Social Tourism

Abstract: Social tourism, or the sponsored provision of holidays for excluded groups, is used in several countries of Western Europe as a way to achieve greater social inclusion. This feature discusses the potential value of social tourism for children and young people who are affected by social exclusion. It reviews the potential benefits of social tourism, in the form of family holidays and group holidays for children only, and assesses their cost.

Rewarding the undeserving?

For any professional working in social work in the 1980s, IT referred to Intermediate Treatment and had very little to do with computers. Treatment in this context was seen as being intermediate between residential care or custody on the one hand and the supervision of young people living at home on the other.

It was a time when there were innovative programmes in which social workers used activities as a medium for engaging with young people. Sometimes the media focused in on these projects, wondering what was going on, and why social workers seemed to be giving rewards for delinquency. Stories of expensive trips away for looked after children occasionally hit the headlines. Part of the problem was that such an approach appeared to condone the children’s misbehaviour, and not enough research evidence had been produced to justify the activities.

Tackling social exclusion

When New Labour came to power in 1997, social exclusion was one of their main social policy drivers with the Social Exclusion Unit being set up to support this agenda. The Government had recognised that the reasons why people may be socially excluded are complex and multi-dimensional and it “tended to track progress in tackling social exclusion against easily measured economic benchmarks relating to worklessness, low income and child poverty, together with factors such as health inequalities, educational attainment and requires determined social policy measures, ensuring that everyone has access to their rights in practice”1. The problem is that each of these issues or areas, in turn, are complex.

Social tourism

One area that may begin to address some of these issues could be social tourism. The provision of a holiday for young people may be one of these notions that address the very multi-dimensional nature of social exclusion for some young people.

The vast majority of people in the United Kingdom take a holiday, and therefore by that very definition not taking a holiday puts you at a disadvantage. Some countries in the European Union have recognised this for years and have been providing subsidised holidays for disadvantaged people, including the young; the United Kingdom, in contrast, has been a laggard.

Social tourism aims to involve groups in tourism that usually do not take part in it. Examples are senior citizens, persons with disabilities or low-income groups who cannot afford a holiday. Children and young people can benefit from social tourism in two ways: by going on subsidised holidays with their family, or by going on group holidays organised for their particular age group.


Minnaert (2007) has found that in the great majority of cases, social tourism for families strengthens the relations between all family members, particularly between parents and children2. The holiday can increase the “family capital”, the bonds between parents and children that are useful in promoting child socialization3. Higher levels of family capital are in their turn linked to increased educational achievement4 and a higher level of resilience in the face of adversity5.

Minnaert’s research also highlighted changes in parenting both during and after the holiday, ranging from spending more time together to better communication and new routines for family time. From the perspective of juvenile justice, family holidays could also be seen as useful interventions when negative family relations and inappropriate parenting trigger or enable deviant behaviour. From this perspective, they could be useful catalysts to behaviour change either in their own right or in combination with other, existing interventions.

Personal development

Other effects of social tourism apply to personal development rather than family development. Minnaert found that both family holidays and group holidays positively influence the self-esteem, social contacts and outlook on life of the majority of participants. Low self-esteem can negatively affect behaviour in several ways: people with low self-esteem tend to avoid challenging situations out of fear of rejection and humiliation, and set lower goals in life. Low self-esteem has also been linked to higher levels of self-handicapping behaviour such as violence6. Other aspects of social exclusion can be limited social contacts, low travel horizons, poor mental health and a pessimistic outlook on life. Social holidays have been shown to have the potential to address each of these, and many participants reported behaviour changes after their return.

Pros and cons

The main difference between a social holiday and many other interventions is the motivational and aspirational effects of holidays: the participants are taken out of their usual environments. From the positive experience of the holiday, the motivation to change was shown to develop, and opportunities were seized that were not taken up before. These ranged from changing jobs to better financing, and from taking courses to a greater involvement in support organisations. The fact that these opportunities were available before the holiday, but not taken up, emphasises how holidays can be directly linked to positive change.

The value of social tourism for young people and children from excluded backgrounds lies thus in three areas. Firstly, social holidays are shown to reduce certain aspects of exclusion, such as poor family relations and low self-esteem. Secondly, they can provide the participants with new aspirations, and motivations to develop more positive behaviours. Thirdly, these two developments can help prevent the development of more extreme forms of negative behaviour such as delinquency.

Social tourism does not work with all families and has to be planned with the right holiday matched to the most appropriate family. The main condition for a successful social holiday seems to be an adequate level of support both during and after the holiday. Although social tourism is not the panacea for all ills it could be a valuable element in a portfolio of preventative measures that can support social integration.

Social tourism for low-income groups is part of the overall social policy in several countries of Western Europe, including France and Belgium. These countries have realised that the benefits of such an approach are not necessarily direct, but indirect including social and psychological benefits as well as showing improvements in parenting.

Value for money

In economic terms social tourism looks relatively good value. In 2003 the costs of the Government’s much vaunted parenting classes were put at £750, (Written answers to Parliament, 12 May 2003, In contrast, the average cost of a social holiday in Minnaert’s research (2007) was approximately £500-600 per family.

These holidays often did not only have benefits in the area of family relations and parenting, but also in the personal development of each individual family member, for example through increased confidence, an extended and more active social network and greater motivation to make positive changes.

Dr Lynn Minnaert, Lecturer in Tourism, University of Westminster
Contact details: School of Architecture and the Built Environment, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS. Tel: 02079115000 ext 3139, email: [email protected]

Chris Durkin, Senior Lecturer in Social Work, University of Northampton
Contact details: School Of Health, Park Campus, Boughton Green Road, Northampton, NN2 7AL. Tel: (01604) 735500 Email: [email protected]

1 Nony Ardill,(2005) The Social Exclusion Trap (accessed 2/04/2007)

2 Minnaert, L. (2007) Social tourism: a potential policy to reduce social exclusion? UTSG Annual Conference Proceedings, 3-5 January 2007

3 Parcel T. and Dufur M. (2001) ‘Capital at home and at school: Effects on student achievement’,Social forces, 79 (3), 881-912

4 Marjoribanks, K. (1998) ‘Family capital, children’s individual attributes, and
adolescents’ aspirations: a follow-up analysis’, The Journal of Psychology, 132:3, 328-336

5 Belsey M. (2003) AIDS and the family: Policy options for a crisis in family capital, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, available online: (accessed 03/05/2006)

6 Baumeister R. (1993) Self-esteem. The puzzle of low self-regard, New York & London: Plenum Press

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