Tourism: Then and Now- Essay

Before the onset of the twentieth century, all the main attributes of modern tourism had become evident in embryo. And today, tourism is like any normal consumer product transacted through retail outlets, wholesalers, and even departmental stores of many counties.

In its early phase, tourism was more of a luxury available to the chosen few who could afford both the time and the money to travel. Today, however, Tourism is no longer the privilege of a few. It has become an accepted and expected part of lifestyles of a large and increasing number of people. This has been mainly due to a combination of factors like the increased leisure, higher incomes, extending mobility.

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Mythological, holidays can be deemed to have their genesis in ‘holy days’, and since distant past it has been primarily the religion that provided the framework within which relaxation time was spent. The village obsequies/funerals of the middle Ages, conducted on the eve of festivals relating to guardian saints, provide a fair illustration of such religious relaxation.

In fact, for the majority it did not mean movement from one place to another rather was more of a respite from work. Nevertheless, at the same time, travel for religious purposes was also witnessed in the form of pilgrimages to places of worship.

In such cases, allegiance and/or commitment were the prime motivational factors; travel came about regardless of the condition in vogue rather than because of these. One can conceptualize this sort of generalization for most forms of travel, if not all, during the middle Ages.

Travel, though on a small scale but in different forms did come off; traders having a go for new business openings, adventurers in pursuit of experience, esteem and opulence, wandering sportsmen, each and every travelled of one’s own free will all over or between countries.

But all these have been characterized as business travellers. One can easily affirm without any hesitation or doubt that up to the time of Middle Ages, if not until the nineteenth century, travel was something to be put up with rather than having a good time. This is also a truism that there are specific essentials for the development of travel with the object of exclusive recreation.

From historical perspective, the term ‘tourism’ is believed to have originated in the beginning of the nineteenth century, but this should in no way be taken as to disguise the fact that what the concept ‘tourism’ connotes today has, indeed been occurring much earlier.

Early tourism, excepting travel for the object of waging war, can be said to have taken two forms: travel for the purpose of business – be it for trading or for business of the State, and travel for religious resolve.

This is also a known historical fact that tradesmen, since antiquity, have travelled extensively with a view to do business with other races and tribes. Such travel was, of course, oft times hard, toilsome as well as insecure, relying on poor infrastructure i.e., scanty roads and awkward uncomfortable transport, but the promising gains were worthwhile.

In this category of traders, the Greeks and Romans find special mention, being noted traders and as their corresponding realms got strengthened and expanded, travel, generally over far-off places for the time, became vital.

Nevertheless, one does find manifestation of some travel for private purposes at this time; for example, the Greeks hosted international visitors during the first Olympic Games, held in 776 BC, and opulent and prosperous Romans travelled for holidaying not only to their own coast but as far away from home as Egypt for enjoyment and, in some cases, even to visit friends and relatives, thus setting the exemplary pattern for the goodly VFR market of the twentieth century.

The Roman traveller especially was facilitated too much extent by the advance in communication network coming about from the expansion of the Empire: excellent roads adjoined with performing inns (forerunners of the present-day motels) resulted in somewhat safe, speedy and convenient travel, second to none till recent times.

According to Chamber‘s Encyclopedia:

In the ancient Greek world there is evidence of considerable tourist traffic, particularly for the Olympic Games and other festivals. The attitude of thinkers to it varied. Plato was hostile and laid down in the Laws that no one was to be allowed in any circumstances to go anywhere into a foreign country who was under 40 years of age, and then only if he was on a public mission.

But both Xenophon (Public Finance) and the author of the Athenian Constitution recognized the contribution made by foreign residents and visitors to the prosperity of Athens in the 4th century B.C., and Xenophon recommended that the state should devote public money to the building of hotels.

Interestingly, under the Roman Empire, with its long peace and its excellent land and sea communications, tourist traffic attained a volume and a range which were not to be seen again until the 19th century.

Foreigners visited Rome from all parts and Roman tourists streamed overseas, mostly along well-defined routes. Their principal objectives were Greece for the study of art and legend, Asia Minor and the islands, especially Rhodes, and Egypt, where the pyramids are still marked with many inscriptions of Roman tourists.

Nearer home they toured Sicily, or they frequented the resorts which dotted the Italian seaboard from Ostia past Antium, Anxur, Formiae down to Naples, where Virgil found peace to write his Eclogues and Georgics.

The principal resort, for health as for pleasure, was Baiae but with a mixed reputation. Varro devoted a special satire to it, Cicero was afraid of being seen there at a time of public anxiety, and Propertius implored his Cynthia to leave it. But for 400 years, under the empire as under the republic, it’s pre-eminence as a tourist centre was unchallenged.

As the empire declined, important new streams of tourists could be seen. Jerusalem which in Nero’s time, according to Josephus (Jewish War, VI, ix), had been thronged for the Passover by over two million Jewish visitors, became the goal of Christian pilgrims also. Such travelling to holy places became one of the staples of tourist traffic.

Jerusalem, Rome, Canterbury (which was to have its pilgrim Tales), the shrines of saints and martyrs far and wide, were the objective for Christians, as Mecca was for the followers of Mohammed, or Benares for Hindus. Important towns in many countries owed their growth, and sometimes their origin, to the visits of religious pilgrims.

Another stream consisted of students travelling to centres of learning, particularly in the later middle ages with the rise of the new universities such as Bologna, Paris, and Oxford. After the Renaissance new groups of tourists set out in search of antiquities and the arts and, later, of the beauties and wonders of nature.

Hitherto man’s attitude to nature had generally been practical rather than aesthetic. In classical times even the poets, a Homer or a Virgil, valued nature mainly in so far as it was relevant to human use. In later centuries the modern feeling appeared occasionally, but it was not till the latter part of the 18th century that tourists in any number sought out nature for its own sake.

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