ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 40

Grand Tour – Origin of the modern tourism industry

By Chandra de Silva

The Renaissance or rebirth was a period of divergent thinking that also marked an important stage in the history of travel. New ideas, independent of Christian doctrine spread via books, a product of the printing press and ushered in a period of philosophical change.

During the Middle Ages, the church in Europe was a patron of the arts and centre of scholarly activity. The church, even though losing substantial power as a result of the Reformation movement, continued to be a patron of the arts, sponsoring famous Italian artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael during the 1500s.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper

Their legacies, represented by their famous works, inspired the Grand Tour, which reached its height of popularity in the 1700s. The artistic accomplishments of this period continue to form part of the European travel experience today.

The Grand Tour is English in origin, and it was primarily a ‘finishing school’ for the sons of the British elite. The purpose of the Grand Tour which for some lasted over three years, was exposure to the cultural attractions of the European mainland. While the primary reason for travel during the Middle Ages were trade and religious pilgrimages, the focus now shifted to attaining cultural enrichment.

Tour participants were accompanied by a mentor and guardian. They were expected not only to observe the arts, literature, music, science and other cultural refinements of Europe, but were expected to return home with an increased ability to utilize the knowledge gained in their travels. The purpose of the Grand Tour eventually evolved from one of learning for the young to one of sensual pleasure for all ages. Some maintain that the Grand Tour continues to exist today as evidenced by the pilgrimage of North American travellers to the cultural centre of Europe.

Part of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in Rome

The origins of a modern tourism industry – cultural tourism in particular – are believed to have begun with the Grand Tour. Many of the major cities of Europe (e.g. Paris, Milan and Rome) developed superior hotels and service for their guests. Stays in each capital were long by today’s standard, as travel was still relatively risky and laborious.

Sri Lanka has a global competitive edge in ecotourism due to a high resource base of culture and nature.

As the number of tourists from England increased, reaching a peak in the 1700s, many companies renting carriages, bodyguards, and other travel services were formed.

The French Revolution in 1789 and later the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800’s effectively ended the Grand Tour for the English elite. A resurgence after the Napoleonic Wars more closely resembled the tourism of today, with all ages and classes participating in shorter stays (Towner, 1985).

(The writer is the Founder President of the Ecotourism Society of Sri Lanka (ESSL), Board Member of the International Ecotourism Society (TIES) Washington DC and CEO/Director of Ranweli Holiday Village)

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