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Tourism definition

Tourism is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world. It has immensely contributed to the world economy. Today, tourism has indeed become a dominant source of income for many countries. Understandably, tourism has drawn a lot of interest in academic, public, and private spheres. The aim of this article is therefore to have a quick look at the definitions and forms of tourism.

Tourism definition

It is not surprising to see that for many people, tourism tends to be synonymous with holidays. To them, tourism is leisure travel. However, this is a narrow view. Commercial organisations and regulatory bodies take a broader view and for them tourism means travel for most purposes. According to Mathieson and Wall (1982) tourism refers to the temporary movement of people to destinations outside their normal places of work and residence, the activities undertaken during their stay in those destinations, and the facilities created to cater to their needs.

Tourism definition by the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO)

According to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) 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 and other purposes not related to the exercise of an activity remunerated from within the place visited.

As indicated above, many people use the terms tourism and travel interchangeably. No doubt that all tourism involves some travel, however all travel cannot be called tourism.

Forms of tourism

There are three forms of tourism as follows:

Domestic tourism

It involves residents of a country e.g. the USA travelling only within the country.  Tourists stay inside the country, but outside their usual environment.

Inbound tourism

It involves non-residents travelling in a given country. For instance, millions of people come to the UK from many countries in the world, notably, the EU, the USA, and China.

Outbound tourism

It involves residents of a country travelling to another country or territory. For example, British residents travelling to the USA is considered outbound tourism.

We hope this concise article on the ‘Tourism Definition’ has been helpful. You may also like reading Impact of Tourism. Other relevant articles for you are:

Differences between tourism and hospitality

Enclave tourism – definition and characteristics

Factors affecting tourism demand

Introduction to the Tourism Industry UK

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Last update: 15 September 2020


Mathieson, A. & Wall, G. (1982) Tourism: Economic, Physical and Social Impacts. New York: Longman House.

World Tourism Organisation (2018) Tourism glossary, available at: (Accessed 16 May 2018)

Photo credit: Pixabay

Author: Joe David

Joe David has years of teaching experience both in the UK and abroad. He writes regularly online on a variety of topics. He has a keen interest in business, hospitality, and tourism management. He holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Management Studies and a Post Graduate Diploma in Marketing Management.

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