Tourism through the ages: How the industry has changed in the last 100 years and where its expected to go next

Tourism has come a long way in the last century, evolving from a luxury reserved for the elite to a mainstream industry that touches every corner of our planet.

Tourism through the ages: How the industry has changed in the last 100 years and where its expected to go next
Photo by Stephen Leonardi / Unsplash

Tourism has come a long way in the last century, evolving from a luxury reserved for the elite to a mainstream industry that touches every corner of our planet. From humble beginnings as a pastime for wealthy travelers seeking cultural enlightenment, tourism has exploded into an industry worth trillions of dollars annually. But with so much change and growth over the years, where is tourism headed? As we look back at how it all started and examine its evolution through history, we'll also explore what lies ahead for one of the world's most dynamic industries. Whether you're a seasoned traveler or just curious about the future of tourism, join us on this journey through time and space!

The rise of tourism in the early 20th century

At the turn of the 20th century, travel was still very much a luxury reserved for only the wealthiest members of society. However, as transportation and communication technology advanced rapidly during this period, tourism began to emerge as a new cultural phenomenon.

The increasing popularity of railways and steamships made travel faster and more comfortable than ever before. People could now visit far-flung destinations with relative ease, opening up a world of possibilities for adventurous travelers.

As tourism grew in popularity among the wealthy elite, entrepreneurs began to see opportunities to create businesses catering specifically to tourists' needs. Hotels, restaurants, tour operators – all these segments saw tremendous growth throughout this era.

One significant event that helped spur on tourism was the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. This global exhibition showcased cultures from around the world and attracted millions of visitors over its six-month run.

The early 20th century marked an important turning point in human history where leisure time became more accessible than ever before. The age of mass tourism had not yet arrived but was just around the corner!

The effect of World War I and II on tourism

The two World Wars had a significant impact on the tourism industry. During World War I, travel was restricted due to safety concerns and transportation problems caused by wartime disruptions. Similarly, during World War II, tourism came to a halt as many countries closed their borders and diverted resources towards the war effort.

As a result of these conflicts, many tourist destinations were damaged or destroyed. For example, iconic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower in Paris suffered damage during both wars.

After WWII, there was also an increase in international tensions which led to restrictions on travel between certain countries. This further hampered tourism growth until those tensions began to ease in the latter half of the 20th century.

Despite these difficulties, however, governments recognized that tourism could play an important role in rebuilding economies after periods of conflict. They invested heavily in infrastructure improvements and marketing campaigns designed to attract tourists back to popular destinations.

While the two World Wars certainly had a negative impact on tourism at that time; it also served as an opportunity for many countries around the world to rebuild their industries and strengthen their economies for future generations.

The growth of air travel and its impact on tourism

In the early 20th century, traveling was strictly limited to trains and boats. However, with the invention of airplanes, air travel emerged as a new mode of transportation that revolutionized tourism. Airplanes enabled tourists to cross oceans in mere hours rather than days or weeks.

As air travel grew more accessible and affordable over time, it became a primary driver of tourism growth worldwide. Tourists could now visit far-flung destinations across the globe in record time, leading to increased cultural exchange between countries.

Moreover, air travel created new job opportunities within the tourism industry. Airlines were established globally which led to an increase in demand for pilots and flight attendants alongside hotels' staff and other hospitality services.

However, this also brought about challenges such as overcrowding at popular tourist destinations during peak seasons. Additionally, air pollution caused by planes has been a growing concern for environmentalists due to its potential long-term impact on climate change.

Despite these challenges though, there's no denying that air travel has drastically transformed not just how we explore our world but also how we connect with one another across borders and cultures.

The rise of mass tourism in the second half of the 20th century

In the second half of the 20th century, tourism experienced a significant shift towards mass tourism. With advancements in technology and transportation, travel became more accessible to people.

People began taking vacations not only for relaxation but also as a means of exploring new cultures and experiences. The rise of package tours made it easier for travelers to book trips with everything included, from flights to accommodations and activities.

As tourist destinations became more commercialized to cater to this growing demand, there was concern about the impact on local culture and the environment. Some places were transformed into overcrowded tourist traps while others struggled to attract visitors.

However, mass tourism also brought economic benefits by creating jobs and contributing to local economies. It allowed people from different parts of the world to connect through shared experiences.

Today, while sustainable tourism practices are becoming increasingly important, mass tourism remains a major force in the industry. As we look towards the future of travel, finding a balance between accessibility and responsible travel will continue to be an ongoing challenge.

The effect of the digital revolution on tourism

The digital revolution has had a profound impact on the tourism industry in recent years. With the rise of social media, travelers can now easily research and plan their trips online, reading reviews from other tourists and finding inspiration for new destinations.

But it's not just about planning - technology has also changed the way we experience travel itself. From using mobile apps to navigate unfamiliar cities to booking accommodation on-the-go, travelers are increasingly relying on tech to enhance their journeys.

One major trend that has emerged as a result of these changes is the rise of the "digital nomad" - individuals who work remotely while traveling the world. This lifestyle would not have been possible without advancements in technology allowing for seamless communication and remote work capabilities.

However, with all these benefits come some downsides as well. Some argue that our reliance on technology can take away from truly experiencing a destination for what it is, instead focusing solely on capturing Instagram-worthy photos or staying connected to work at all times.

Though, it's clear that the digital revolution has fundamentally altered how we approach tourism. As tech continues to evolve at an ever-increasing pace, we can expect even more changes in how we travel in the decades ahead.

The future of tourism

The future of tourism is constantly evolving as technology advances and the world becomes more interconnected. One trend that has emerged in recent years is the rise of digital nomads, or individuals who work remotely while traveling.

This trend is expected to continue growing as more companies embrace flexible work arrangements and more people seek a better work-life balance. Digital nomads are likely to prioritize destinations with reliable internet access and co-working spaces, leading to potential shifts in traditional tourist hotspots.

Sustainability will also become an increasingly important factor for tourists in the future. Travelers will be drawn to destinations that prioritize eco-friendly practices, such as reducing plastic waste and supporting local conservation efforts.

Personalized experiences through technology will play a significant role in shaping the future of tourism. From virtual reality tours to customized travel itineraries based on individual preferences, technology will allow travelers to tailor their trips like never before.

The future of tourism looks exciting and full of potential for both travelers and industry professionals alike.


Tourism has come a long way in the last century, from being only accessible to the wealthy elite to becoming an industry that is now within reach of most people. The advent of air travel and digital technology have been key drivers in this evolution.

Looking forward, it's clear that tourism will continue to grow and change as we move into the future. As more and more people adopt remote work lifestyles as digital nomads, we can expect to see new opportunities arise for travel experiences catering specifically to this demographic.

While there are undoubtedly challenges ahead - such as climate change and overtourism - by working together, governments, businesses, and travelers alike can help shape a sustainable future for the tourism industry.

So whether you're planning your next trip or just dreaming about where you might go one day, know that you're part of an ever-evolving global community of travelers who are helping write the next chapter in tourism history.