while some tourists may prefer beach resorts, others may opt for cultural visits. As a result, holiday making businesses must identify and market-specific market segments.

Macro-niches and micro-niches in tourism

We refer to these segments as niches (category) such as ecofriendly or cultural tourism. We can then subdivide these segments into macro-niches and micro-niches.

In a macro-niche, many people share a common interest like eco-tourism.

In a micro-niche, we further narrow down the same group to a common interest like cycling.

segmentation of tourism into mass tourism and niche tourism, example of niche tourism is adventure tourism broken into polar, mountain, desert, forest macro niche is mountaineering, ski, trekking, snowboard, micro niche snowboard is alpine, park, free ride, cat boarding, heli boarding, piste
Example of market segmentation in the tourism sector, from macro-niche to micro-niche tourism products

Niche v/s mass tourism

Niche tourism basically focuses on the traveller’s interests and desire. These products are essential to give tourists a memorable experience. And for operators to make destinations more appealing to them.

Niche tourism is also in contrast to mass tourism where a lot of people visit the same place at the same time.

vertical picture, upper showing tourist groups taking pictures on stairs, lower picture 3 people with backpacks walking on mountain
Mass tourism v/s niche tourism; Image from Pixabay

So, if we break down niche tourism products into micro-niches, the list of products is quite long. As a result, we have so many types of tourism. Some common examples are adventure, eco-friendly, beach and cultural tourism.

Factors that affect tourism

As a matter of fact, many countries and states depend heavily on tourism for their livelihoods. Mauritius, for example, is a famous beach resort destination, with its white sandy beaches and blue lagoons. In 2018, tourism accounted for 8% of the GDP and 10% of total employment. The same goes for many small islands around the world, like the Maldives, Seychelles, Guyana etc.

Yet, there are certain factors that affect tourism, whether it is inbound or outbound.

1.      Increased income

One of the most common reasons why we travel is an increase in our income. Once we meet our basic expenses, some money is still available. As a result, we can do what we wish with it, including travelling.

2.      Cost

Also, the total travel cost is an important reason why we travel.

Before we go on trips, we budget the costs (accommodation, food, recreation etc.). No matter how attractive a place is, we travel to a specific location if it meets our budget. This in turn depends on the destination’s amenities, the level of exchange rate and what tour operators propose.

3.      Business

As a matter of fact, the business travel sector is quite large and international in scale. Generally, business travellers buy class air tickets and stay in expensive hotels. They also choose services to facilitate the purpose of their business.

As companies bear the expenses, the value of business travelers is higher than leisure travelers.

4.      Population

Population is in fact the raw material that drives this service sector. Today, we notice that the number of births is declining while the ageing population is rising. Obviously, the number of travellers decrease with fewer births. But, the ageing population has more time, better health and more money to travel.

Additionally, in developed countries, companies offer paid holidays to their employees. More people are thus taking advantage of these benefits.

5.      Transportation

Tourism also depends on the method of transportation. Some places are still inaccessible today because we do not have the suitable transportation means to get there.

Basically, we travel from continent to continent by air, e.g. North America to Europe. But, in certain regions such as Europe, high-speed rails, coaches and buses are more appropriate.

6.      Leisure time

Today, we have more leisure time because of better working conditions, especially in developed countries. In fact, the concept of holiday making is well-developed in these countries. As a result, we can indulge in quick week-end escapades or short breaks when we need them.

Additionally, people retire early with pension-rights thus allowing them to travel.

7.      Marketing

The success of the travel industry is largely due to its cunning marketing strategies. They typically lure people into experiencing the unusual. With the segmentation of the market, micro-niche products make destinations and attractions even more attractive.  

8.      Tour operator and travel agents

Also, tour operators and travel agents definitely influence the holiday destinations with their immense knowledge. Given their expertise in the field and years in business, we often feel safer with them. Consequently, as we seek travel advice from, they eventually persuade us to travel.

9.      Education

Generally, there is a close link between education and cultural curiosity. Many people who undertake long trips are often well educated and rich.

Conversely, there are also those who are curious to see the world, often called the back-packers. They are mostly young and eager to travel over long distances to seek knowledge and experience.

10.  Urbanization

Most international tourists in fact live in urban areas and are better paid compared to rural residents. They are also more exposed to media and travel information. Tour operators are more accessible in urban areas and transportation also is readily available.

Thus, these people often seek holidays that give them a different experience than their normal lifestyles.

11.  Destination attractions

Indeed, people travel to satisfy their personal needs and wants. Consequently, the destination must be attractive from the tourist’s perspective. So, matching markets provide facilities to attract these specific tourists. For example, gambling facilities are in place in Las Vegas to attract gambling tourists.

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