Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 24 October 2016


Tourism is a complex topic, which involves most of the human and scientific elements such as economics, social, environmental, cultural, religious and others. For this reason, there are many different definitions depending on the purpose of the person, subject or research.

One of the first simple definition appeared 200 years ago; Leiper defined the tourism as a ‘person engaged in a decadent style of travel’ (Leiper 2004, p.39). However, the definition has been evolving seeing that the tourism keeps growing, which has been affecting all authors’ definitions. At the same time, authors have different perspective of the tourism, and for this reason have been difficult to create a universal and standard one. Despite the differences, most tourism definitions share a common perspective, ‘they attempted to define tourism in terms of who is a tourist’ (Smith 1988, p.182).

Hall said (2007) definitions are essential for any discipline and each one identifies the foci of study. In tourism studies encountered with four interrelated concepts and are the core of this subject: tourism, tourist, tourism industry and tourism resources.

To ensure a better understanding, the following essay will describe and analyse four main authors definitions, including their strengths and weakness in order to select the most suitable one.


The definitions have been divided in two helpful characteristics: conceptual and technical. The conceptual is a broad definition; embrace a general definition as a whole, where non-researchers and non-specialize people are able to understand identifying the essential characteristics of tourism. Technical definition is more specific, providing particular information for industrial, legislative and statistical purposes.

Author 1: World Tourism Organisation (WTO)

Tourism has different concepts depending in the authors’ interpretation. Holloway addresses his definition from the World Tourism Organisation’s, which is: ‘tourism comprises the activities of persons travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business or other purposes’ (Holloway 2009, p.8).

Smith explained (1995) that the usual environment it is the first criteria to distinguish the tourism from travel. Exist two elements for this, frequency and distance. The frequency is the regularity of times the person visit the place. The distance, as most of the countries have different view of this it is difficult to defined. However the WTO established that the 160km must be the standard distance.

In one hand, some strengths to consider is that this definition covers the three main evaluation aspects of the tourism, which are the purpose, distance and duration of travel. The definition specifically addresses the motivation of the tourists and is classified as holidays, business, religious, academic and health treatment. For the WTO (1995) it is clearly define that the distance can vary from 0 – 100 miles and people are not considered as tourist if it is less of these miles. Additionally the duration of travelling need to be at least one overnight of stay to be a tourist.

On the other hand, the weaknesses are the focus of tourist’s definition. The WTO’s technical definition (2004) just engages the economic sector: a tourist is a business traveller, a student, a sick person who visit for health treatment and a person visiting a family member. All these elements are focusing on how much money visitors spend.

Exist particular situations that tourists are not considered as tourists, which this led that every year the tourist definition change and misleads many people from being tourist, affecting as well the statistic evaluation of the tourism. It is important that the definition requires a difference in between transit and tourist people. For some countries, still not clear when do these definitions applies, at the same time the distance of travel do not follow the WTO standard. A clear example of this is United State Travel Data (1995) suggested that travelling one way of 100 miles are considered as tourists. However, for the Canadian government (2005) it is around 25 miles away of the person’s residence. This indicates that WTO needs to be firm on implementing the standards in order other countries follows them.

Author 2: Leiper, Neil

For Leiper, the tourism it is examined on a system approach. Being a system means a ‘set of interrelated groups coordinated to form a unified whole and organized to accomplish a set of goals’ (Goeldner 2009, p. 25).

Under this approach, the tourism is ‘the system involving the discretionary travel and temporary stay of persons away from their usual place of residence for one or more nights, excepting tours made for the primary purpose of earning remuneration from points enroute. The elements of the system are tourists, generating regions, transit routes, destination regions, and a tourist industry. These five elements are arranged in spatial and functional connections. Having the characteristics of an open system, the organization of five elements operates within boarder environments: physical, cultural, social, economic, political, and technological with which it interacts’ (Smith 1988, p. 181).

The main strengths for Leiper’s definition is that creates and examines the tourism and tourist on a competitive way, join all the approaches and elements that interact or are related to the tourism into a complex and extended definition. As well, the definition includes the consumer and the interaction of all the industries involved with the consumer. As per Leiper’s framework, ‘such approaches would facilitate multidisciplinary studies of particular aspects of tourism and more significantly would give interdisciplinary studies of various facets and perspectives a common point of reference’ (Leiper 1979, p. 395).

It is clearly noticed that the definition covers the tourism as a whole including individual, organisations and business to reach the same goal, which is to provide service and deliver the experience to the tourists.

The main weakness to consider is the complexity of this definition, which covers all the elements and approaches and sometimes might affect the main objective of the definition. At the same time, Leiper’s (2004) still creates confusion for the tourist’s definition and people have different perception of this. One person think that group of people are tourists, a second one might perceive sightseers as tourists, a third one might regard the cruise people as tourists. Because of this range of concepts and connotations, what delimits the boundaries between tourists and other visitors is difficult to define in a order that suits everybody.

Author 3: Smith, Stephen

On this section, Smith focuses on a supply side definition, which focuses on the commodities as the core element of the tourism. Most of the authors defined it in terms of goods and services, which is the demand side, not the characteristics or motivations of their consumers. Smith perceives the tourism as ‘the aggregate of all businesses that directly provide goods or services to facilitate business, pleasure and leisure activities away from the home environment’ (Smith 1988, p.183)

The strengths of Smith’s goal is to develop a tourism definition based on tourists’ and characteristics that can be comparable with other industrial definitions. Other important characteristic is the inclusions of business and pleasure activities. Smith tries to make it explicit that ‘the motivations of a traveller are unimportant to the definition, although they are extremely important to the marketing sector of the industry’ (Smith 1988, p.183). At the same time, clarifies the distance or duration of the stay from a technical perspective. In addition, Smith developed a supply side definition in order to allow meaningful comparison with other industries.

On the other hand, one of the weaknesses of this technical definition is a scale of tourism businesses, these are hotels, restaurants, airport, souvenir shops, transport and to mention others. The tourism has two types of businesses: the ones that ‘would not be able to survive without tourism (Tier 1) and businesses that could survive without tourism (Tier 2)’ (Coope 2005, p.9). Some clear examples for Tier 1 are hotels and airports; for Tier 2 would be transports and restaurants. Some businesses are not direct elements of the tourism as they can survive without it. This can create a conflict if should be part of the tourism business or not.

Author 4: Burkart and Medlik

On this case, Burkart and Medlik developed a holistic or conceptual definition adopted by the International Association of Scientific Experts in Tourism (AIEST): ‘tourism is the sum of the phenomena and relationships arising form the travel and stay of non-residents, in so far as they do not lead to permanent residence and are not connected to any earning activity’ (Burkart 1981, p.40).

One of the main strengths is that a various range of international organizations has recognized this definition. All its features recognises that tourism goes around the principal one, which is the tourist. At the same time, for the reason that it is not part of an academic discipline, allows interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches study the tourism. As well mentioned the time or duration element stating the permanent residence is not a tourist.

An essential weakness to be considered is that it is a holistic definition and creates a difficult link in between other industries because describes the tourism as a whole essence of a subject. Certainly, as Leiper’s mentioned (1979) it is an ambiguous meaning and does not specify methodical applications. Furthermore the definition was developed long time ago and tourism has been evolving since then, which this definition creates just a general idea of the tourism and imprecise meaning. In terms of boundaries, this definition does not include the business people, it is focusing for people travelling under leisure and pleasure purposes.


Several meanings of tourism were identified and analysed. Tourism is a complex, vast and multifaceted, which it is necessary to have different approaches to study the specific field that suits everyone. It is important to clarify distinctions between basic definitions and the elements and characteristics involved in order to have a better perception. These definitions are a guide in order to have a better understanding of the tourism and from which sector people wants to be and understand.

To conclude, the WTO should be consider as the standard definition for the reason is an international organisation and includes the main tourism elements: purpose of travel and time element. Furthermore it is a clear definition where everyone can have access and better understanding.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 24 October 2016

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