A big, booming business

| July 5, 2013 | 0 Comments

Modern-day tourism can be a struggle against moderation. Tour operators lure clients with every imaginable gimmick — gaudy entertainment and gigantic buffets, to name just a few of the lesser sins against good taste. With the proliferation of all-inclusive resorts and cruises, contemporary tourism is looking like a grown-up’s version of spring break, that popular post-pubescent, alcohol–drenched ritual. In light of this, the origins of this industry are rich in irony.
Thomas Cook — a founding father of tourism as a commercial industry — first entered public consciousness as a critic of alcohol during the 1830s. A cabinet-maker by training and a Baptist missionary by religious conviction, Cook believed he could beat the perceived ills of booze with words of Scripture combined with pleasure excursions to unite supporters of temperance.
The first of such tours took place in July 1841, when Cook arranged a train to carry 570 passengers from Leicester in the eastern United Kingdom to nearby Loughborough for a temperance rally. This trip and its modest provisions cost passengers a shilling each and was so successful that others like it soon followed. Within years, Cook was organizing tours throughout Victorian England, and by the 1850s his business and the idea behind it (affordable thrills for the increasingly prosperous masses) had spread into continental Europe, the United States and beyond. The rest is history, as they say.

Thomas Cook was a founding father of tourism as a commercial industry and his travel agencies continue to serve tourists.

Thomas Cook was a founding father of tourism as a commercial industry and his travel agencies continue to serve tourists.

“The business of travel,” as Victorians described tourism, has since become a central part of the modern global economy. Total receipts from international tourism exceeded US $1.3 trillion in 2012, according to the World Tourism Organization. It also notes that travel and passenger transport currently account for 30 percent of the world’s service exports, and six percent of overall goods and services exports. As a worldwide export category, international tourism ranks fifth after fuels, chemicals and food, while ranking first in many developing countries, according to the World Tourism Organization. Europe and North America also identify tourism as an increasingly important part of their economies, as noted by the World Economic Forum in its Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013.
Measuring factors such as quality of transportation and access to cultural and natural attractions, it identifies Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Spain and the United Kingdom as the top five countries poised to benefit from global tourism, a good deal of which will involve citizens from emerging global economies such as China, Brazil and Indonesia.
Travel, of course, is more than traversing the distance from A to B. It confirms, yet simultaneously collapses, space. It educates. Mark Twain once wrote, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” It banishes the ennui of the familiar and replaces it with the exotic, or at least the prospect of the exotic. It returns us to that glorious place where we may see, hear and taste things for the first and perhaps only time.
The late Chilean writer, Roberto Bolano, observed that the world changes every hundred feet. Travel may grant us communion with people in far-flung places, but fracture our bonds with loved ones. It can threaten us with unseen dangers or death. It informs the tales we have told each other since time immemorial, from Gilgamesh through Homer’s Odyssey onto Kerouac’s On the Road.
It’s easy to romanticize travel as these writers did, but for centuries, it was dangerous, proceeding at the mercy of the elements, no faster than the pace of a human step, the gait of an animal or the wind in the sails. The 14th-Century Islamist scholar, Ibn Battuta, often required months, if not years, to reach destinations, travelling farther than the voyages of his near-contemporary, Marco Polo. Such toils, of course, had nothing in common with contemporary travel. In its early days, John Ruskin noted that modern travelling is “very little different from becoming a parcel.”
Perhaps. But modern travel, for all its security lineups, delays, cramped seating and excess, still holds magic. So this list hopes to offer some inspiration for the summer months. It aims to organize recommendations into categories such as entertainment attractions and landmarks. It also alerts readers to sites that are either way off the beaten path or threatened by forces of various sorts. With luck, it could give us licence to imagine ourselves in a different state and to whet our wanderlust.

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Category: Dispatches

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Wolfgang Depner is a doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia – Okanagan and the co-editor of Readings in Political Idealogies since the Rise of Modern Science, published by Oxford University Press.

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