A Brief History of Tourism
Where did Sustainable travel come from? When we talk about the origins of travel and tourism, most times our minds might automatically think it has been what it is since immemorable times, however, this is seldom the case. The beginnings of the tourism we know today, which now has ramifications such as sustainable, transformational, and adventure travel, looked far from the amalgamation of leisure, relaxation, and sustainability that it is today – it might even seem to be the total opposite!
To understand the true meaning of what tourism represents nowadays, we have condensed its most relevant historical facts since the dawn of mankind (or close enough, we think) to shed light on how it evolved to become one of the most profitable industries in the world.
Once Upon a Time…
It is recorded that the earliest forms of tourism were mostly luxury travel, reserved only for the very privileged, in Ancient Egypt and Greece. Egyptians traveled to visit museums, old relics, and constructions while the Greeks did so to attend musical and sports events, such as the earlier versions of the Olympic Games. Soon enough, writers who traveled often found the benefits of it as a means of exploration and research, popularizing the activity as a new educational tool.
In Classical Rome, travel involved the very first bathing holidays and health retreats; mostly seen as a trip to regenerate the body and mind in specific locations, such as the seaside.
The University of Life
Without transportation nor roads to move through, it is of course impossible to have any traveling at all, let alone sustainable travel. By the time the Roman Empire fell, traveling became precarious due to the destruction of roads and various levels of danger, which did not regenerate after some time during the Middle Ages. During this period, travelers spanned from noblemen to scholars, pilgrims, and merchants. Scholars and students were a particular group of people that redesigned the activity: traveling was no longer done to only visit point A and point B, but to visit point C and D as well, while gaining experience and knowledge in between these destinations. The roads and pass-over towns became destinations, and every corner could be a life lesson and a cause for further exploration and personal growth.
From a means to an end
After traveling became essential to being a cultivated person, upperclassmen between the 16th and 18th centuries were sent to tour around Europe after finishing their secondary studies in order to mature. This involved traveling with many assistants and having the entire trip minutely prepared for them, as they worried only about learning etiquette, proper manners, making society with other prominent members, etc. It was no longer about what the destination offered but what the trip itself could do for the traveler.
With industrial advancements, including new and better roads and transportation, traveling soon became a thing of the middle-class as well. This also came about thanks to improved labor rights that allowed workers to take breaks for short trips to neighboring cities which helped start designing specific tourism routes and key places to visit. Soon enough, the creation of railways and steamships made traveling a more comfortable and approachable experience, driving some frequent trotters-turned-writers to start writing the first guidebooks.
The Guiding Wonders
With the rise of guidebooks such as ‘The Baedeker’, named after the pioneer writer in the field Karl Baedeker, and John Murray’s ‘The Red Book’, sightseeing and specific locations were penned as must-visit tourist sites. These books made for specific regions contained a level of detail and information that ranged from informative to demonstrative, ensuring people could maximize their leisure experience.
These guides piqued the interest of more people to travel and made travelers increase in numbers, which resulted in the creation of planned group tours from agencies facilitating lodgings at the destination. One of the very first agencies of the sort was created by the entrepreneur Thomas Cook in England, who later influenced others to open their own in countries like Belgium and Germany. The more people wanted to travel, the lower the prices began to drop per person, and Cook sought this opportunity by offering guided holidays to other countries, especially Switzerland, France, and Italy. While French rivieras became more mainstream and less exclusive, the opening of the Alps and the equipment required to stay (more layers, longer travel time) turned it into the ultimate exclusive location, only enjoyed by the affluent.
The New Normal
Holidays continued evolving during the 19th century, up until they were common enough for paid holidays at work to become the norm, as well as a reduction in working hours mostly for white-collar jobs. Summer retreats were popular pre and post-WWI, offering relaxation during pressing times for the entire family, children included. The popularity was such, that cities began designating specific trails and areas for tourism alone.
With further advancements in transportation including trains and planes, traveling in the 20th century was a matter of reserving time and will rather than money for it, in most cases. With flights becoming more accessible, transatlantic trips went from luxurious to more and more affordable, bringing about in the later years a boom of new destinations all over Central America and North America from Europe, and vice versa.
Sustainable Travel in the Present
From the mid-20th century up until this day, tourism has been able to shape itself according to the needs of its locals and what the specific culture can offer visitors, however finding the best out of each place has not come without its ailments. Tourism has been suffering from what is now being called ‘overtourism’, which basically means many destinations are becoming overcrowded, and are therefore suffering the negative impacts of this, such as worn-out infrastructure and abuse of natural resources.
Sustainable travel, responsible travel, and regenerative tourism are a few of the answers to this common issue being exercised in the past year, wishing to undo the harm humans have done to certain popular tourist attractions. By traveling consciously anywhere in the world, taking into account that this is not just a spot that exists for tourists but that it continues to exist once visitors are gone, tourism can once again bring prosperity instead of harm to its locals and the surrounding environment.