For long holiday tourism has been in the grip of economic thinking and sociological research. On this webpage a more balanced view is maintained on the focal centre of tourists' activities: tourists themselves and their encounter with their holiday destination. Tourists take what is given to them and then turn it into their own ends; it is these ends what is of our primary interest and more than 25 articles on this site are about just that: the tourists' tourism.

Under the heading "Tourism" a new article has been added on Climate Change (July, 2020)

and also under the heading "Tourism" I have added a new article about Phenomenology and Tourism (Feb. 2020).


Tourists and Travellers

Tourists and Travellers

The difference between Tourists and Travellers

The travellers of earlier days set out on a journey for many different reasons, such as family visits, health reasons (Spa resorts), to learn languages, to get practical experience (painting, cooking, etc.), to give lectures, for temporary employment or to gain knowledge and experience in general. Depending on the circumstances, these travellers were passengers, guests, diners, visitors, pupils or participants. The concept of a holiday did exist, but it did not yet have this compulsory tendency of being away from home as an urgent need.

A more recent phenomenon is travelling to do nothing (beach holiday) or to travel without having a clear idea of what to do. The concept of “tourism” was developed fully from the 1950s onwards – before, people were travelling. Some hundred years ago one would stay for a couple of days with friends in the countryside or go to a local beach, but during the twentieth century the concept of tourism started to develop and nowadays in the Western world, people go for holidays at least 3 or 4 weeks per year. As a result of a growing population and better economic conditions in the Western world, millions of people take long holidays and in the twenty-first century the holiday has become something sacred, nobody seems to be able to do without it anymore, in great contrast to the developing world. From the West enormous transport networks were set up for buses, trains and planes and in order to confront these fast growing tendencies, series of big resort hotels were erected. A pattern of big investments was developed, hand in hand with huge international travel organizations and advertising machinery and people started to talk about the tourist industry. The people who were travellers before became clients of this industry (tourists) and while in earlier days travelling was a social activity, from the 1960s on it became an economic matter of supply and demand. While in earlier days the travellers accepted how other places were, the modern tourist insists more and more that his destination be adapted to his taste and interests.

Tourists are travellers, but it must be clear that most travelling people are not tourists. The tourist travels voluntarily, while other travellers have a specific, cogent reason why they must travel. The tourist feels he is a client and wants to be treated as such, while the average traveller sees the different parts of his journey as single elements he himself has selected and therefore he more easily accepts the way things are at a destination.

Changes of the concept of “tourist”

While the number of tourists may have increased enormously during the last twenty years, the same holds true for travellers. People travel more than ever as a result of globalizing tendencies, easy connections by plane and growing communications via the Internet. Airplanes travel full of passengers, but how many among them are real tourists is increasingly difficult to establish and there is less need to make this separation. In a hotel you have guests and whether they are business people, sportsmen or lecturers does not really interest the hotel owner.

Tour operators or travel organizations in general also show the tendency to offer travel arrangements for people that are not necessarily labelled as tourists. Sports events are a good example: to what extent soccer supporters are tourists is questionable, but the players themselves definitely do not fall into this category. The result, however, is the same: transfer to the airport – flight – transfer to a hotel – overnight stay. This arrangement is the foundation of most journeys, while the airport may be exchanged for a bus or railway station.

Apart from the fact that the difference between tourists and travellers has become blurred, there are other reasons, too, why we should re-conceptualize the notion of who is a tourist. From the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st it has become clear that economic growth is levying a heavy toll on nature and that people are taking more from the Earth than she can spare for us. It has become urgent to impose measures for protecting the Earth and setting up development visions directed at future generations is one of the answers. It is clear by now that imposing these sustainability measures has to be carried out on all levels, which means that the tourist himself has to be involved, too. However, the image of the client being king interferes with this. This client insists on his rights and is guided by temporary fashionable trends; this client wants more and more luxury and still has a tendency to do things during his holiday he is not allowed to do at home. It is becoming clear that this image of the tourist as client and the tourist industry as just an economic activity is no longer in tune with the reality of a planet that needs urgent rescuing.

There are millions of travellers in the world every day and all carry the same responsibility for the environment, at the same level as airlines, hotels, transport companies or tourist attractions. However, it seems to be clear, too, that most people are not aware of doing any harm. The professional soccer player of the Champions League does not bother about environmental issues, although those soccer players travel thousands of miles yearly. People usually hold the airlines responsible. But is this right? From an economic viewpoint perhaps it is: airlines offer a service and have to be held responsible for it. The economic viewpoint emphasizes supply, demand and market principles. It should be clear by now that the notion of ‘client’ forms a barrier for travellers in realizing that they are the ones who are travelling and therefore that they must take responsibility for their actions.

The modern travellers

For travellers, assuming that tourists are among them, we can distinguish two levels of influencing the environment, a local population or a local economy. First of all a traveller can try to make sure when choosing a hotel, means of transport, attraction or way of payment, that sustainability considerations prevail. He will adopt a critical attitude and make sure that all services contracted are clean or environmentally-friendly services. The second level concerns the traveller who takes care not to pollute the destination, avoids buying endless numbers of plastic bottles, switches off the air-conditioning when leaving his room, and general tries to leave as clean a ‘footprint’ as possible.

However, there are issues that can be noticed much more clearly among tourists than in the case of ordinary travellers. The tendency to insist increasingly on more luxury is quite obvious among tourists, but hardly noteworthy among the other travellers. As in a supermarket where you can find products wrapped in seductive and expensive plastic wrapping (the packing being often more expensive than the content), the tourist wants beautiful, fully-equipped bathrooms, Jacuzzi, noiseless remote controlled air-conditioning, refrigerator, mini-bar, Wi-Fi and big, flat screen cable TV. It is about many extra things that are, just like the expensive supermarket wrappers, simply harmful for the environment and do not enhance the holiday experience. Is this the hotel’s problem or the tourist’s? Shouldn’t this tourist desist from his rights as a ‘client’ and become again a normal traveller, who cares for the environment, who realizes that exaggerated water usage may affect a local environment, who understands that any excess is harmful and that the account of this harm will be rendered to the next generations?

Airlines were the first to give up this ‘client’ concept under pressure of the 2001 twin tower disaster; all passengers now are subject to the same rigid security checks and there is no point in claiming that you are an important client. Under the pressure of environmental issues, measures should be introduced that go well beyond the ‘client’ concept, converting clients and tourists into simple travellers again who have to follow certain rules.

Up till now – 2010 – this separation between travellers and tourists still exists, even on a United Nations level (World Tourism Organization). Although there are efforts to widen the scope of the concept of tourism with terms such as health tourism, golf tourism or culinary tourism and nowadays business people are “officially” considered to be tourists, it is increasingly more difficult to keep tourists and travellers apart and the same UN organization should perhaps be renamed the World Travel Organization.

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