Tourism in Europe is estimated to have begun during the Middle Ages. Its roots can actually be traced back to religion which promoted travel to sacred sites. This was the pilgrimage which became an essential process for moral and spiritual discovery. While this was the primary objective, pilgrimage had also become a time of leisure as it was a chance to experience activities and culture that was outside their usual environment. The pilgrims exhibited the same behavior of tourists of today such as flocking to places of interests, enjoy local sights and cuisine and bring home souvenirs.
In the 17th century, it had become a symbol of wealth and status for the nobility of England to take a Grand Tour to travel around the continent in search of practical and interactive education. For health reasons, people trekked to Rome for its rejuvenating baths with its mineral waters. It was also an opportunity to get together with peers and associates and organize balls and other forms of entertainment. Leisure travel came alongside the industrial revolution. People had money to spare to go on holidays to places with sun, sand and sea.
Improvements in technology made it possible for more people to travel farther in a short space of time. It was the British, Thomas Cook, who pioneered mass tourism. He integrated the requirements of the leisure travelers and offered this to them as a whole package. This became a trend that is still being practiced up to now. Europe’s main attraction is its history that gave rise to modern civilization. It left visual representations of its grandeur and people flock to experience this culture. In Greece, its people paid homage to their gods and goddesses and this can be best represented by the Temple of Athena, the Parthenon on the Acropolis.
In Britain, there was curiosity on the Druid’s Stonehenge. In Italy, there is the Colosseum where can feel the violence in the place where the gladiators fought to their deaths. In contrast, one goes to the Vatican City to be enveloped in spirituality and as well be awed by the immensity of St. Peter’s Cathedral and the frescoes of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. There is also the famous landmark, the Leaning Tower of Pisa whose inclined structure has been subject to much architectural and engineering speculation and mass curiosity.
In romantic Venice where there are canals instead of roads, one can explore the lavishly decorated Place of the Doges. Then there is France with its Cathedral of Notre Dame which took over 100 years to complete, but whose gothic design and stained glass windows has earned its acclaim to be the most beautiful cathedral in Europe and became the center of medieval Paris. The Arc de Triomphe represents the military might of Emperor Napoleon, conqueror of Europe. Dominating over Paris, is one of the most recognizable landmarks the world over, the Eiffel Tower. Europe continues to dominate worldwide tourism.
In 2007, the UN World Tourism Organization released its list of world top tourism destinations and out of these, seven are European countries (UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, 2007). However, while the traditional sites are still being visited, promoters have to spruce them up in order to attract visitors. The Parthenon has to be packaged with other attractions to make it more interesting. The Stonehenge only received 850,00 visitors compared to New York City’s Times Square whose bright lights and theaters garnered it 35 million visitors according to the list of 50 most visited tourist attractions compiled by Forbes.
In Europe, it was the Trafalgar Square in Great Britain which had the most number of visitors at number 4. The next three sights European sights can all be found in France namely Notre Dame, the Louvre and its extensive art collection and the Eiffel Tower. The last two however, were far behind the other French tourist attraction, Disneyland Paris (Larriva & Weisert, 2007). Travelers are now looking for active adventures with sightseeing as becoming merely secondary. Urban tourism has become the trend.
There is also a niche market for ecotourism whose population is quickly growing. Germany’s tourist count in 2006 went up if only because of the success of the FIFA World Cup. Visitors likewise increased in Southern and Mediterranean Europe if only for the organization of numerous congresses and trade shows. If Europe is to continue to develop tourism as a thriving industry, it must take measures to adapt to non-traditional tourist attractions to entice visitors as well as look into niche markets such as that found in health and sports tourism.
Larriva, S. & Weisert, G. (2007). Forbes Traveler 50 Most Visited Tourist Attractions. Retrieved on April 16, 2008, from http://www. forbestraveler. com/best-lists/most-visited-tourist-attractions-story. html. UN World Tourism Organization. (007). UNWTO World Tourism Barometer (UNWTO Publication Vol. 5 No. 2). Retrieved on April 17, 2008, from http://unwto. org/facts/eng/pdf/barometer/unwto_barom07_2_en. pdf.