The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) defines tourists as people who "travel to and stay in places outside their usual environment for more than 24 hours and not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes not related to the exercise of an activity remunerated from within the place visited."
The tourism industry is one of the most important areas of the economy and an extremely lucrative business. It is the fastest growing sector of the economy and its business volume is bigger than that of oil export, food production or automobile production. It represents approximately 10 percent of total global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), if tourism related businesses (for example, catering and cleaning) is included and creates 10 percent of world employment.
Thomas Cook (1808-1892), a British businessman and resourceful entrepreneur, is considered to be the Father of tourism. In 1841, he organized the first ever excursion that took people on an 11-mile trip. Ten years later, his business was very successful and his company offered excursions to six countries. Since then, tourism has been a favorite leisure activity for people of all ages and social status.
The United Nations (UN) distinguishes three forms of tourism: domestic (when residents of a given country travel within its boundaries), inbound (when non-residents of a given country travel within its boundaries) and outbound (when residents travel to other countries). These three forms can be combined to create three more tourism categories: internal (which is a combination between domestic and inbound tourism), national (which consists of domestic and outbound tourism) and international tourism (comprising inbound and outbound tourism).
Figures for 2010 show a total income of USD 919 billion generated by international tourism. The number of tourists has also increased to 940 million, which marks an increase of 6.6 percent, compared to 2009. The Top 10 tourist destinations include France (76.8 million tourist arrivals in 2010), the United States (59.7 million), China (55.7 million), Spain (52.7 million), Italy (43.6 million), United Kingdom (28.1 million), Turkey (27 million), Germany (26.9 million), Malaysia (24.6 million) and Mexico (22.4 million). A recent trend in international tourism is the bigger share of tourist arrivals in developing countries. The Top 15 destinations had a share of 88 percent of all tourist arrivals in 1950, 75 perecent in 1970 and 55 percent in 2010.
There are a number of different types of tourism that have developed in the 21st century, including eco-tourism, cultural tourism and wellness tourism. In the past, tourists traveled mainly for recreation but there is an increasing tendency to combine leisure with beneficial experiences. In wellness tourism, for example, a person might experience positive effects from a different environment by visiting spa centres, having mineral detox procedures or various types of massages. Cultural tourism may provide tourists with valuable experiences and enrich their general knowledge. Eco-tourism is often perceived as an alternative to mass tourism, as it usually aims at small scale traveling that causes minimum effect to the environment.
The impact of tourism on ecology is the main concern and criticism of conservationists. Statistics show, for example, that cruise ships in the Caribbean produce more than 70 000 tons of waste annually. In an attempt to reduce the negative effect on nature without interfering with economy, a new concept is that of sustainable tourism. The 2005 Worldwatch Institute report defines eco-tourism as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people" and sustainable tourism as "tourism that meets the need of present tourist and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunities for the future." Developing sustainable tourism is a priority for UNWTO.
Research show that tourists themselves are sensitive to the issue of sustainable tourism, with 87 percent of British tourists saying that they would not want their holiday to harm the environment. Over half of American tourists enjoy their holiday more if it enables them to learn about and better understand local cultures. Almost one in three U.S. tourists purchase goods from companies that contribute to charity. Meanwhile, in Europe this percentage is even higher.
It is estimated that double the number of people as in 2011 will be traveling internationally by 2020 and the tourism industry is expected to get an even larger business volume in world economies. This explains why raising awareness of sustainable tourism and creating possibilities for its development is a primary goal for governments, tourist and non-governmental organizations.