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What is tourism? This is not a question as simple as it seems. Colloquially, free time, leisure, recreation, travel and tourism are used synonymously and are almost interchangeable.
Depending on the origin of each study or definition, the terms used are different. Therefore, in the best study centers of the United States Universities, they differentiate between the terms “Tourism, Leisure and Recreation”. In the tourist literature, as is shown in the study “The Economics of Tourism Destinations”, a distinction is made between conceptual definitions and statistics (technical or operational) of tourism.

Conceptual definitions

One of the oldest conceptual definitions of tourism was given by two pioneers of tourism research, Hunziker and Krapf (1942), who defined tourism as

“a sum of relationships and phenomena derived from the trip and stay of non-residents, insofar as a stay does not lead to permanent residence and is not connected to any permanent or temporary gains activity.”

For a considerable time, this definition was generally accepted, included by the Association Internationale d’Experts Scientifiques du Tourisme, although it had more than one defect. AIEST discussed the definition once again on its annual congress in Cardiff in 1981. This congress accepted the following definition:

“The totality of interrelations and phenomena that are derived from people who travel and stop in places that are not their main permanent domiciles – neither jobs nor for leisure or in the context of business activities nor the study “.

A clearer definition can be found at the British Tourism Society, which in 1979 adopted a definition based on the work of Burkart and Medlik (1974):

“Tourism is considered to include any activity related to the temporary movement of people to destinations Short-term out of the places where they usually live and work, and their activities during their stay in these destinations;

Within this definition, we can identify the inclusion of those activities that intervene in the stay or visit to the destination. There is no insistence on lunch breaks or visits abroad, and allows domestic and daily visits (Gilbert, 1990).

According to Burkart and Medlik (1974) – and this is still currently applied – conceptually, tourism has five characteristics:

  1. Tourism is an amalgam of phenomena and relationships rather than a single one.
  2. These phenomena and relationships arise from a movement of people and from a stay in different destinations; There is a dynamic element (the trip) and a static element (the stay).
  3. The trip and stay are directed to destinations outside the usual place of residence and work, so that tourism gives rise to activities other than those of the resident and working population of the places visited by tourists and their destinations.
  4. Moving to destinations is temporary in the short term.
  5. The destinations are visited for purposes not related to paid work.

A conceptual definition that deserves special attention is that given by Gilbert (1990) and proposed for a social understanding of tourism:

“Tourism is a part of the recreation that involves traveling to a less familiar destination or community, for a short period, to meet the consumer’s need for one or a combination of activities.”

The merits of this definition are diverse. Put the tourism in the general context of recreation and retain the need to travel outside the usual place of work and focus on the reasons for the trip.

Operational or technical definitions

The main practical need for exact definitions of tourism and the tourist has arisen from the need to establish adequate statistical standards (Mieczkowski, 1990). In addition, many people, including tourism experts, find it difficult to consider business trips and professional trips as tourist activities. They are often included in tourism because they respond to the characteristics described in the previous section and their economic importance

Business travelers are pure consumers, and it is virtually difficult or impossible to separate them from those who travel for pleasure. The main difference is the purpose, but most hoteliers or accommodation providers cannot distinguish between tourists and business travelers.

According to Burkart and Medlik (1974), a technical definition of tourism must:

  • Identify the categories of trips and visits that are found and not included;
  • Define the time element in terms of long stay away from home (that is, the minimum and maximum period);
  • Recognize individual situations.

A well-known definition is recommended on the United Nations Conference on Travel and Tourism held in Rome in 1963. The United Nations Conference recommended the following definition of

“visitor” in international statistics: “For statistical purposes, the term” visitor “describes any person visiting a country other than the one where he has his habitual place of residence, for any reason other than after a paid occupation from the visited country “.

This definition covers:

  • Tourists, that is, temporary visits that remain at least 24 hours in the visited country and whose purpose can be classified according to the headings of (a) leisure (recreation, holidays, health, study, religion and sport) or (b) business, family, mission, meeting.
  • Hikers, that is, temporary visitors who are less than 24 hours in the visited country (including cruise passengers).

The statistics should not include travelers who, in the legal sense, do not enter the country (for example, air travelers who do not leave the airport traffic area and similar cases).

Later, the phrase ’24 hours’ became a point of discussion and was replaced by ‘overnight’. This precision corresponds better to reality (a trip with a night can last less than 24 hours), but after all it is of lesser importance.

The definition of the United Nations refers to international tourism (visiting a country other than a traveler usually resides), but there is no reason to neglect national tourism. A person traveling from New York to California to visit the city of San Francisco (national tourism) is no less tourist than a Belgian visit to Paris (international tourism). The 1980 WTO Declaration of the WTO (World Trade Organization) broadens the definition implicitly to all tourism, both national and international. Excluded from the definition are returning residents, immigrants, migrants (temporary workers less than one year old), travelers, soldiers, diplomats and transit passengers. This was the standard definition for a long time, although it was not applied to all the countries

In this sense, the USA is a typical example. Even in the United States, the definition of tourism varies from state to state.

However, many scientists and organizations were aware of the problem and, at the beginning of the 1990s, a long period of discussion and negotiation took place, in which several international organizations took part (Eurostat, OECD, WTO, Statistical of the United Nations) in an attempt to solve it. The conclusion, in 2000, was the adoption by the Statistical Commission of the United Nations of a reformulation of a technical definition of tourism that was (or should have been) accepted to all the world:

“Tourism includes the activities of people who travel and stay in places outside their usual environment for no more than one year in a row for leisure, business and other purposes not related to the performance
of a paid activity from the place visited, where the people mentioned in the definition of tourism are called “visitors”,
defining as a visitor: Any person who travels to a place other than their habitual environment for less than twelve months and the main purpose of the trip is different of the exercise of a paid activity from the visited site “.

This definition differs in two aspects of the previous UN description: first, the maximum length of stay (one consecutive year) is determined outside the usual place of residence; and secondly, “habitual place of residence” is replaced by the term “habitual environment”. In the new definition, “usual environment” is a key element. In the tourism satellite account: Recommended methodological framework, it corresponds to the geographical limits in which an individual move during his habitual routine of life. Therefore, the habitual surroundings of a person consist in the direct proximity of their place of work or study and frequently visited places, and it has several dimensions:

  • Frequency: they are considered places frequently visited by a person, routinely, as part of the habitual environment, although these places can be located to a considerable distance of the place of residence.
  • Distance: places located near a person’s place of residence are part of the usual environment, even if real sites are rarely visited.
  • Time: how much time does the visitor leave between leaving the place of residence and returning home?
  • Definition: the definition of places where people perform routine activities; tasks, purchases, studies, etc.

In the set of definitions included in the study presented by Norbert Vanhove, “The Economics of Tourist Destinations”, it is clear that for Tourism, we understand an activity where there is a trip to a place other than our usual , for a limited period, less than one year, and for reasons other than our daily life.

Over time, the concept of Tourism has evolved as a result of the analysis and study of experts in search of a perfect definition. A reasoning that has led us to a final version obliged to define other concepts to be able to understand the first one. Visitor, traveler, usual area, tourist destination, residence, routine …

The UNWTO, after a close study, has agreed to the official definition of tourism as;

«The displacement of people outside their usual environment, for a period exceeding 24 hours and less than one year for a reason other than a paid activity. »