Tourism is a global phenomenon that includes a multitude of different types of businesses and government entities. It is a source of substantial economic and social consequence and requires objective and scientific understanding. However, just as the definition of leisure presents a challenge, so too does the definition of the tourism industry.

Defining Tourists

Without tourists there would be no tourism industry. Tourists travel to attractions and find new attractions even when developers and locals have not yet found or promoted them. It is more common, though, that the tourist (or potential tourist) is the one who is bombarded with advertisements and hawkers trying to get them to spend their money.

We usually think of a tourist as someone who is vacationing somewhere that is far from home. But the technical definition of a tourist is a little more specific. Most of the definitions that are used for statistical purposes consider a tourist as anyone who travels to a place outside of their usual residential environment and stays away for at least one night, but no more than one year. The motivation for the trip is irrelevant – the trip could be for business reasons, to visit friends and family (known as VFR travel), for education, or simply for pleasure. This definition is used to compare tourist arrivals among countries internationally, by organizations such as the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Different definitions are sometimes used within a country and within local destinations. China, for example, counts day visitors (not staying overnight) in its total tourist numbers, although they also provide standardized numbers to the UNWTO. Many countries separate business travelers from leisure travelers. For international travel overall, leisure travelers generally outnumber business travelers two to one. This, however, varies considerably among destinations. Business travelers tend to pay more for their airline tickets and hotels than do vacation travelers, but their stay at a destination is usually shorter.


At the opposite end of the tourist trip is the recreation activity. The clearest form of a non-tourism recreation activity is any leisure activity that occurs within someone’ s residential home place. (The exception would be planning a vacation trip.) As recreationists travels further away from home, the same activity might be transformed into tourism. In general, recreation activities become tourists activities (or tourism products) when they are provided by private sector companies who mostly service non-resident visitors. They are considered recreation products when visiting tourists comprise a minority of the clients served.

Day Trippers

Day trips (also known as excursions) are trips that take someone away from their home, but do not involve an overnight stay. A day excursion can be considered a recreation activity, though because it normally occurs well beyond the home place, the activities and services that are used are normally the same as those provided to tourists by the tourism industry. In many tourist destinations, separating those who are tourists from those who are day-tripping recreationists is difficult. One way of doing this is to compare overnight tourist numbers estimated from hotel taxes and total visitor numbers estimated from attraction receipts. The methodology is not perfect, but can be an important first step in segmenting visitors into major types for marketing purposes.

Market Segmentation

Geography, including distance traveled and place of origin, is one of the most widely used forms of visitor market segmentation. It is generally the easiest form of visitor data to obtain because it requires only one simple question of the visitors, and can be obtained from hotel and motel registration records (with appropriate privacy measures). Advertising and promotional campaigns can then be tailored for use in each of the major places from which visitors and users originate. The second most important form of data for market segmentation is visitor or user motivation. Though more difficult to obtain, a lot of research has been done to define the varied motivation of tourists.