Wealthy people have always travelled to distant parts of the world, not incidentally for 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 cuisine.
While tourism dates back into history, the terms tourist and tourism were first used as official terms in 1937 by the League of Nations. Tourism was defined as people travelling abroad for periods of over 24 h.
The Grand Tour
The word tour gained common acceptance in the 18th 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.
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.
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 Gothic countryside, the Alps, fast flowing rivers, mountain gorges, etc.
Health tourism & leisure travel
It was not until the 19th century that cultural tourism developed into leisure and 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. Others began to visit places with health-giving mineral waters, in order to relieve a whole variety of diseases from gout to liver disorders and bronchitis.
Leisure Travel was a British invention due to sociological factors. 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.
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 were largely invented by the British leisured classes initially at the Swiss village of Zermatt (Valais) (year?) and / or St Moritz in 1864.
Until the first tourists appeared, the Swiss 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.
The first packaged winter sports holidays (vacations) followed in 1903, to Adelboden, also in Switzerland.
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 all originated in Britain, and even Tennis, originally a French sport, was formalized and codified by the British, who hosted 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 until two things 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 many of Britain's seaside towns within easy distance of Britain's large urban centres.
The father of modern mass tourism was Thomas Cook who, on 5 July 1841, organized the first package tour in history, by chartering a train to take a group of temperance campaigners 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 1871 introduced, for the first time, a statutory right for workers to take holidays, even if they were not paid at the time. As an aside, in the UK there is still no obligation to pay staff who do not work on public holidays.
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 conurbations.
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.
In travelling to the coast, the population was following in the steps of Royalty. King George III is widely acknowledged as popularising the seaside holiday, due to his regular visits to Weymouth when in poor health.
For a century, domestic tourism was the norm, 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. After World War II holiday villages such as Butlins and Pontins emerged, but their popularity waned with the rise of package tours and the increasing comforts to which visitors became accustomed at home. Towards the end of the 20th century the market was revived by the upmarket inland resorts of Dutch company Centre Parcs.
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)