What is tourism?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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It seems easy to define tourism.  We all know that a tourist is someone who goes away from their home area to see the sights and enjoy the amenities of some other place in the world.  However, when we actually try to come up with a formal definition for tourism, things get harder because it is tough to say exactly where tourism begins and other things end.

One way to define tourism is to say that it involves taking money that has been earned in one place and going somewhere else to spend it (though tourism does not necessarily involve spending money) for leisure. 

While this definition sounds good, we have to recognize the issues that it brings up.  First of all, how far does one have to go from one’s home to be counted as a tourist?  If I go to the next town over (12 miles away) to attend a festival, am I a tourist?  Second, what activities count as leisure?  Am I a tourist if I live in a rural area and drive 50 miles to the nearest large city so I can shop for clothes that I cannot get at home?  Is it different if I drive that far to eat at a restaurant that is nicer (or that has a different kind of cuisine) than the ones at home? Third, how long may I stay in a place and still be a tourist?  What if I have a time share and stay two weeks? A month?  Is there a limit?  Consider the example of retired “snowbirds” in the United States who live in their original homes in the summer and then move to warmer places during the winter.  Are they tourists while they are in the warmer places?  Are they tourists the first winter or two that they do this and then become part-time locals after they have been migrating more years?  Fourth, what about the location where I earn my money?  What if I am young and I take an entry-level job in Hawaii because I want to enjoy its scenery, climate, and amenities for a couple of years before I go back home and begin my career?  Does this make me less of a tourist?  Or what if I have a job where I can and do work on the internet?  If I go to Hawaii for a month, enjoy all the attractions, but make money via the internet, am I still a tourist? 

From these considerations, we can see that it is practically impossible to define what tourism is in a precise way.  We can generally define it as going away from your home for leisure purposes, usually involving spending some amount of money that you earned at home.  However, we have to understand that there are major issues that make this definition problematic.

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