What Is the Tourism Industry?

Tourism can help provide resources to impoverished regions.
The Biltmore House attracts many tourists to Asheville, North Carolina.
Tourists visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. China is one of the most visited countries in the world.
Taking in the famous sights of Europe is part of the tourism industry.
Trains are a big part of the tourism industry in Europe.
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  • Written By: Alan Rankin
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 13 April 2014
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The tourism industry is a worldwide business catering to pleasure travel. Such travelers are called tourists or sightseers; their destinations include natural wonders, foreign cities, and other attractions. Tourists are distinct from business travelers or people who travel to reside in a distant location for weeks or months at a time. Tourists come from everywhere in the world and will travel to almost any location. Popular sites are called tourist destinations. Numerous businesses worldwide provide services of one kind or another to the tourism industry.

For most of human history, travel to distant locations was a difficult process. Even in ancient times, however, wealthy individuals sometimes traveled for the pleasure of visiting fabled locations. With the advent of powered vehicles in the 19th and 20th centuries, average people were able to undertake travel for the sake of travel. This was the origin of the tourism industry. Mark Twain’s famous travelogue, The Innocents Abroad, chronicles his experiences with an American tourist group visiting Europe and the Middle East in 1867.


In modern times, the tourism industry is a $1 trillion US Dollar (USD) a year business. According to the International Air Transport Association, $400 billion USD of that is generated by the airline industry, which transports more than two billion passengers a year. Other tourism vehicles include trains, cruise ships, along with more basic travel methods such as hiking and horseback riding. Hotels, bed and breakfasts, and resorts offer comfortable accommodations to tourists, sometimes in otherwise primitive locations. Many local businesses benefit from the presence of tourists, who bring income to areas that may be remote and impoverished.

Travel agencies are an important part of the tourism industry. For a fee, these agencies will arrange travel, accommodations, meals, and other amenities for tourists. They will often offer travel packages to large groups visiting the same destination, which will reduce the cost for each individual traveler. For destinations that are remote or that present difficult language and cultural barriers, travel agencies are often the best and safest way to travel. Some tourists, however, will prefer to travel on their own.

Many resources are available to aid the modern tourist. Numerous guidebooks and websites cover the specifics of traveling to almost any location. These travel guides form an industry of their own within the larger tourism industry. The U.S. State Department and other government agencies in various countries publish bulletins advising travelers of dangers in foreign locations. Tourism is meant to be an adventure, but with so many resources available, there is no reason to make the journey unprepared.


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