How International Travelers Have Changed In The Past 20 Years

The first time I traveled internationally was in 1994, when I went to Japan with a friend. We were, by far, two of only a handful of U.S. citizens we saw during our 3 weeks there, to the point that when we went to Tokyo Disneyland, we were thrilled to be able to speak English to the guy that cut silhouettes on Main Street, because he was American. We heard some German here and there during our trip, but English? Hardly at all.

We saw/heard more Americans during our trip to England and Paris in 1995 but that would make sense – it was still more “comfortable” to visit Europe than halfway around the world in the “Far East,” especially in the age when the internet wasn’t around to help. So, of course, there were many more Americans there in comparison to Japan the previous year.

Fast forward 20+ years, and a whole lot has changed…

Even traveling in the U.S., the demographics of the tourists in the touristy areas seemed to have changed significantly over the years. If you go to the Grand Canyon, New York City, or just about any big tourist destination nowadays, you’ll experience lots and LOTS of tour buses filled with people who speak Chinese. Much more so than, say, 20 years ago.

At first, I thought it was just me. But nope, according to a study done by Skift and the World Tourism Organization, that’s definitely been the trend as the years have gone by. Take a look at this video:

Wow. While the U.S. has increased from 53 million annual international travel departures to just shy 87 million between 1997 and 2017, the amount of travelers from China has gone from less than 6 million to over 143 million in the same 20 years!

As someone who loves to travel, and who remembers a time when people in certain countries were said to not be allowed to travel, or didn’t have the money to do so, I’m glad they finally can and do. Sure, it makes some places more crowded. But honestly, traveling is wonderful and should be available to everyone. And if it means I have to wait an extra couple of minutes to take my picture until their group continues on, that’s OK. After all, it’s not just about me. Travel, and the spoils of it, are for everyone. I’m glad more people are able to do it.

Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love if you decided to hang around and clicked the button on the top (if you’re on your computer) or the bottom (if you’re on your phone/tablet) of this page to follow our blog and get emailed notifications of when we post (it’s usually just two or three times a day). Or maybe you’d like to join our Facebook group, where we talk and ask questions about travel (including Disney parks), creative ways to earn frequent flyer miles and hotel points, how to save money on or for your trips, get access to travel articles you may not see otherwise, etc. Whether you’ve read our posts before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

6 thoughts on “How International Travelers Have Changed In The Past 20 Years”

  1. I remember 20 years ago when ‘gypsy’ families were soliciting at the Italian train stations (and by the way back then ‘meet at the train station’ was the standard organization tactic for travelers)

    Now not seen

  2. The difference in how other cultures treat where they visit is certainly striking to me. It used to be “ugly Americans” but now I hear far more about Chinese travelers swarming sites, not taking turns or lining up for things, and leaving massive trails of trash in their wake. Some of this is cultural differences some of it is surely just a factor of so many people traveling or visiting sites at one time in a group.

    It is difficult for me since I feel strongly that travel should be for all, and should be a way to open the world to everyone and share different values and the special things you find when you travel to a different country. But I also value the places I visit and preserving them, and respecting other visitors.

  3. Two years ago we had your 1997 Tokyo experience at Shanghai Disney. Wonder if it is the same now? Probably saw 20 Caucasian/African American in 2 days and we had the only non-chinsse kids there.

  4. This goes beyond travel but rather also to the modern consumerist society and modern architecture.

    The best tourist sites usually have something in common in that they’re old and have “history”. Who would want to travel to, say, the same suburb, office park, or shopping mall YOU’RE desperately trying to escape by air? 🙂

    About a 100 years ago, people who were building even normal homes did so with the style of the region and/or to last. Made of brick or stone, typically. Communities didn’t have TV so they had cultural events and festivals. These festivals, even back then, were for local tourism.

    And those sites are the ones that everyone is traveling to today including charleston:
    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-10-16/america-s-small-cities-are-being-overrun-by-tourists

    However, as the number of tourists grow, new sites to visit are largely not. This also goes for other infrastructure such as roads, airports, and schools for general population growth. Cookie cutter suburbs and office parks are put up in seconds but all the other stuff that’s unglamourous and doesn’t make a quick profit such as well made landmarks, architecture, etc. who wants to sink money into that? Mass travel is educational but as people travel for culture, or watch TV, they don’t make a lot of it at home. What makes cultures interesting is typically the people who lived there all year round.

    I asked a neighbor about that whose an architect and he told me he saved a good $40K on a home by making it ugly using standard fittings and such but nobody would miss the thing in a half century if it was pulled down for something else. He designed comfortable, cheap housing and offices because that’s what the customer wanted.

Leave a Reply