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Who Invented Tourism: Egyptian Pharaohs or a Baptist Minister Embattled with Alcoholism?

A trip in Georgia
Photo taken by Mykolas Vadišis.  A trip in Georgia

Tourism is an integral part of the globalised world. It’s the main source of income for many people all over the planet, and one of the most popular ways of spending one’s holidays in contemporary society. Over a million tourists head out for places both near and far every year. This number is set to double in the coming decades. Travel on Spot has decided to answer the question: how did tourism come about – what are the roots and history of this world-changing activity?

When Did People Start Touring?

Recreational and educational-themed journeys already existed in Ancient Egypt. What’s interesting is that in modern times, Egypt itself has become one of the major tourist meccas, thanks to its historical heritage and the Red Sea. In all fairness, though, during the times of pharaohs, tourism was a privilege, relegated only to the wealthy, and to rulers who were considered to be half-gods. According to some written sources, privileged groups in Ancient Egypt used to travel to see pyramids, built hundreds of years before, and located a little further from their home.

Ramses II temple
Photo taken by Francisco Anzola.  Ramses II temple

The Ancient Greeks had their own travelling traditions, as well. They used to head for Delphi to listen to the words of the wise, or to partake in sports and games. And let’s also not forget Herodotus – the famous Ancient Greek traveller and historian, who was the first to not only visit, but also write about Egypt, North Africa, the Black Sea region, Mesopotamia, and Italy.

Educational journeys became popular in the times of the Roman Empire due to improved transportation – 300,000 km of easy-to-navigate roads became yet another reason to travel not only to settle business or military matters, but also to educate oneself and spend one’s free time. Rome also became the first home of the tourism business to be recorded in history. Here, people not only travelled themselves, but also began organising trips and tours, as well as offering food and accommodation to groups of travellers.

Students and Pilgrims Travelled in the Middle Ages

No matter how backward we might imagine the Middle Ages to have been, people’s mobility was actually on the rise. Travelling soldiers and merchants were joined by other social groups, such as beggars, robbers and messengers. Students and pilgrims, however, were the most noticeable. Other than going from one city to the next, these two groups of travellers also wanted to learn something new.

As soon as the famous educational facilities of Paris, Oxford and Bologna were established, young people started to travel for many kilometres – not to conquer or sell something, though, but to explore and discover. That’s how a new attitude – the desire to see the world – was formed. Eventually, all of that evolved into the Renaissance – the era of great discoveries and salient travellers.

Aristocratic Journeys as the Origins of Modern Tourism

Tourism as we know it today began taking shape in 16-18th centuries, when wealthy young people started to travel the world with the sole purpose of gaining knowledge and crossing over from childhood to the world of adults. As decades rolled by, however, the thirst for knowledge and experience was drowned by the pursuit of enjoyment. For the wealthy, travelling became more of a pleasure than a challenge. That’s how the first pre-planned journeys, which took anywhere between a year and three years, got their start. These journeys required the assistance of many people – pathfinders, guides, carriers, servants, and even personal chefs would travel together with their masters.

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Having begun in England, these tours soon reached France and Italy. Most of these would traverse the major European cities, such as London, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, Munich, Vienna and Prague.

The Birth of Mass Tourism

The 19th century saw a sharp increase in the number of people with a larger income. The Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and rapid economic growth presented people in the West with an opportunity to make money. Travelling became available to more people than just aristocrats, researchers and scientists. Perhaps the first one to realise that was the Baptist minister Thomas Cook.

Thomas Cook
Photo taken by  Thomas Cook

On July the 5th, 1841, he took his alcoholic parishioners to a gathering of Loughborough’s (UK) temperance society, located 11 kilometres from their home. The minister gathered 570 people and organised a journey for them on a train. He also fed them, and took care of accommodation and entertainment. The journey was meant to show that having a good time does not require alcohol.

During the following three summers, he organised and took charge of tours for temperance fellows and children from Sunday schools. In 1844, he signed a contract with a railroad company, obliging him to keep bringing in new customers. This deal had allowed him to start his own travel business and receive a percentage off railroad tickets.

The success of Thomas Cook is often considered to mark the birth of modern tourism. Today, his company is one of the largest in the industry. During the 20th century, most of the European resorts changed unrecognizably. Tourism also flourished in exotic, far-away lands.

Internet Transforms Tourism Again

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With the advent of the Internet, the concept of tourism has changed yet again. Hotel and flight booking systems, hospitality clubs, room rental websites, social networks, auto rental companies, restaurant reservations, paying for tours and entertainment on the Internet, and comments and reviews – all of that allows one to organise an “aristocratic” trip for oneself.

Experts admit that the world’s most popular attractions are already overcrowded by tourists, and that in the future people will start looking not for the most popular objects, but for exceptional experiences, tranquillity, remoteness, uniqueness and authenticity. That way, the wheel of history will turn, making journeys more individual again.

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