– Viv Straw

The question about what constitutes an industry plays out most clearly in the tourism sector. Is tourism an industry or a phenomenon that supports a range of industries? To answer the question, we could begin with the concept of industry.

As geographers, we consider various levels of industrial activity starting with mining and agriculture which we call Primary Industries, manufacturing which we call a secondary industry and professional services like accounting, law and administration which we call Tertiary Industry. We also recognise a fourth level of industry involving highly skilled professionals like scientists and academics, sometimes called quaternary industry. Above that there are high-level policy making, and control centres that may involve quaternary Industry.

Activities like transport and communications service a wide range of industries and are not considered to be an industry but a service. Which raises the question about tourism: is it an industry?

In some parts of the country, tourism employs scores of people in hospitality, transport, and recreational services, and is a significant income earner.

In other parts of the country, transportation services, like taxis, aircraft flights and motor vehicle hire companies might predominantly serve local interests or people who travel for business purposes. Travel for conferencing, business sales, trips between regional offices, and a head office might be quite regular. In a situation where business travel supports more than 50% of the cost of accommodation facilities, to associated hospitality and transport services, tourism might be considered a small part of the income stream.


On the other hand, in rural centres, business travel might be a relatively small proportion of the accommodation and transport income while tourism is quite significant, sometimes more than 90%. In these localities, travel may be considered an industry, employing a most of the workforce. Other sources of income in these districts might include forestry, agriculture and associated employment which might not support hospitality.

 Consider Venice. Visitors travel from all over the world to visit the historic sites of Venice. While the city grew on international trade and commodity exchange in the 14th century, today it is a picture postcard of its past with little industry not associated with travel, accommodation and merchandising to visitors.

Does that make tourism and industry? I think not. There are industries including hospitality, a service, which as we have seen above in some places is more dependent on business travel and less dependent on holidaying visitors. Transport is a service that might depend on pleasure trips, sightseeing, recreation and leisure more in some locations than others. In other places, the support for these services is business, manufacturing, mining or administrative activities. The industries we are discussing when we think about tourism are the Service Industries of hospitality and transportation and perhaps merchandising.