In a nutshell: Past and future of the holiday industry

The Story

Spending time away from home

I like the idea.

For a week from today, I will be a tiny part of a steadily growing branch – the tourism industry (I will go on holiday to Switzerland). 

Tell me more.  

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates that there were just 25 million international tourist arrivals in 1950; almost 70 years later, this number has increased to 1.4 billion international arrivals per year. That is a 56-fold increase. Europe accounts for half of these arrivals (713 million in 2018) though its population is just 10 per cent of the total world population. So Europe is the most visited region in the world (86.9 million visitors). 

How do the European states differ?

France is the number one tourist destination in the world in terms of arrivals (86.9 million). Next to France, the UK, Italy, Spain, and Germany are the most visited countries in Europe and in the top ten outbound market locations in the World. Malta is the number one country in Europe that is most reliant on tourism, as 14.2 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) comes from this industry. This is followed by Montenegro (11 per cent), Croatia (10.9) and Georgia (9.3). In general, the tourism industry accounts for 3.8 per cent of the total turnover within the European Union.

How has the pandemic changed tourism?

It is too early to make a final judgment, but maybe less than we think. My guess: The general trend will not reverse. People are getting richer, destinations are easier and easier to access, and people still want to see the world and seek recreation. Mass tourism is here to stay.

How did it start?

There is this marvellous book “Slow Train to Switzerland” from travel writer Diccon Bewes. It is about the English woman Jemima Morrell. In June 1863, she set off by train to join Thomas Cook‘s first Conducted Tour of Switzerland. Since she wrote a diary of that journey (from 26 June to 15 July), we know a lot about the beginning of mass tourism in Switzerland. From today’s view, that guided tour by Thomas Cook was far away from mass tourism and guidance. There weren’t exact schedules (because planning and booking were complicated), and due to the lack of connections (back then, there were only 650 km of tracks in operation in Switzerland, compared to over 5000 km today), the group had to walk a lot, often with the help of mules. But still, it was what you could call the beginning of mass tourism, with its definition to bring a “number of organised tourists to popular holiday destinations for recreational purpose.”  

How did it get so big?

There are many reasons why this economic branch evolved. The possibility to cover large distances comfortably (by train) is one of them; having the money to pay for such trips is another reason (that’s why in the 19th century in industrialised England mass tourism was invented), and furthermore the ability to quit from time to time from what maintains your livelihood (the rise of employment relationships made this happen). 

What has changed since then? 

Today, travels and stays are much more comfortable (for instance, there were no toilets on trains back then); the number of destinations has exploded (thanks to the invention of air travel and subsequently the decrease of flight costs). And above all, due to the steady rise in living standards more and more people are able to go on holiday.

With sometimes dire consequences for the environment.

While tourism, in many instances, relies on the natural environment, it also destroys it. If we want more people to be able to go on vacation, then we have to change how we spend this vacation.


Mass tourism has to become sustainable. 

Mass tourism and sustainability – that doesn’t sound compatible.

They have to. I am pretty sure that the solution is not to differentiate between mass tourism and gentle tourism. Tourism is too big. You can’t transform tourism where there are few tourists at each spot. You have to convert any form of tourism into sustainable tourism. That could mean that there are still many people in the same place.

How is that supposed to work?

Economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable development must account for the interests of all stakeholders, including the local communities, tourists, private organisations and public bodies. Therefore, you need a healthy community (a working electoral system and the rule of law). 

Be more specific, please.

Sustainable tourism is about using resources sustainably, reducing over-consumption and waste, maintaining biodiversity, integrating tourism into planning, supporting local economies, involving local communities, consulting stakeholders and the public, training staff, making marketing responsibly, undertaking research. 

Got it. There is a lot of work ahead. Do you think that is promising?

The demand for sustainable tourism is increasing. Achieving a more sustainable pattern to tourism development is high on the agenda aiming to meet human needs while preserving the environment now and for the future. So the short answer is: yes. 


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