Archeological digs have shown that early civilisations such as the Phoenicians, Mayans and the Shang dynasty all travelled in pursuit of curiosity as well as commerce.
The origins of tourism may also lie in religion. Early pilgrimages, such as those to Mecca and Buddhist sites, provide some of the earliest examples of humans travelling to visit popular destinations.
Paul Stock, associate professor of international history at the London School of Economics, traces the foundations of modern tourism to “the Grand Tour”, a travelling trend in the 17th century. At this time, aristocrats began travelling a particular route around Europe – beginning in Paris, moving to southern France, visiting Italy, and travelling back to England via Germany. Early reports show that many tourist activities of the Grand Tour are similar to today, with examples of souvenir collecting, drunkenness and partying, and even sex tourism.
Travellers often began the tour after finishing their studies, a sort of Enlightenment gap year. Perhaps today’s generation of backpackers aren’t so original after all.
Paul Stock certainly thinks so. “Virtually every aspect of modern holiday-going, with the single exception of sunbathing, can be traced back to the period of the Grand Tour,” he said in an educational film on the topic.
It’s hard to determine when these patterns evolved into a clear industry, but Thomas Cook, founder of the popular travel company, began his first excursion in 1841. He is widely considered the “father of modern tourism”, and today the company boasts a multimillion-pound income.