What would a historian know about the future?

Today, tourism is not what it was 100 years ago or is it? In the latest issue of the Journal of Tourism Futures, Guest Editors Dr Ian Yeoman and Professor Una McMahon-Beattie reflect upon how the past shapes the future of tourism.

Reflecting on the era of the Grand Tour, Zuelow (2016) notes that:

‘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 neighbours. 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.’

Rapid growth of tourism

There are similarities, but the scale of tourism is very different today. In 1950, when statistics began, there were 25m tourists who took an international holiday. According to UNWTO that figure is 1.3bn and forecasted to rise to 1.8bn by 2030.

Holiday experiences are now only a click away

Furthermore, whilst tourism was once seen exclusively from a Western European perspective, today the rise in tourism in Asia dominates the discourse about the future. In the past tourism was for the upper classes of society, now it is an experience for nearly everyone. As such whilst the Grand Tours of Europe were a theme of Victorian dinner parties, holiday experiences are now only a click away with a photograph and a shared experience on Facebook.

Futurists look to the past to predict the future. In this special issue of the Journal of Tourism Futures the past is revisited and similarities with the present and future are articulated.