Tourism Definitions


The seven core tourism terms below are an edited version of definitions agreed in 2011 through a working group and consultation process set up under the auspices of the English Tourism Research and Intelligence Partnership (ETRIP) established by VisitEngland.

You cannot manage what you cannot measure…. (oft-quoted truism to stress the importance of measurement). Equally, you cannot measure what you have not first adequately defined.

Any use of tourism and visitor related terms has to recognise that tourism is, in essence, a technical concept measured by the available statistics of visitor movements and expenditure (demand) and estimates of the number of a wide range of visitor facilities (supply). As a concept, tourism is inevitably open to different interpretations but it is now widely agreed that there is an urgent need to tighten or achieve greater precision in the way that key tourism terms are used nationally, regionally and locally. Planning and managing tourism when the various stakeholders involved have different conceptions of what tourism means can only ever be partially successful.                 

Tourism is the generic term to cover both demand and supply that has been adopted in various forms and used throughout the World.  Tourism is defined as the activities of persons identified as visitors.  A visitor is someone who is making a visit to a main destination outside his/her usual environment for less than a year for any main purpose [including] holidays, leisure and recreation, business, health, education or other purposes….This scope is much wider than the traditional perception of tourists, which included only those travelling for leisure. [UNWTO statistics Guidelines: 2010]

Visitor is the common denominator that covers all the forms of tourism defined above for the same range of purposes.  The term embraces three separate categories. 

   (1) Tourists who are visitors staying away from home for one or more nights for any of the purposes noted above (domestic, or from abroad). 

   (2) Same Day visitors, also known as tourist day visitors spending at least 3 hours away from home outside their usual environment for general leisure, recreational and social purposes. Many are local residents of an area.

  (3) Leisure day visitors spending less than 3 hours away from home but outside their usual environment, for general leisure, recreational or social purposes.  Not included (in the published volume and value of tourism statistics in England), these short stay leisure day visitors contribute directly to the local visitor economy and should also be formally recognized in destination management decisions. Most of this third group of visitors are also residents of destinations and their local catchment areas.

Tourism Industries
The term ‘tourism industries’ is the internationally accepted UNWTO/OECD definition of twelve standard industrial classifications of the sectors of the economy that provide products/services consumed by visitors. The turnover due to tourism in each of these sectors is measured by surveys of visitor expenditure, ie., from the demand side, mostly in the private sector but including some public sector products/services. Although convenient and in common usage by professionals, the media and politicians, there is no accepted international or national definition of the term ‘tourism industry.’

Visitor Economy
A term now widely used throughout the UK, although not yet officially defined, visitor economy refers to overall demand and supply in all the sectors within which visitor activity and its direct and indirect consequences upon the economy take place. The term visitor economy is wider than the definition of tourism industries, which it includes, and it encompasses all staying and non-staying visitors (including categories such as business day visits and leisure day visits not currently measured as part of tourism industries).  The term embraces the activities and expenditure involved in supplying products and services for visitors by both the private and public sectors. It also includes the primarily public sector activities and substantial expenditure on the creation, maintenance and development of the public realm and the infrastructure within which, and through which, visitor activities take place. Visitor economy can be used in relation to international, national and sub-national geographical destinations or areas and need not necessarily be confined by existing historical boundaries. ‘Tourism industries’ are, therefore, a sub-set of the visitor economy.  

Visitor destination/tourism destination
Visitor destinations are places that are recognised as visitor destinations and for which it is possible to measure aspects of the demand for and supply of tourism services within defined boundaries. Visitor destination is preferred to ‘tourism destination’ because by definition it includes all categories of visitor. Typically such destinations have some form of public/private sector organisation in place; they are promoted as places to visit and have some form of management process in place for visitor related purposes. At local level, destination boundaries in the UK are usually but not always coterminous with one or more local authorities or designated parts of such administrative areas, for example, National Parks. At regional level destination boundaries will always be a combination of local authority administration areas.  At national level the boundaries are those of the nation.  These levels reflect EU agreements on area administration. The UNWTO simply defines the main destination of a tourism visit as “the place visited that is central to the decision to take the trip.”

Destination Management
Although widely used throughout the UK, Destination Management is a relatively recent and loosely used concept still in the process of establishing a formal definition. It is an agreed organisational process for leading, influencing and coordinating management of the key aspects of a destination that contribute to a visitor's experience having regard also for the needs of local residents, businesses and the environment. Effective management requires measurement and planning and development processes for the visitor economy of a destination as part of overall local authority plans. Although private sector involvement is essential, effective destination management also requires the active participation of local authorities and relevant public sector bodies. Visitor economy related organisations are commonly referred to as Destination Management Organisations or DMOs. While the management aspects are essential to optimise the potential benefits in the visitor economy, most DMOs have historically been formed as marketing organisations and some may not aspire to, or choose not to, encompass the management elements noted above. Collectively these bodies are increasingly referred to as Destination Organisations.

Public Realm
Public realm is an accepted and widely used term in the UK for spaces mostly freely available for use by the public (residents and visitors). Associated with commonly used terms such as place shaping, place making or specialness of place, public realm includes the costs and management of services that relate to the development and usage of spaces such as  town and city centres, parks and gardens and scenic rural areas and most iconic buildings. Such spaces are primarily the direct responsibility of local authorities funded by Government, local business rates, council taxes on residents and an authority’s own revenue-earning activities. Some aspects of public space provision are often also partly vested in other public sector agencies working with local authorities. In conjunction with the public realm and local authority planning, the private sector also owns and maintains most of the buildings and land surrounding public spaces and in some cases the estate through which public access is provided. In the wider context, public realm is always part of the local quality of life for residents; it defines the specialness and attractiveness of places, and influences inward investment generally.

This paper was reviewed in January/February 2015 by TIU (Tourism Intelligence Unit at ONS), VisitEngland and Tourism Society Colleagues.

1 The full text along with TIU summaries of internationally agreed statistical procedures can be found in the ONS publication Measuring Tourism Locally – Definitions of Tourism, Guidance Note 1 (Version 2; 2012).  The Guidelines are a comprehensive technical 40 page manual to aid those measuring local tourism. The definitions, however, are national definitions based on international agreements expressed in the most recent statements by UNWTO, OECD and the EU where such statistical definitions exist.

2 The twelve industrial classifications are noted in the appendix below.      

Victor Middleton OBE FTS
April 2015



UNWTO Definition from Understanding Tourism: Basic Glossary: Tourism Industries:

Tourism industries (also referred to as tourism activities) are the activities that typically produce tourism characteristic products.

Tourism characteristic products are those that satisfy one or both of the following criteria:
(a)  Tourism expenditure on the product (either good or service) should represent a significant share of total tourism expenditure (share-of-expenditure/demand condition);
(b)  Tourism expenditure on the product should represent a significant share of the supply of the product in the economy (share-of-supply condition). This criterion implies that the supply of a tourism characteristic product would cease to exist in meaningful quantity in the absence of visitors.

List of categories of tourism characteristic products and tourism industries:



1. Accommodation services for visitors

1. Accommodation for visitors

2. Food and beverage serving services

2. Food and beverage serving activities

3. Railway passenger transport services

3. Railway passenger transport

4. Road passenger transport services

4. Road passenger transport

5. Water passenger transport servcies

5. Water passenger transport

6. Air passenger transport services

6. Air passenger transport

7. Transport equipment rental services

7. Transport equipment rental

8. Travel agencies and other reservation services

8. Travel agencies and other reservation servies activities

9. Cultural services

9. Cultural activities

10. Sports and recreational services

10. Sports and recreational activities

11. Country-specific tourism characteristic goods

11. Retail trade of country-specific tourism characteristic goods

12. Country-specific tourism characteristic services                  

12. Other country-specific tourism characteristic activities