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The four origins of tourism

Tourism as we know it today is a recent phenomenon, let’s take a look at what gave rise to it.

Pilgrimage or religious tourism

One of the first manifestations of tourism has its roots in religion. Most religions encourage a return to holy places either because it is a religious imperative, or because they contain relics or because they allow one to relive an episode in the life of a mystic. For a long time pilgrimage was the only competitor to wars explaining the movement of human masses (except for exoduses which are themselves most often the consequence of wars). Pilgrimage has several purposes, one of them is political, it consists in consolidating the identity of the community of believers thus reinforcing the feeling of belonging. It can have an economic interest for those who organize these trips, which represent considerable sums of money.
The pilgrimage is not within the reach of everyone, sometimes it requires an armed escort to protect travelers crossing hostile areas.

The Grand Tour

The word tourism takes its name from this second phenomenon. It is a journey that the European elite, mainly men, undertook from the middle of the 16th century. Its aim was to reach the places symbolizing the cradle of classical civilization, such as Italy and Greece, and in some cases even Persia or Egypt. By contemplating monuments dating back several millennia, the aristocrats became familiar with the idea of transmission, heritage and inheritance, values dear to the elites of the time. This journey through space and time was a way to reconnect with a sublime past and to educate the elite of society. Often, these trips proved to be inspiring for those who found themselves talented writers (Châteaubriant, Condorcet etc.). For this reason, tourism has long kept an elitist dimension.

Exploration tourism

Often linked to the aristocracy, it has nevertheless been democratized over time. Exploration travel is linked to scientific research (botany, anthropology, etc.) which is unbridled by the discovery of new territories that are just waiting to be explored (most often with the disregard of the indigenous populations). Their discovery requires different types of professions (military, sailors, missionaries etc.) but also intellectuals to justify their financing. The scientific attraction is a little later because it is an opportunistic mentality that dominated these discovery enterprises. The shipowners were above all looking to make a fortune, science did not represent an immediate profitability. The explorer, by his university education, gathered data from the field in order to give them a coherence later on. Exploration tourism has a scholarly purpose, which distinguishes it from the fourth dimension of tourism.

Entertainment tourism, the age of consumption

With globalization, the decrease in the cost of transportation, the appearance of paid vacations, the orientation towards a society of entertainment, a new market was created in which millions of people were engulfed. Until then, travel was only reserved for rentiers (idlers because they didn’t need to work for a living), for those who could afford a pilgrimage (usually only once in a lifetime) or for those whose job was to travel. Mass tourism allows hedonism to take on a new dimension. Workers lounged in seaside resorts to rest between two periods of work. Their goal was no longer religious, classist or intellectual, but above all recreational. This recreational aspect opens up new ways: it is no longer necessary to build hotels in cultural places, they can be created from scratch as long as the climate is good enough for leisure activities. The fourth era of tourism allows a presence on territories which until then attracted nobody. Thus, fishing villages soon find themselves transformed into flagship destinations for thousands of people (e.g. Saint Tropez).

Of course, contemporary tourism is a mixture of these four influences. It is not uncommon to observe, most often as an unconscious fact, that the way of traveling is marked by the habitus* specific to the cultural codes of the old aristocracy or intellectuals.

habitus (sociology): An individual’s way of being, linked to a social group and manifested in his or her physical appearance (clothing, posture…).

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