Tourism in Asia
Recent research in Asia has questioned the widely held assumption that tourism arose in the UK during the mid-19th century as a result of Thomas Cook’s introduction of the ‘package’, a combination of the cost of travel and another service.
It has been shown that travel and leisure existed in early Han Dynasty China as scholars and priests explored mountainous areas giving rise to one of the civilizations most enduring art forms, the landscape painting. Travel and leisure also seem to have gone hand in hand with that other widespread phenomenon, the pilgrimage, with the attendant development of hostelries, storytelling and souvenir production.
Industrial forms of tourism were introduced to Asia by European colonial powers in the late 19th and early 20th century with the development of hilltop stations to provide relief for officials and merchants working in tropical areas. Grand hotels were introduced with the Sarkies brothers opening up famous establishments in Myanmar (Burma), Singapore and Indonesia (Dutch East Indies). The inter war cruise ship industry made Asia accessible to wealthy Europeans and Americans with perceptible impacts on Asian hospitality traditions and visual and performing arts.
Western artists used the opportunities provided by tourism to open studios in Asia, notably Bali, often working alongside indigenous artists to create hybrid and highly creative art forms. The post-war era opened up parts of Asia to Western mass tourism, notably the so-called ‘rest and recreation’ of the US military in Thailand.
Tourism was also used as a nation building strategy by Asian leaders such as Suharto in Indonesia to encourage his countrymen to travel and to get to know their country and to project a tourist friendly external image of stability.
As the Asian economies developed, countries like Japan became major sources of outbound tourism with accompanying impacts on Western retail practices, especially with regard to fashion and luxury. By 2014 China had become the largest outbound and inbound tourism market with the introduction of China-friendly hotel ranking systems in Europe, such as the 5-dragons scheme, began to be experimented with in Europe.
Indian outbound tourism also became significant with some novel characteristics, such as an interest in the hybrid Indian-British culinary tradition of the ‘curry house’. Tourism is also one of the drives that has spread Asian culinary traditions around the world.