Global Tourism Controversies

November 9, 2018 – Volume 28, Issue 40
Are destinations at risk from too many visitors? By Barbara Mantel


Earliest Tourism

Imperial Rome was the first culture that had regular tourism, according to Maxine Feifer, who wrote a history of world travel. An unprecedented period of peace and prosperity across the Roman Empire in the second century allowed some Romans to pursue travel for pleasure and culture. Bureaucrats and officials, who possessed the means and ability to take time off from work, traveled in the spring and fall when the government recessed for weeks at a time.

Inns along the way served their needs, and an extensive network of well-paved roads meant that “a carriage ride was frequently smoother in the second century than in the eighteenth,” wrote Feifer. Popular destinations included Greece, Asia Minor — modern-day Turkey — and Egypt, all within the empire's borders.40

By the late fifth century, this tourist infrastructure was in shambles. The Roman Empire had collapsed into small warring kingdoms and fiefdoms under the weight of a complex web of pressures, including incompetent emperors, marauding invaders and plague. Trade and commerce were negligible, paved roads were reduced to muddy tracks, inns were closed and banditry was common. “It was hazardous to travel and difficult to find what a tourist might have wanted to see,” Feifer said.41

Seven hundred years passed before tourism began to revive. In 1096, the Crusades, a series of religious wars spanning nearly 200 years, were launched at the urging of the Roman Catholic Church to pry the Holy Lands from Muslim control. The often ruthless campaigns failed in their territorial aims, but they brought treasure and wealth to the church. Newly built monasteries and churches, particularly in France and Rome, attracted specialized tourists — pilgrims seeking pardon for their sins and relief for their ailments.42

“By the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, pilgrimage was a mass phenomenon, practicable and systemized, served by a growing industry of networks of charitable hospices,” wrote Feifer.

During the 15th century, travel books began to appear, containing descriptions of culture and natural wonders in addition to chronicles of pilgrimages. Services akin to travel agencies and tour operators also eased the pilgrims' way. Nevertheless, the journey for many tourists could be grueling, particularly for Germans and the English as they crossed the Alps to reach their destinations.

Beginning in the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation shifted travelers' attention increasingly away from Catholic shrines and churches toward the secular. During this period, the European tourist was typically a well-off male student who visited churches, monuments, theaters and museums in as many European cities as possible. Italy, the home of the Renaissance, was often the final destination. The goal was to learn, and proof of a student's status was necessary to receive the discounted entrance fees accorded to students at many tourist sites.43

Arrival of Modern Tourism

Modern tourism — “the pursuit of pleasure and an escape from everyday realities” — grew out of an elite, largely English travel experience called the Grand Tour, which reached its peak between 1748 and 1789, said historian Eric G.E. Zuelow of the University of New England.

“Vast numbers of young Englishmen, and a few Englishwomen, ventured to Paris, Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples,” and some continued to Berlin, Vienna, Geneva and Prague, said Zuelow. Most travelers sought to gain knowledge and were accompanied by tutors, but the Grand Tour “gradually reflected something altogether new, a hedonistic approach to consuming that was less evident during the previous century,” wrote Zuelow. Drinking and gambling were common, prostitutes were ubiquitous and venereal disease was a constant threat.44

In the 19th century, tourism began to spread beyond the elite because of the Industrial Revolution and cultural changes. As the middle class grew, workers had the income and leisure time to take vacations, a relatively new concept in Western culture. Accompanying this rising wealth were technological advances that made traveling more accessible.

Railway construction for steam-powered trains took off in the United Kingdom during the first half of the 19th century. By 1843, roughly 2,000 miles of track had been lain. Sixteen years later, the mileage had climbed to nearly 10,000. The British also built tracks to crisscross India, part of its global empire. Other countries followed suit, and railways spread across Africa, China, Russia, Latin America and the United States, where a transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. Fifty years later, the U.S. railway network contained 127,000 miles of track.45

Speed and comfort improved rapidly. By the 1870s, American George Mortimer Pullman's company was manufacturing train cars with more wheels and springs. It leased five classes of cars to railroads, including sleeping and dining room cars.46

The steam engine also transformed travel by water. Steam-powered ships took travelers along lakes, rivers and coastlines and eventually across the oceans. By the mid-19th century, Canadian Samuel Cunard and his Scottish business partner Robert Napier owned a fleet of trans-Atlantic ships carrying mail and passengers.

As technology advanced, ships became larger, faster and more luxurious. “The greatest ships of the steam age … were floating grand hotels,” wrote Zuelow.

Still, third-class passengers, sleeping in open berths in steerage and typically immigrants rather than tourists, far outnumbered first-class passengers and generated most of the profits. To attract middle-class tourists, shipping lines in the 1920s created tourist and cabin classes, “opening long-distance ocean voyages to younger and less affluent tourists,” said Zuelow.47

As the railroads and steamships expanded, British cabinetmaker Thomas Cook started a tour company, taking middle-class customers on domestic and European excursions. His innovations included packaging the trips with lodging and food and making the routes a circular journey.48

In the United States, the spread of railroads and steamships led to the development of mass tourism destinations, one of the first being Niagara Falls. But within decades, tourists began to complain about overcrowding and blight as hotels, souvenir stands and entertainment pavilions dominated the area. In response, the New York Legislature in 1885 appropriated funds to establish the Niagara Reservation, and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted was hired as its designer. His plan restored the landscape by removing previous development and creating paths and overlooks that framed the views.49

In 1864, Yosemite became the first protected parkland, and it too became a popular destination as tourists took advantage of the newly completed transcontinental railroad to reach California. In 1872, Yellowstone was designated the first national park. Yosemite became a national park in 1890 and Mount Rainier followed in 1899.

President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09) was the driving force behind the creation of five additional national parks, 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves and 18 national monuments (including the Grand Canyon National Monument).50

The government recognized that the creation of national parks and the associated tourism would generate money, encourage people to visit the West and help heal the nation after the Civil War, Zuelow said.51

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Like the steam engine, the development of the internal combustion engine in the late 19th century revolutionized tourism because it further eased travel. During the first few decades of the 20th century, car enthusiasts formed automobile clubs in the United States and in Europe, Australia, South America and Africa. Nine clubs met in Chicago in 1902 and founded the American Automobile Association (AAA), a membership organization known for its maps, traveler guides, insurance and safety campaigns.52

Motor clubs lobbied for better roads and for access to U.S. national parks. In 1908, Mount Rainier became the first national park to allow cars, but supervisors at other parks worried that allowing cars would turn visitors into mere day-trippers, cheapen the park experience and damage the environment. The car lobby, however, was strong, said Zuelow, and soon roads penetrated every national park.

The expanding networks of roads around the world prompted motor clubs and others to begin publishing touring guides. In 1900, the Michelin rubber company in France, which produced automobile tires, introduced its eponymous red guidebook that eventually used a star system to rate the best hotels and restaurants. More-affordable automobiles, such as the Model T in 1919, opened up tourism to more people.53

Soon, air travel would revolutionize the travel industry yet again. In the United States, the Air Commerce Act of 1926 allowed the U.S. Department of Commerce to “certify aircraft, license pilots, and issue and enforce air traffic regulations,” according to a brief history of the airline industry. “Within 10 years, many modern-day airlines, such as United and American, had emerged as major players.”54

Overseas, the Dutch airline KLM pioneered long-distance flights with service from Amsterdam to Djakarta, Indonesia, in 1929. By 1935, the British Imperial Airways offered flights that circled the globe, linking the British Empire from India to Asia.55

The Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II in the early 1940s badly hurt the tourism industry, but the slowdown was only temporary. When the war ended in 1945, the world economy grew and consumer spending rebounded.

Mass Tourism

On July 17, 1955, animator and film producer Walt Disney opened Disneyland on 160 acres of former orange groves in Anaheim, Calif. Disney designed his theme park to appeal to families.56 After World War II, Americans were having more children in what became known as the Baby Boom. With incomes rising and roads improving as the nation built an interstate highway system, middle-class families explored the country by car and visited tourist destinations such as Disneyland. In Britain, Scandinavia and France, the same pattern held. European families increasingly took vacations by car, and entrepreneurs built campgrounds, seaside cottages and American-style motels.57

Tourists celebrate the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. (Getty Images/Corbis/USC Libraries)  
Tourists celebrate the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., on July 17, 1955. The post-World War II era saw a sharp rise in tourism. With incomes growing and the interstate highway system taking shape, middle-class families increasingly explored the country by car. (Getty Images/Corbis/USC Libraries)

Travel was harder for African-American tourists during this era because of segregation. Many relied on The Green Book, which was published annually beginning in 1936 by postal worker Victor Hugo Green. The guide listed those motels, restaurants and other businesses that would safely serve black travelers.58

The popularity of air travel, meanwhile, was climbing. After World War II, passenger aircraft became bigger, faster and more fuel-efficient, and to fill the planes, the first trans-Atlantic “tourist class fare” was introduced. By 1957, more passengers were crossing the Atlantic by air than by sea. A sustained level of prosperity in the United States and Western Europe helped to fuel continued growth in tourism. From 1960, global tourism grew by more than 10 percent a year and by 1974 tourist spending accounted for 6 percent of international trade.59

But two oil crises in the 1970s made traveling more expensive and interrupted the growth in worldwide tourism. In the United States, for example, the average price of gasoline rose from 39 cents a gallon in 1973, not adjusted for inflation, to $1.19 cents a gallon in 1980.60

In the late 1970s, airfares began to drop sharply, after Europe eased regulations on the airline industry and Laker Airlines in Britain began offering cheap, one-way trans-Atlantic flights for 59 pounds (about $75 today). “The company demonstrated that there was a vast market for cheap tickets and competitors quickly offered lower prices,” wrote Zuelow.61

In the United States, Congress passed the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, and for the first time, U.S.-based airlines were allowed to fully compete on price. Deregulation gave rise to a new kind of airline — low-cost, no-frills carriers such as Southwest and the now defunct People Express — and the average roundtrip domestic airfare fell about 16 percent over the next decade, after adjusting for inflation.62

The rise of the internet in the 1990s provided a further boost to tourism. “The internet's ability to automate transactions — cutting out the middleman function of ticketing agents — in turn allowed airlines to run a tighter and more streamlined ship,” according to the European online travel site eurocheapo. “In no time at all, cheap fares became the expectation.”63

Travelers turned to online search engines such as, which was founded as a division of Microsoft in 1996, to compare and book airfares, hotel rooms and rental cars.

Soon the internet was allowing travelers to talk to one another. TripAdvisor started in an office above a pizzeria in Needham, Mass., a little more than 18 years ago and has grown into the world's most visited travel website. Its user-generated reviews can make or break hotels, restaurants and attractions.

Similarly, Airbnb, another “disruptor” in the travel industry, began small. In 2007, its founders, Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, were having trouble making rent on the San Francisco loft they shared and decided to lay down three air mattresses and advertise them for rent for $80 each a night to out-of-towners. The company is now a multibillion-dollar business operating worldwide.

A series of deep recessions began in 2007 and ended for most countries within a year or two, although their effects lingered far longer. Tourism recovered and has grown steadily since 2010, spurred by an expanding middle class, growing prosperity in developing countries, low-cost airlines and the continued expansion of internet-mediated, low-cost accommodations.

But this growth has come at a cost. Beginning in 2016, residents in Venice, Barcelona and other European cities marched to protest tourist crowds, drunken behavior and rising housing costs they blamed partially on the explosion in short-term vacation rentals.

The United Nations proclaimed 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Its goal was to recognize that well-managed tourism can contribute to sustainable development.

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[40] Maxine Feifer, Tourism in History: From Imperial Rome to the Present (1985), pp. 8–10, 15.

[41] Ibid., pp. 27–28.

[42] “Crusades,” The History Channel,; ibid., pp. 28–29.

[43] Feifer, ibid., pp. 29–31, 41, 64–65, 68–69.

[44] Eric G.E. Zuelow, A History of Modern Tourism (2016), pp. 9, 21, 25–26.

[45] Ibid., pp. 50–51.

[46] “The Pullman Company,” Pullman Museum,

[47] Zuelow, op. cit., pp. 55–59.

[48] “Thomas Cook History,” Thomas Cook,

[49] Ethan Carr, “Olmsted and Scenic Preservation,” PBS,

[50] Barbara Mantel, “Managing Western Lands,” CQ Researcher, April 22, 2016, pp. 361–84.

[51] Zuelow, op. cit., p. 109.

[52] “A Brief History of AAA,” AAA,

[53] Zuelow, op. cit., pp. 115, 121, 123–24.

[54] Amy Harris, “The History of Airline Industry,” USA Today,

[55] Feifer, op. cit., p. 221.

[56] “Disneyland opens,” The History Channel, Aug. 21, 2018,

[57] Zuelow, op. cit., pp. 168, 170, 171.

[58] Erin Blakemore, “A Black American's Guide to Travel in the Jim Crow Era,”, Nov. 3, 2015,

[59] Feifer, op. cit., p. 223.

[60] Bonnie Gringer, “Average Gas Prices in the U.S. Through History,” TitleMax,

[61] Zuelow, op. cit., p. 159.

[62] Madhu Unnikrishnan, “A Law That Changed the Airline Industry Beyond Recognition (1978),” Aviation Week, June 4, 2015,; Derek Thompson, “How Airline Ticket Prices Fell 50% in 30 Years (and Why Nobody Noticed),” The Atlantic, Feb. 28, 2013,

[63] “History of Budget Carriers,” Eurocheapo,

Document APA Citation
Mantel, B. (2018, November 9). Global tourism controversies. CQ researcher, 28, 945-968. Retrieved from
Document ID: cqresrre2018110903
Document URL:
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Tourism and Vacation
Nov. 09, 2018  Global Tourism Controversies
Oct. 20, 2006  Ecotourism
Jun. 17, 1988  America's ‘Vacation Gap’
May 04, 1984  Tourism's Economic Impact
Jul. 21, 1978  Tourism Boom
May 14, 1969  Summer Camps and Student Travel
May 18, 1966  Tourist Dollar Gap
Apr. 19, 1961  Two-Way Tourism
Jul. 20, 1955  Competition for Passenger Travel
Jul. 03, 1946  Travel Boom
Jun. 17, 1930  Foreign and Domestic Tourist Traffic
Climate Change
Consumer Behavior
General International Relations
Historic Preservation
Internet and Social Media
Land Resources and Property Rights
Motor Traffic and Roads
National Parks and Reserves
Popular Culture
Recycling and Solid Waste
Regional Planning and Urbanization
Regional Planning and Urbanization
Regulation and Deregulation
Travel and Tourism
Waterways and Harbors
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