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Travel and tourism – History

Business travel and tourism is certainly not a new phenomenon. People have been travelling because of their work for many centuries. However, some forms of business tourism, such as incentive travel, are modern inventions.

Business travel and tourism originated with trade between communities. Once agriculture developed beyond the subsistence level in areas of Africa, Asia and Europe, thousands of years before Christ was born, communities began to trade agricultural products. This led to the growth of markets, and producers travelled sometimes hundreds of kilometres to take their produce to market. Then urban settlements began to grow and develop. These were home to artisans producing a range of products including clothes, tools and decorative arts. These were traded with the surrounding countryside for foodstuffs. However, they were also marketed further afield, particularly if they were of high quality or were made of materials not available in other countries. Archaeological evidence shows us that this trading often took goods thousands of kilometres from where they were made. The earliest business travellers were, therefore, artisans and small-scale traders.

In the Middle Ages, perhaps the greatest business travel route of all time, the Silk Route, reached its peak. Although named after one commodity, this route was a conduit for the transportation of a wide variety of goods from Asia to Europe and vice versa. And while the term Silk Route implies a single route, the fact is that there were a number of routes, starting and ending in different places.

As the twentieth century dawned, the next major development in business travel and tourism was taking place in the USA. Meetings have gone on since time immemorial, but the concept of the conference or convention was developed, at this time, in the USA. Trade and scientific associations, together with the political parties, began to organize large-scale gatherings in the late nineteenth century. This activity gathered pace in the early decades of the twentieth century. Cities soon realized that hosting such events brought great economic benefits and convention bureaux began to appear to market cities as convention destinations. As Rogers (1998) notes, the first was established in Detroit in 1896, followed soon after by Cleveland (1904), Atlantic City (1908), Denver and St Louis (1909) and Louisville and Los Angeles (1910). The phenomenon of the convention bureau is now well established around the world. The development of the private car in the first half of the twentieth century further stimulated the growth  f domestic business travel, primarily in Europe and North America.

Over the ages, the geography of business travel and tourism has changed in a variety of ways. Having started in Asia, Africa and the Middle East in ancient times, the focus of development between 1000 BC and AD 1900 was generally Europe. Then the USA increasingly began to make its impact felt, but in the late twentieth century the ‘tiger economies’ of South East Asia and the oil-rich states of the Middle East dominated developments in terms of both demand and supply. In spite of the economic problems in Asia in the late 1990s, Japanese and Taiwanese business travellers are now a major element in the global market, and Asian cities and hotel chains are widely regarded as the leaders in terms of quality and service. Will the future reinforce this trend, will Europe and the USA regain their previous dominance or will the future belong to the newly developed countries of South America or Africa?

travel and tourism

The future of business travel and tourism

While we are debating which part of the world will lead the way in developing business travel and tourism in the future, some commentators are suggesting the future for business travel and tourism may be much less buoyant than in the recent past. They argue that after several decades of rapid growth business travel will be badly affected by the threat of substitution, that is, the replacement of business travel by the use of new information and communication technologies, such as video- and computerconferencing as well as virtual reality. These, it is suggested, will reduce the overall demand for general business travel. Others dispute this, suggesting that the social and personal contact dimension of business travel will reduce this impact. Only time will tell who is right.


We have seen that business travel and tourism is a very old phenomenon but that it has grown, probably, more in the last fifty years than in all the previous centuries put together. It has also been seen that it is now a truly global industry, and that new special forms of business tourism have developed in the last few decades of the twentieth century. However, at the end of the chapter, we have noted that there are some doubts over the future of business travel and tourism.

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  • HISTORY of tourism and travel
  • travel and tourism history
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