Wow. WOW. So this a totally new concept to me, and I’d be interested to hear from other travelers if they were aware this existed.Perhaps I’m sort of shell-shocked because this concept most definitely wouldn’t be so palatable in the United States. Cough (major understatement). I really haven’t made up my mind about how I feel about social tourism. It’s honestly sort of a bizarre concept. If nothing else, this really highlights some of the fundamental differences that exist between the United States and Europe in terms of social welfare.
So what is social tourism?
My understanding is that social tourism is a public policy to “facilitate access to tourism for groups who would otherwise be financially unable to participate in holidays”. Yup, that is straight from the article. Now I can imagine that many people are scratching their heads….Paying people who can’t afford to travel so they can go be a tourist somewhere? Whhaatttt? This is institutionalized, government supported travel for those otherwise or typically excluded from travel opportunities.
Where does it exist?
Europe. Particularly, different programs (with varying levels of public and private participation, though they all have some level of public, government support) exist in France, Hungary, Spain, Portugal, and Belgium.
But it’s even more than that…
Many of these organizations not only help people take a holiday, they actually provide emotional support for “anxiety affecting the inexperienced tourists”. Yup. Not only is their financial uncertainty that worries the clients (because admittedly, most programs require some contribution from the individual as well), but also things like packing. Stop right there. Support organizations actually PACK for the travelers. Because, as one interviewee said, otherwise “they would forget to pack underwear” or “show[s] up with plastic bags”.
Who is the target population?
Interestingly, this article and research specifically discusses both the elderly and teenage mothers (who participated in travel between Belgium and the UK). The latter group has extremely high levels of uncertainty, which may cause them to refuse tourism participation even when money isn’t an issue.
Are there benefits?
Sure, for example, in Spain there is a program where senior citizens are subsidized to take domestic holidays to the coast on shoulder seasons. This means people in the coastal areas can continue working, benefiting hotels and other businesses. By subsidizing the elderly to take domestic holidays, the government is essentially injecting some money into a seasonal economy. This program is financed through beneficiary contributions (70%) and government (30%), but Spain estimates that the program helps to benefit or maintain about 80,000 jobs.
What do you think?
I’m sort of fascinated by this whole idea, since there is always lots of discussion over whether travel is a “luxury” good in the economy (using luxury in an economical-sense, here). The article states that such “social tourism” is not part of public policy in the United States, but has been undertaken by some private organizations.
The only thing that immediately comes to mind is potentially trips that veterans take to visit memorials (or even back to places like Vietnam), that may be subsidized by charitable organizations. There are also other programs for poor, suburban high school students to be able to take a first trip abroad, etc., which are mostly either done via fundraising or private charities.
But most definitely this is not institutionalized into government programs in the United States. Moreover, the uncertainty piece of this is very interesting…particularly for individuals in the United States. Would uncertainty and the unknowns of the “outside world” stop similar sub-populations in the United States from traveling abroad, even if they had the funding to do so? My strong contention would be YES.
What’s your opinion of institutionalized social tourism? Do you think that money is the only reason that non-travelers in the United States don’t travel?
Citation: Minnaert, L. 2014. “Social tourism participation: The role of tourism inexperience and uncertainty.” Tourism Management. 40: 282-289.