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The sailing of Christopher Columbus in 1492 is credited as the beginning of the great age of exploration, as well as the opening of sea travel. It also marked the advent of capitalism and modern scientific thought.

Travel for cultural and artistic purposes became increasingly popular in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. It became fashionable for the upper classes to visit the European cultural, artistic, musical, and government centers to sharpen their intellect through an increasing knowledge of the world. This so-called Grand Tour of Europe was the beginning of European travel.

At this time, a British Baptist preacher, Thomas Cook, saw great potential for travel business. He realized that there was a great need, desire, and motivation for travel in industrial societies, and he immediately capitalized on this by establishing the first world travel agency to serve the emerging leisure travel market. He initiated the concept of the all-inclusive group tour. His first organized tour, on July 5, 1841, included a group of 570 people taking a train excursion between Leicester and Loughborough north of London. Later, Cook's tours expanded to many other foreign destinations, such as Egypt, the United Stares, and the Orient. Now, Thomas Cook Travel has become one of the largest multinational travel operations in the world, and Thomas Cook is recognized as the father of modern travel agency operations.

It wasn't until after World War II that tourism became a worldwide industry and leisure experience. Contemporary mass tourism emerged as the result of a series of major technological, economic, and social changes during the first 50 years of the 20th century. Technologically, the introduction of commercial jet airplanes made travel fast and comfortable. The automobile meant another revolutionary technological advance in the history of travel. The development of the freeway system in the United States and Europe made automobile travel even more convenient, to the extent that automobile travel nowadays has become the landmark that reflects freedom of choice for the individual traveler.

Nowadays travel and tourism has grown into one of the largest industries in the world. The growth of the global and domestic tourism industry has had a significant economic impact on countries that have made tourism development an economic priority. Revenue generation, job creation, and infrastructure improvement are always heralded as the major economic benefits to the destination areas. The travel and tourism industry was ranked the fifth largest industry in the world in 1993. So far it has been the leading global industry.

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