History of Mass Tourism – Investigating a Modern Exodus

Travelling is an age-old phenomenon and an essential part of the history of mobility. Visiting other places whether far or near has been crucial for cultural interaction, for widening of worldviews and for circulation of material goods, ideas and values. In industrialised and post-industrialised societies the number of people who have been able and eager to set off for a temporary journey has boomed and travelling abroad for leisure has become an ordinary thing. Contemporaneously, tourism has grown to become a major global industry which has offered livelihoods to many but which has also endangered natural and cultural environments.

Today tourism is researched in a great variety of disciplines including history. But it has not always been like that. For a long time, any serious study on tourism was frowned upon because it was commonly labelled a superficial, sometimes simply harmful, pastime. In 1961, historian Daniel J. Boorstin, in his highly critical analysis of contemporary America, included tourism among “pseudo-events”, accusing it of artificiality and lack of authenticity. In a similar vain, Finnish philosopher Georg Henrik von Wright called tourism the cancer of modern times – despite the fact that in his memoirs he nostalgically described the fervour with which he had visited Italy for the first time in his youth and how important that journey had been for him. As a matter of fact, it has been quite common to appreciate one’s own motives for travelling, including the opportunity for deep cultural and intellectual interaction, whilst considering other tourists nothing more than a herd travelling in a cultural bubble, incapable of any meaningful contact with the host society.

In the early 1990s, historical inquiry into tourism started in earnest. Among the pioneers was professor Auvo Kostiainen who led a project, funded by the Academy of Finland, on the formation of modern mass tourism. Ever since, tourism has been one of the research focusses of the Department of European and World History at the University of Turku, conducted in close co-operation with international colleagues and the multidisciplinary Finnish Network for Tourism Studies. In addition to a number of theses, from BAs to PhDs, the department has also developed an archive.


One of the challenges of the history of tourism is the fragmentariness of the source material, which consists of, e.g. printed ephemera, private recollections and souvenirs. These kinds of materials are at great risk of getting first dispersed and consequently lost or destroyed. Over the years, the department has received as donations quite a notable amount of material such as postcard collections, photo albums, travelogues and booklets made for tourism promotion. An especially interesting and valuable part of the archive consists of many hours of recorded interviews with tour guide Sinikka Rännäli and materials she has donated.

Sinikka Rännäli started out as a tour guide in the late 1950s, soon after she finished secondary school. She was responsible for guiding groups of Finns across Europe to Rome carrying in her handbag all the money the group would need for hotels and restaurants during their three-week tour. In later life she lived in many exotic locations, from Sicily to Israel and Spain to Zanzibar. Sinikka was an acute observer who knew a lot about various practises related to tourism, such as what a tour guide does and how tourists behave. A life-long enthusiasm for travelling, other cultures, languages and a keen interest in meeting people is evidenced in her vivid interviews as well as in the photographs of her home, which is decked in memorabilia from the countries and cities where she had lived.

Rännäli’s recollections as well as other materials contained in the archive of the Department of European and World History offer great insights into the history of tourism. They are available to any researcher interested in using them for scholarly purposes. The department also welcomes new donations of touristic materials.

Photos: Sinikka Rännäli’s collection. Collection of History of Tourism, Department of European and World History, University of Turku

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *