The Toll of the Tourist

Charles F. Speare in American Review of Reviews January 1 1908

The Toll of the Tourist

Charles F. Speare in American Review of Reviews January 1 1908

The Toll of the Tourist

Charles F. Speare in American Review of Reviews

A TRAVELER making his way through an impoverished section of Ireland was moved to ask this question of a native:

“What do the people round here live on, Pat?”

And the answer, containing the germ of much economic truth, came this wise:

“Pigs, sor, mainly, and tourists in the summer.”

The business of entertaining the foreigner and of showing him the sights has become a leading one in several countries. If Ireland is sustained by the summer tourists, so, in much larger proportion, are Switzerland, France and Italy. It will probably surprise most persons to know that the annual income of France from tourists is something like $500,000,000. Paris bankers have even placed the figure as high as $600,000,000. This is $16 per capita compared with a per capita export of domestic products of $25. The Swiss are said to be “a nation of innkeepers,” and any one who has traveled about in the twenty-two cantons knows how the people of that republic' cater to foreign visitors. But very few realize that the income from pleasure seekers in the Swiss mountains and valleys is greater than that from Swiss exports of merchandise or from farm products. Italy has lately been forced to admit, through some of her economists, that the gold of the transient population is a source of profit ranking well up with that of industry and commerce, and, further, that the northern part of the kingdom derives much compensation from the liberal tourist and collector. The tourist toll to Italy is now reckoned at $100,000,000 a year, or nearly equal to the value of exports from January to May. Wealthy old John Bull does not ignore the rising stream of gold that flows into his vaults from the pocketbooks of the foreigner and acknowledges that his favorable trade balance with the United States, from June until October, is primarily due to the bills that the American tourist contracts while abroad. Egypt, Norway and Holland, as well as Germany, draw freely on the balances of the sightseer, though it will be readily admitted that the English, the Germans, and the Dutch give back in the pursuit of their own pleasures more than they receive from those of others.

Two generations ago John Stuart Mill made an elaborate argument against the economic profit to a country from the spendings of tourists. Latter-day economists like M. Leroy Beaulieu, speaking for France, and Signor Luzzatti, for Italy, together with the noted Swiss banker, Dr. Geering, strongly oppose this argument and go so far as to say. that tourists’ moneys play an important part in their respective countries in establishing a favorable trade balance and in permitting the cancellation of international obligations.

The tide of travel rises with prosperity and ebbs again in lean times. The years since 1900 have witnessed more money-making throughout the world than any others in history. This same period has seen the development of tourists’ routes that had been but pioneer paths. Travel has brought about revolution in the ocean-steamship business and in Continental railroad service. To cater to the transatlantic trade alone more than a score of new “liners” have been built at a cost of approximately $100,000,000. London, a city of the poorest hotel accommodations a decade ago, has been forced by the foreign invasion to erect a dozen or more splendid hostelries where the American can enjoy some of his home comforts and conveniences. Paris, aptly described as “the great international pocket into which pours a marvelous yield of the most willingly paid taxes in the world—taxes of pleasure”—has met the situation by doubling her hotel capacity. Even slow-going Italy has recognized the profits from tourists, for, while Italian railroads, under government ownership, seem to be getting worse instead of better, and a 200-mile trip in a first-class carriage is more wearisome than the long ride in the Riviera express from Paris to Monte Carlo, Italian hotels have been growing less romantic and more comfortable. Going over to Alexandria and Cairo one finds abundant evidence that the $6,000,000 annually spent in Egypt by tourists is making an impression there and leading to improvements on a liberal scale.

The Englishman used to be the world's greatest traveler. It was part of his education to make the “grand tour.” English colonization in the East gave an object for visits to India, Japan and China. When he had gone half-way round the world the Briton very often decided to make the entire circuit of the globe. The English are still much given to roving, and the Gladstone and “kit" bag may be seen any day at any prominent railway station east or west of Suez. But the English tourists are not so conspicuous as they were before the American, the German, and the South American began to accumulate wealth and to evince a desire to see what other countries than their own had to offer in the way of scenery, historical associations and pleasure making. You can find an American in almost any place on the Continent of Europe nowadays, quite as readily as an Englishman. The dress suit case is the national trademark displayed by every band of American tourists. It is due to the American passion and fashion for traveling, which has developed within recent years, that such elaborate schemes have been created abroad for the entertainment of our people.

There are now but three months in the year when the stream of American tourists to and from Europe dries up. between October and January. Not so long ago Americans crossed in May or June and returned in * August or September, going and coming by the North Atlantic route. Then they were through for the year. Now they begin to pack again soon after Christmas, and the Mediterranean boats, from January to May. are sold out months in advance. In Italy there is one continuous season. The dread of Roman fever and of intense summer heat has passed, and tourists find that the months which were formerly tabooed for travel south of Venice and Milan are among the most delightful of the year. The American is just beginning to learn that Switzerland in the winter offers great opportunity for good fun. For a long time the Englishman has been spending his Christmas holidays in the Engadine. at Davos, Montreaux, St. Moritz, and at Grindelwald, eating his plum pudding and roast duck there in the whirl of the finest winter sports that are to be had anywhere in the world. The French Riviera provides an outlet during the cold weather for those who fill Paris and the seaside resorts like Trouville, Ostend and Scheven ingen in the summer. It will readily be seen how to Switzerland, France, and Italy, where the tourist movement is almost perpetual, the economic development of the country is closely related to the spendings of outside people.


It is to France, and especially to Paris, that the tourist is drawn. The French capital is filled with foreigners with their purses wide open from one year's end to the other. It is a common saying that, but for the patronage of Americans and English, half of the large Parisian hotels would be tenantless and compelled to close. The American invasion of Paris this year has been unprecedented. We read that “the diningroom of the Hotel Ritz looked like the Casino in Newport.” because of the well-known Americans there. Always a magnet, Paris, since motoring on the Continent has become such a fad, is the real hub of the pleasuremaking universe. “Automobilism,” said Yves Buyot, the French economy ist, recently, “has contributed to the general augmentation of riches, in France.” The perfect roads of the republic are very nearly paying for themselves in the great fund of gold that motorists annually leave in the country. There has been a sort of renaissance among the old inns of the chateau region, where nearly every motorist now spends part of his time, and also in the cathedral towns south and east of Paris. At one time this summer it was reckoned that 8,000 automobile parties, embracing 40,000 Americans, were touring the Continent, and that their running expenses would be $25,000,000.

But it is in the capital itself that the yield to the nation from her visitors of pleasure is largest. Frank H. Mason, Consul-General to Paris, in his latest report to Washington, placed the value of exports from the various American consulates in France to the United States at $129,000,000. This was for the year ending June 30, 1907. From the city and district of Paris the amount was $64,143,000. This was an increase over 1906 of $12,105,000. But it must be borne in mind that these figures do not include any of the vast amount of clothing, furs, jewelry, and other articles of luxury and taste bought by Americans and taken home for personal use. These may have a value, Mr. Mason says, of $20,000,000 as a minimum, or they might be twice as much. Taking an average, it would be conservative to estimate the money spent for souvenirs, for wearing apparel, jewelry, and the like at about 10 per cent, of the actual living and traveling expenses.

These figures include only the American toll to France. The English contribute nearly as much, if not more; the Germans a good bit, while few persons realize the liberal spendings in Paris of the South Americans, such as the Brazilian, Argentinian and Chilean.

While the tourist revenue of Switzerland does not compare in the aggregate with that of France, it still represents a greater proportion of the national revenue. It is, as I stated before, more important even than the returns from trade. We are able to get a very accurate idea of what it amounts to, since the business of catering to the foreigner is so much a part of the republic’s life that a record has been kept of the moneys expended in this direction. The report of the Swiss Hotelkeepers’ Association, whose latest publication I have been able to obtain, gives some very interesting data on the subject. This shows how hotel receipts alone have doubled since 1880. They are to-day 200,000,000 francs ($40,000,000) a year. In the past twenty-five years the number of hotels has risen from 1,080 to 2,000. One reason is the inauguration of winter sports. Whereas in 1903, the year when the last figures were available, Swiss exports of watches were valued at 118,000,000 francs, laces at 131,000,000 francs, silks at 111,000,000 francs, and cotton goods and cheese combined at a little under 90,000,000 francs, the hotel receipts for 1905 were 190,000,000 francs. Not only for the money it produces, but for the' numbers it employs the Swiss hotel industry ranks high, with 33,480 employes in 1905, compared with 45,000 workers on farms, 45,000 on fabrics and 44,000 in jewels. This does not include proprietors and their families, who all work together in the common cause.

Mr. R. E. Mansfield, American Consul at Lucerne, in his reports to his home office, has, in the past year, frequently mentioned the importance to the confederacy of money annually spent by tourists in Switzerland. Lucerne is the Mecca to which every pilgrim turns—next perhaps to Paris in its fascination. It is the only Swiss municipality where an accurate record of all tourists is maintained. Therefore the figures it provides are important.

Between May and November last year, 186,227 visitors and tourists were registered in Lucerne. For local railway fares they paid about $6,500,000. They spent about as much more for hotel expenses, carriage hire and incidentals, so that the gross revenue was $11,095,000, or $347.35 per capita, for the Lucernese. These figures only tell the story of the city of the four cantons. Writing to me in June, Mr. Mansfield goes deeper into the subject and estimates that the 400,000 visitors to the various winter and summer Swiss resorts in 1906 spent $31,000,000, or $10 for every one of the 3,500,000 men, women and children in the country. It will be seen that his figures are very much below those of the Hotelkeepers’ Association, which is concerned with living accommodation alone.

Thirty per cent, of the tourists to Switzerland are Germans. The Swiss are the next best patrons of their own hotels and railways. They represent 20 per cent. The English are third with a 14 per cent, ratio ; but they stand first in the length of time spent in the mountains and valleys. France is fourth, and the remaining 25 per cent, is composed of Austrians, Hungarians, Russians and Dutch. Probably many Americans are classed under the head of English, for certainly Americans swarm in Lucerne, Interlaken, and Geneva in the summer months.


Of the 20,000 tourists who visit Norway each season and spend $3,000,000 there, it is conceded that the Americans lead. So large a part of the travel to the fiords is by yacht and steamer especially chartered by tourist agencies that Norway does not get anywhere near the full benefit of it. A great deal of the money is paid out in London and at German ports. The question of how much the American nation annually contributes to Europe for tourist travel and its incidentals has been widely discussed of late. It is everywhere admitted that the sum has been growing at a rapid rate in the last five years. It has come to be one of the best indices of national extravagance as well as of national prosperity. Europeans have been astonished at the freedom with which money has been spent abroad. It has been a policy of carte blanche for almost everything, everywhere. This reckless and prodigal spirit has had a great deal to do with giving foreigners the impression that American worship is of the golden god. No one doubts but that it has lowered the standard of European commercial morality and exaggerated the venality of French, Italian and Swiss innkeepers and shopkeepers. I read in an English paper recently that railway guards in England received $1,500,000 a year in tips, “most of it probably given by Americans.” When I saw the son of a Boston banker throwing his unused five-lira bills from the steamer at Naples to the rabble on the quay below I felt that he was committing a crime against his countrymen. This foolish and sinful waste of money imposed a tax on some other American when he bargained with the Neapolitan serving class.

From careful investigation in many quarters I should place the yearly American tourist toll to Europe at from $125,000,000 to $150,000,000. I include in that the money that goes to purchase valuable works of art. J. P. Morgan already has a collection picked up abroad at a cost of nearly $10,000,000.

The number of American travelers to Europe this year ran from 125,000 to 150,000. Eastbound cabin passengers from the port of New York, from January to October, were 83.500, and second-cabin passengers 85.500. The individual expenses of a party in a personally conducted tour would be from $400 to $500. The average for a motor-touring party would be from $2,500 to $3,000. Bankers who draw a great many letters of credit for wealthy Americans say that the average credit is for $3,000, though instances are common where credits as high as $25,000 to $50,000, and even of $75,000, are established abroad for our people and two-thirds exhausted in a three months’ season. Elisha Flagg, general agent in London for the American Express Company, figures that Americans take $100,000,000 abroad with them in various drafts, but that they do not spend it all. A German has recently prepared an estimate on the annual profit to Europe of the American invasion. He is radical in his statements, as he figures that 300.000 citizens of the United States cross annually and spend $760 a head, exclusive of steamship tickets, or $228,000,000 in all. American women, he reckons, leave $8,000,000 with Parisian dressmakers and $1,500.000 with milliners, while American tourists of both sexes spend $2,000,000 in Paris for trifling mementoes of their trip.

A conservative English journal said editorially last spring, when preparations were being made to receive the traveler from “the States” : “Not an insignificant item in the balance of trade between the United States and Great Britain is the expenditure in this country of American tourists.” It was then estimated that the money value to the credit of this account was $25,000,000. Of this nearly $10,000,000 represents the American subsidy to London alone. A detailed reckoning places the American hotel bills at the English capital at $2,500,000 ; purchases of jewels, $1,000,000; of antiques, $1,750,000; of draperies, $1,000,000, and to dressmakers, hatters, tailors and haberdashers another $1,000,000. The average bill at one hotel, that housed 6,600 Americans in the season, was $250.

Probably three times as much is spent by Americans in Paris and in France generally as in London and the British Isles; nearly as much in Germany as in England, especially since so many rich Americans take the water cure and count a season of physical retreat at the leading German spas as a part of their annual round of living; as large an amount in Italy as in England and Germany combined—Italy now draws her largesse from nine of ten Americans who go abroad in the winter or spring—while of the $6,000,000 tourists' bonus to Egypt each year the American contributes a goodly share.

As an incident to this great yearly bounty on American pleasure-seeking is the further sum of $15,000,000 which is spent by tourists in Canadian resorts, in Bermuda, Jamaica, and the West Indies. Every summer Americans fill the hotels of the Canadian Rockies. The toll of the Yankee is as great an incident in Bermuda's fiscal affairs as the revenue from her lilies, her onions, or her potatoes used to be.

“In the balance sheet of the nations,” it has been wisely said, “the expenditures for travel form part of the invisible claims of other countries against us. The question comes up every year whether it pays, and the answer is both yes and no.” Each individual must make his own answer. Has he wasted his time flitting from place to place, returning with a hodge-podge of impressions and hotel labels, or has he assimilated and drawn profit from the change of scene and the mosaic of ideas about better living put together from worldwide experiences? It is not so much that we spend $125,000,000 or $150,000,000 abroad each year, a sum equal to one and a half times our gold production and 50 per cent, more than the five-year average of our wheat and flour exports, but what interest this great sum of money draws for the higher culture of the investing nation.

How gaily prodigal of life is youth, Thoughtless beyond to-day’s bright-blazoned page; But with the shifting of the years, forsooth, How miserly is age I

Clinton Scollard.