One billion tourists around the world in 2012

Last week I discovered that, according to an article published on CNNgo’s website, one billion tourists are expected to hit the world’s roads in 2012. With the steady wealth increase of colossus countries China and India, an incredible number of people are going to test the existent infrastructures and push several countries around the world to achieve “tourism excellence”.


picture taken from

Hundreds of sites around the world, from Angkor Wat to the Coliseum to the Iguazu Falls, are going to be assaulted by hordes of camera toting, sunglass-faced individuals ready to fight tooth and nail to secure the best position for that unforgettable sunrise picture spot. Every experience will be most probably overcrowded and overpriced, museumifying the most beautiful places across hundreds of countries, leveling every experience to appalling, standardized, must-see-must-do checklists.

Until the end of the article, the word “tourist” was constantly used.  And this led me to sit back, and think. Who are the tourists, really?

Of course, we may think of those groups of people following a colorful flag-toting tour guide, queuing up in a neat line at the sound of a whistle in front of a ticket office. We would certainly exclude our own group from such a trivial definition, the “tourist”.

Nevertheless, as vagabonds with more or less travel experiences under our belts, as people striving to find the unexpected, linger longer, transform trips into life stories… what are we? After all, travelers aren’t just another sub category of the wider “tourist” umbrella definition?

No hostel? No cheap guesthouse? No internet and overseas call shop? No Coca Cola? Ok, so it is probably not worth going there:  we won’t be able to use our Iphones and get 3G connections to be in touch with the world back home.  Our Facebook won’t work.  Places that are not listed in any guidebook, or in the UNESCO heritage list. Oh. My. Gosh. Why do we want to go there?

For many travelers in the past, the attraction to the unknown has been the push factor to get out and discover the world. Sailors, explorers and fools have roamed the four corners of this muddy globe creating the maps and the lines generating the tourism industry. But these days, in an ever more interconnected and accessible reality, it seems like the word “unknown” had ceased to exist. Adventure has been lost sandwiched between the bus ride and the comfortable search for the umpteenth similar guesthouse in yet another backpacker ghetto.

There should be a subtle difference between tourists and travelers; a difference getting the first category invariably “lost” in unknown territories, enjoying the experience.

The rush to thick off the entire tourist sites on any map, to complete the same itineraries and go wherever we will be able to experience the “must see” places seems to greatly diverge from a genuine feeling of discovery. As I see daily around myself, travelers and tourists are walking on the very same thin line: going to the same destinations, using different kinds of transportation maybe, but always on guard when a real experience is approaching.

Receptiveness and adaptation are, in my opinion, what starts making the difference between an indie traveller and a “tourist”.
Because making it cheaper does not necessarily mean making it different.

Ultimately, if the world is bound to receive one billion tourists this year, I may just hope that a small percentage will take time stop and reflect, wherever they may be, and finally GET LOST. Adventure is definitely still out there, if we are willing to open our eyes and look properly for it. Do you agree?

For those who don’t, fear not: the tourist trail is a well trodden path, waiting for you, and about another billion souls.

Posted by | Comments (7)  | February 23, 2012
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind, Vagabonding Advice

7 Responses to “One billion tourists around the world in 2012”

  1. Jessica Rawlins Says:

    I feel like a lot of people go on tours or stay at all-inclusive resorts and I think to myself “but did you really experience the place you were in”. If you are in the bubble of “tourist” you are basically just seeing places as you would in a movie, viewing but not participating. You have to actually interact to become a “traveler”. I think that’s a valid distinction.

  2. cloudio Says:

    I agree.
    You can live adventures also in the most touristy places or in your own native little village if you have an open spirit.

  3. Burbian Says:

    I have to agree with Jessica, there are tourists, which is fine, they get to say “I went to…” and then there are travelers. The people who want to experience life in a different place with the people who make that destination what it is. I can get room service and a hotel pool anywhere, I can’t learn anything from that though.

  4. Rolf Potts Says:

    Indeed, even self-identified “travelers” still fall under the tourist umbrella. And what is considered “hard travel” these days would probably have been considered ridiculously easy just a generation or two ago. Slowing down and getting to know places, talking to local people, counts for a lot these days, regardless of what your daily budget is. So does getting lost in unfamiliar places, as Marco says — though crowded tourist places can be fascinating just the same, in part because of the crowds themselves, which attest to certain realities of being alive today.

  5. Julia Says:

    Can we PLEASE get over the whole traveler/tourist thing? It’s semantics. I applaud anyone who wants to see their world, and quite frankly, some of those very romantic “travelers” are often still clueless about the cultures they visit. We’re all outsiders in other lands, and it is important to respect each other as much as the places we visit. Harrumph.

  6. The rise of the tourist Says:

    […] As previously reported, this same industry is on a path that will serve 1 billion souls in 2012 (or 1/7 of the world’s population).  And, rest assured, that number won’t be the pinnacle in terms of unique travelers.  Instead, 1 billion should be thought of as a beacon, a milestone to mark our progress on a long march towards a culture of global travels and tourism. Photo credit / "Copenhagen" by Valkarie […]

  7. Americans of Generation Y: Are we the "Go-Nowhere Generation?" | Vagablogging :: Rolf Potts Vagabonding Blog Says:

    […] are much more complicated than gradual increases in tourism as discussed last week by Chris and Marco. Generation Y, is that you? Photo from CNNWe know we can expect at least one billion tourists by […]