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Tourism is a complex phenomenon that can be conceptualized on several levels. It can be considered demographi-cally, as the flow of temporary leisure migration across international boundaries (international tourism) or within the boundaries of a given country (domestic tourism). It can be thought of institutionally, as the system of enterprises (airlines, travel companies, touring agencies, hotels, resorts, guest houses, souvenir shops, restaurants, theme parks, and so on) and organizations (travel associations, local and national tourist authorities, and international tourist organizations) that process and serve that flow. Finally, it can be conceptualized socially, as the complex of attitudes, motivations, norms, and role models that regulate and shape that flow into a distinct institutional domain.
Traveling for leisure was common in many historical and premodern societies. Tourism as a socially recognized, separate institutional domain, however, emerged in western Europe only in the course of the nineteenth century.
There have been two major precursors of modern tourism: (1) pilgrimages to sacred places, which created basic services for travelers, such as hostelries, and formed routes that prefigured the itineraries of modern sightseeing tourism; (2) spas, or thermal springs, at which members of the European higher classes assembled to “take the waters,” which prefigured popular modern vacationing tourism on seaside beaches.
The Grand Tour of the British nobility and upper classes between the late sixteenth and the early nineteenth centuries was a form of secular pilgrimage to the centers of European antiquity and culture. In its course, an expanding core of major attractions and amenities developed, which constituted the basis of the emergent modern tourist system.
The development of modern tourism was made possible by major technological innovations in transportation, such as the steamship and the train, and later the car and the airplane, which facilitated the establishment of regular transportation services for large numbers of people. The demand for tourist services, however, was provoked by the economic and social changes that followed the Industrial Revolution: Industrial pollution and urbanization separated people from as yet unspoiled nature; the strains of modern life created demands for rest and recreation; secularization and imperial conquests led to a broadened outlook on the world and a growing interest in remote lands and people. The prosperous middle classes increasingly disposed of discretionary income, which enabled them to bear the costs of traveling, while the introduction of social benefits, such as paid vacations, enabled ever broader social strata to travel. The introduction by Cook, in 1841, of the package tour, was followed by other innovations in the organization of travel, such as the formation of travel companies and touring agencies, airlines, and hotel chains, which made traveling fast and easy, even for people with limited cultural capital.
The principal expansion of tourism took place in the second part of the twentieth century, and especially from the 1970s onward, with the emergence of mass tourism to popular destinations. Most citizens of affluent Western countries at the end of the century took at least one annual vacation abroad, and many took two or even more. Tourism from the non-Western countries, especially Japan, and, more recently, India and China, expanded at an accelerating rate; experts predict that by 2010, one hundred million Chinese will be traveling abroad.
The Tourist Industry
Contemporary tourism is a massive phenomenon. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNTWO), there were 808 million international tourists in 2005, up from about 25 million in 1950. The scope of domestic tourism cannot be ascertained, but it is estimated to be three or four times larger than that of international tourism, totaling about 2.5 to 3.0 billion people per year.
Tourism is one of the leading components of world trade, accounting for about 6 percent of world exports of goods and services. In 2004 the total expenditures of international tourists amounted to $623 billion, up from about $2 billion in 1951. The great majority of international border crossings remain concentrated in Europe, a phenomenon ensuing partly from the relatively large number and small size of European countries. Six European countries are among the ten leading global destinations. France tops the list, with about 70 million visitors a year.
As of 2006 global tourism is growing at about 4 percent annually, but the rate of its expansion to non-Western destinations is significantly higher than it is in the old European core. This growth manifests a marked heliotropic tendency, a flow of tourists from the cold North to vacationing destinations in the warm South, particularly those around the Mediterranean, Caribbean, South Pacific, and Southeast Asian coasts.
Mass tourism is an important source of significant economic benefits, particularly to less-developed countries, but these are mostly unequally distributed. It has also generated undesirable and sometimes destructive environmental, social, and cultural consequences in popular destinations, which threaten the sustainability of local tourist industries. Small countries, particularly island states, in which tourism became the dominant industry while other sectors of the economy remained underdeveloped, are often utterly dependent on tourism, and thus often exposed to financial risks created by far-away political and economic crises.
In reaction to the problematic consequences of the hegemonic tourist industry, various kinds of “alternative tourisms” have emerged, such as “green” tourism, eco-tourism, low-impact tourism, and “countercultural” tourism, the latter espoused in the ideology—but not necessarily in the practice—of contemporary backpackers. Most of these alternative tourisms, however, have been eventually absorbed by the tourist industry, which has adapted its services to the particular needs and preferences of alternative tourists.
More recently, rather than seeking alternatives to the industry, environmentalists and other concerned individuals have sought to collaborate with the industry to ascertain the sustainability of tourism development projects. They thus hope to prevent the environmental and social ravages that unconcerned and often speculative developments wrought in sensitive sites in the past.
Sociological Approaches To Tourism
Sociologists have been slow in realizing the growing significance of tourism. Early commentators tended to disparage rather than analyze the phenomenon. Once its study was initiated, the principal issue of concern became the relationship between tourism and modernity (and, later on, post-modernity). Dean MacCannell (1973) proposed a distinctly sociological perspective on tourism, by conceiving of the tourist as a modern individual who, alienated from his own society, travels in quest of authentic experiences in other places and other times—in pristine nature, unspoiled, simple communities, or the traces of great civilizations of the past. In MacCannell’s view, however, this quest is thwarted by the locals at the destinations, who stage “authentic” tourist settings for the visitors’ consumption.
Though influential as a paradigm for the sociological study of modern tourism, MacCannell’s approach was also much contested. Critics argued that he essentialized “the tourist,” disregarding the empirical variety of touristic phenomena; while a quest for authenticity might be a modern cultural ideal, not all tourists are believed to pursue it to the same extent. Typologies of tourists and touristic experiences were proposed (Cohen 2004). Authenticity was shown to be a socially constructed concept, rather than a given fact. Ning Wang (2000) distinguished between three kinds of authenticity: objective, constructed, and existential—the latter being a state of exaltation, of “really living,” virtually independent of the nature of the tourist’s surroundings. Wang’s concept may help explain the attractiveness of otherwise overtly contrived attractions, such as theme parks.
The emerging discourse of postmodern tourism, or the “post-tourist” (Urry 1990), moved away from MacCannell’s paradigm. In a world allegedly devoid of originals, and dominated by simulacra (Baudrillard 1988), the quest for authenticity becomes senseless. The growing interpenetration of cultures in the twin processes of globalization and “glocalization” blurs the distinction between home and away, and between ordinary leisure and tourism. Sophisticated and reflective post-tourists are said to travel in quest of enjoyment of experiences that, while familiar, are of a higher quality, more abundant, more varied (and cheaper) than those available at home. They are particularly attracted to the “world cities,” such as London, Paris, or New York, which are the pacesetters in contemporary music, art, fashions, and cuisine, but they may also derive fun from visits to such contrived attractions as technologically highly sophisticated theme parks, of which the Disneylands are the prototype. Some researchers argue that the alleged fragmentation of the postmodern worldview, and of individual identities, is reflected in the post-tourists’ tendency to mix diverse experiences on the same trip (Uriely 2005), thus thwarting the possibility of constructing typologies of post-tourists.
In the contemporary world, tourism often merges with other institutional domains, such as education (study tours), religion (pilgrimage-tourism), sports (extreme tourism), and recently even medicine. Medical tourism, combining vacations with medical services, emerged in the last years of the twentieth century as a rapidly expanding phenomenon, with growing numbers of people from developed countries seeking a variety of treatments and checkups in developing ones. They are pushed by the escalating costs of private medicine, and the lengthening of waiting lists for socialized medical services, in their countries of origin, and attracted by the high quality and relatively low costs of treatments offered by top hospitals in several developing countries, such as Brazil, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Turkey. Popular vacationing destinations, such as the islands of southern Thailand, offer package tours, combining vacations with medical checkups, cosmetic treatments, and even surgery. The phenomenon has led to an internal brain drain of qualified physicians from local to foreigner-oriented medical establishments, but it has also encouraged some who emigrated to the developed West to return to their home countries.
The Future Of Tourism
The alleged homogenization of the world under the impact of globalization is considered by some authorities as a disincentive for tourism; however, tourist numbers are in fact growing annually, and are projected to continue to grow even more strongly in the future, with much of the expected growth coming from newly prosperous non-Western countries. The tourist system has continually expanded into new regions, though large parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, the South American interior, and Antarctica remain as yet relatively little penetrated by it. While it will probably yet expand into most of those regions, space is expected to become the new frontier of tourism in the twenty-first century. As yet affordable only to the extraordinarily rich, and facing apparently insurmountable technological, medical, and economic constraints, space tourism might remain restricted to only a few passengers into the foreseeable future; however, the current popularity of simulated space travel and of brief, commercial flights to the edge of space, offered to the general public, attest to a demand for the “real thing.” If such a demand persists, and is no mere fad inspired by novelty, it might provide the incentive for the necessary scientific breakthroughs in the more remote future. Whether and when space travel will become affordable to broad social strata, however, remains an open question.
- Baudrillard, Jean. 1988. Selected Writings. Ed. Mark Poster. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press.
- Cohen, Erik. 2004. Contemporary Tourism: Diversity and Change. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- MacCannell, Dean. 1973. Staged Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings. American Journal of Sociology 79 (3): 589–603.
- Uriely, Natan. 2005. The Tourist Experience: Conceptual Developments. Annals of Tourism Research 32 (1): 199–216.
- Urry, John. 1990. The Tourist Gaze: Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies. London: Sage.
- Wang, Ning. 2000. Tourism and Modernity: A Sociological Analysis. Kidlington, U.K.: Pergamon.
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