In the second decade of the twenty-first century tourism looks different than when elite males (and a few well-off women) embarked on trips around Europe more than two hundred and fifty years ago. There are similarities, an accretion of the past. Politics remain an important element of the story, even if in an altered way from when Queen Elizabeth I paid the best and brightest Britons to go abroad to learn about the neighbors. The notion that travel is good for you, that it will make you a better, more rounded person, is very much in play. As was true for spa- and beach-goers almost three hundred years ago, today people link health with leisure. Modern tourists maintain a desire to find the sublime and beautiful, even if they do not use those terms. Despite living in an age of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, postcards and other souvenirs still fill shops at major attractions and sightseers race to buy. But the overall scale is now larger. Once, tourists journeyed almost exclusively in Western Europe. Today they go nearly everywhere. Once critics remarked on the presence of a few hundred British visitors in Rome, today the figure stands in the millions. Once tourism was the purview of elites, today it occupies the minds of virtually everybody, at least in the developed world. Most striking, while in the past elites used tourism as a means of identifying themselves as part of a social group who all did roughly the same thing, today far more niche travel options help people express their claim to the “cool,” a state that is inherently about being above the crowd.
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- Conclusion: “Never ask an historian about the future”
Eric G. E. Zuelow
- Macmillan Education UK
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