There definitely are some worthwhile distinctions to be made between the traveler and the tourist. The tourist implies someone who comes only to sightsee. They visit a country briefly, take in its most famous attractions, and then leave. The tourist spends little, if any, time conversing with locals or exploring the lesser-known parts of the place they're visiting. The traveler, on the other hand, engages with the country they're visiting in a completely different way. They take the time to visit the places that locals go to. They speak with locals, probably avoid tourist attractions, and get a better sense of what the place they're visiting is actually like.
Historically speaking, tourism is a relatively new phenomenon. There were travelers who would go on long journeys to visit places that few people in their home society had ever seen. Once there, they would often write about their experiences and bring those writings home with them to share with others. However, in modern times there are many more tourists than travelers.
Why is that the case? Your question correctly points out there are many complex historical developments behind this shift in the way we travel. For example, one of the biggest factors in changing this pattern is commercial airline travel. Getting from country to country is now faster and more economically convenient than ever before. This enables tourists to take quick trips and focus on only the parts of the country they want to see.
The modern political landscape is also much different than it was years ago. Most countries are on good enough terms with one another to allow citizens from virtually anywhere to visit. This makes it easier for people with a casual interest in a country to visit it. Generally, that means more tourists. In sum, I think the distinction between the traveler and the tourist is one worth making. However, it's important to consider the historical developments that have got us to where we are today as well.