There is no one universally accepted definition of a tourist. Furthermore, the definition of tourism is dependent on the accepted concept of the tourist (Weaver & Lawton, 2002). People have different uses for the definition of tourism and, therefore they can create different conceptual definitions. According to Weaver and Lawton (2002, p. ) tourism is ‘the sum of the phenomena and relationships arising from the interaction among tourists, the tourism industry, host governments and communities, origin governments, universities, community colleges and non-governmental organisations, in the process of attracting, transporting, hosting and managing these tourists and other visitors’.
In addition, the concept of a tourist can be understood in terms of particular criteria. For an individual to be classified as a tourist, they must simultaneously meet certain spatial, temporal and purposive criteria (Weaver and Lawton, 2002, p. 5). Furthermore, these criterions are extremely hard to classify and categorise in the ever-changing tourism industry. Therefore, understanding the complexity of the definition and the contributing factors, it is very difficult to ascertain who and who isn’t a tourist. There are two different approaches to the definition of a tourist that is, from the international and domestic perspective.
According to the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) (1981) cited in Smith (1989, p. 9) an international tourist is a ‘visitor to a foreign country spending at least one night in accommodation in that country but remaining less than one year in the country visited’. The WTO is extremely specific about the time characteristic of a tourist. The WTO specified these particular spatial conditions due to economic and statistical purposes. For an individual to be a tourist they need to impact on the country that they are visiting and as such, need to partake in the infrastructure and the goods and services industry.
According to the Australian Government Committee of Inquiry into Tourism (1987), cited in Hall (1995, p. 7) a domestic tourist is ‘a person who undertakes a pleasure trip involving a stay away from home for a least four hours during the daylight, and involving a round distance of at least 50kms; however, for trips to national parks, state and forest reserves, museums, historical parks, animal parks or other man-made attractions, the distance limitation does not apply’.
This definition has been very precise due to the difficulty in counting and collecting statistics on domestic tourists. However, the fact that the distance limitation is obsolete means that the time factor is hard to determine. An example of this may be a cross-border movement, which means the person technically becomes an international tourist, but this movement may only take one hour. Furthermore, these tourists may be experiencing novelty and change (Cohen, 1974), which means they satisfy that particular criteria.
As such, the above definitions do capture the temporal, spatial and purposive components of a tourist, however, it is difficult to find ascertain how long a person must be away from home in order to be a tourist. The definitions of ‘stayovers’ and ‘excursionists’ are extremely important as these affect the minimum time required to be classified as an international tourist (Weaver and Lawton, 2002, p. 28). If the individual is in the visiting country for at least one night then they are classified as a stayover. However, if the tourist does not incorporate at least a one night in their stay, then those people are termed excursionists.
These two concepts have been introduced to minimise the ambiguity over the 24-hour concept in the international tourism definition. The 24-hour criterion was extremely hard to monitor due to the exact times of individuals arriving and departing. This classification has been developed to ensure that the time factor in the definition of a tourist is more clear and precise. From the academic definitions presented above, it can be determined that the components that need to be satisfied for a person to be a tourist are extremely hard to conclude.
Many people have different perceptions of what tourism means and as such, have differing ideas about what exactly constitutes a tourist. Therefore, the time factor component is extremely hard to judge. Moreover, every tourist goes on a holiday to experience novelty and change, but that experience may take different times for different tourists. For example, an Indian person may only have to travel one hour to visit the closest big city that they have not been to and may only spend one day there – but they have experienced novelty and change.
On the other hand, a tourist may need to visit London or Paris to experience his or her own perception of novelty and change. Therefore, the concept of time is hard to measure and define in the definition of a tourist. There are many reasons why a minimum time and limit has been placed on the term tourist, in relation to a person in transit. Cohen (1974, p. 535) points out that this decision is probably due to economic and statistical reasons. According to Weaver and Lawton (2002, p. 7), theoretically there is ‘no minimal time that must be expended’, however, to meet certain domestic criteria thresholds, at least a few hours are required. A cross-border trip involving adjacent origins and destinations may be an exception when the distance travelled is very small. This can be seen in many countries in Europe. These individuals are still considered as tourists. Furthermore, the upper limit of a tourist is very hard to control. The upper limit of a tourist is the longest time that a person can be termed a tourist.
Once this threshold is passed, the tourist is referred to differently. Examples of such terms are a ‘nomad’, ‘wanderer’ or ‘tramp’ (Cohen, 2974, p. 536). Once again, the time at which the tourist changes into this is very hard to determine. Finally, Smith (1989), a leading tourism academic does not even refer to the concept of time in his definitions of a tourist. Smith is primarily concerned about tourism as an industry and not the motivations or categories that make up the definition. This proves that it is not a necessary component of the tourist definition.