Catherine Bertho Lavenir

The Wheel and the Pen: How We Became Tourists Publication date : April 1, 1999

What motivates people to go places – to take to the road, or go hiking on mountain trails, or simply stretch out on a sunny beach? Do they travel because other people travel, because it is expected of them? Does the desire to travel stem from a freely-made individual choice? Mass travel is a recent phenomenon and as such reflects contemporary society. Catherine Bertho-Lavenir recounts the history of tourism, including both the behaviour of tourists and ways in which they have been depicted over the years. The figures speak for themselves. In 1840, 20,000 visitors spent the winter in Nice. In 1880, the French railway line between Paris and Marseilles carried 100,000 travellers. By 1963, the traffic jams on the roads leading to and from Paris had reached massive proportions: a 17-kilometre traffic jam was reported on highway number 7, at Châlon-sur-Saône. Today, Club Med is quoted on the stock exchange, the hotel trade has become a major industry, guide books such as the Lonely Planet series are an institution, and plane tickets at bargain prices can be purchased on the Internet. Tourism did not develop to this extent spontaneously. Someone had to think ahead and invest, convince city dwellers that the mountains were beautiful rather than frightening and that swimming in the sea was good for them, and that you don’t have to be a nomad to enjoy backpacking. Publishers also played their part: travel literature and guide books were written, maps published, itineraries created. Railway companies developed ways of attracting increasing numbers of travellers. The advent of the bicycle and the motor car gave travellers the freedom to come and go as they wished – but roads had to be adapted to the new users’ needs and the countryside had to be protected. The new needs resulted in the creation of many associations, the publication of magazines and brochures, and the development of group tours – which in turn gave rise to new models and new goals. Before going on a trip, people now asked themselves: Which itinerary should we choose? What should we pack in our bags? What emotions are we supposed to feel?Bertho-Lavenir breathes new life into the story of the activities that gave rise to modern tourism, which she contrasts to traditional aristocratic holidays. She evokes the golden age of cycling, the beginnings of motor car tourism, the development of a network of inns and country hotels, the early days of organised campsites, and the cult of regional authenticity. She compares tourism at the turn of the century to the form it has taken today.Catherine Bertho-Lavenir, a palaeographer and archivist, is a lecturer at the Conservatiore National des Arts et Métiers and at the École Polytechnique, in Paris. With Frédéric Barbier, she co-authored Histoire des Médias, de Diderot à Internet, published by Armand Colin, 1996.