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Publication Title | Mobile Cultures

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This web page was last revised on 6th December 2003; the paper was previously published at in 1999
Mobile Cultures John Urry
Schivelbusch states that: ‘For the twentieth century tourist, the world has become one large department store of countrysides and cities’ (1986: 197). The scale of contemporary travelling around that department store is awesome. There are over 600 million international passenger arrivals each year (compared with 25m in 1950); at any one time 300,000 passengers are in flight above the US, equivalent to a substantial city; a half million new hotel rooms are built each year worldwide; there are 23m refugees across the globe; and there is one car for every 8.6 people worldwide (Kaplan 1996: 101; Makimoto and Manners 1997: chap 1).
International travel now accounts for over one-twelfth of world trade. It constitutes by far the largest movement of people across borders that has occurred in human history. International and domestic tourism together account for 10% of global employment and global GDP. And this affects everywhere; the World Tourism Organisation publishes tourism statistics for 200 countries. There is almost no country now which is not a sender and receiver of significant numbers of visitors. However, the flows of visitors are not even. Most occurs between advanced industrial societies and especially within western and southern Europe and within north America. These flows still account for about 80% of international travel; 25 years ago they accounted for 90% (see WTO 1997).
How has this come about? What has given especially contemporary western societies what we might call a ‘compulsion to mobility’? I shall explore such issues through three questions:
1. What are the main ways in which people have begun to think about and to conceptualise the contemporary citizen as being ‘on the move’?
2. What makes us travel? What draws us to other places?

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