The social exclusion of old people is heightened with barriers such as lack of information, financial reasons, ill-health and disability, limited leisure time and lack of partner/companion (McCabe, 2009). Participation in tourism has many benefits. These include: respite from work, knowledge and new experiences, personal development, visiting friends and family and religious pilgrimages which can all lead to improved wellbeing. Results from a study that was carried out in order to prove that tourism promotes wellbeing saw 89% of the 310 doctors surveyed agree that holidays could reduce stress-related illnesses and even went as far as to say that they could reduce the risk of heart disease (Hazel, 2005).
The UK currently does not feature social tourism on the government’s agenda (Hazel, 2005). A survey of social workers in 2006 by the Family Holiday Association (FHA) indicated that 68% of 273 respondents in the UK had never heard the term ‘social tourism’ (McCabe, 2011). Social tourism only exists in the UK through charities. There are multiple charities that aim to support marginalised groups and give them access to holidays. Some of these charities are funded by government grants but most rely on donations and fundraisers (McCabe, 2009). There are government policies in Europe which have yet to be used in the UK to their full potential and are relatively unknown to the public (McCabe, 2009).
Tourism For All was formed in 2004 and is an independent national UK charity which aims to make tourism accessible to disabled people. They aim to provide disabled tourists with accurate information on the holiday opportunities that are available to them. They also offer discounts to travel insurance, hotels and resorts (Tourism For All, 2019). Despite this, academics have criticised Tourism For All as a charity, although it increases accessibility for disabled groups, it does not consider other marginalised or disadvantaged groups (Hazel, 2005). Although the government are correct, it is still commendable that there are charities in the UK that are doing their best to help excluded groups in society, the government condemning their efforts as inadequate should perhaps initiate and fund more schemes themselves.
Another UK charity includes Family Holiday Association which began in 1975 and provides holidays to families who face issues such as disability, severe illness, bereavement, mental health issues and domestic violence. They have helped thousands of people since their launch; in 2018, they helped 3,820 families access a holiday or a trip away, they hope to double that number by the end of 2020 (Family Holiday Association, 2019). Acceptance into the charity includes conditions such as families must not have had a holiday for over 4 years and must be on low incomes. The type of holidays and activities that are provided to the families include breaks to holiday parks like Haven and Butlins. Extra amenities include entertainment passes, holiday insurance and even a small contribution to spending money (McCabe, 2011).
Spain is a European country which sets a good example for promoting social tourism. IMERSO is the Spanish Government’s social tourism publicly funded scheme that started in 1985. IMERSO currently subsidises holidays to older people. The scheme was at its peak in 2009-2010 where it offered 1,200,000 holidays in 307 hotels. IMERSO offers a wide variety of products and services, for example, the option of shorter stays, multiple destinations, weekend breaks, coastal holidays, cultural tours, nature tours. These then include a full-board service, double-room accommodation, travel insurance and entertainment programme which in total amount to the subsidy of 21% of the cost of the trip (Sedgley, 2018).
IMSERSO combats loneliness and improves older people’s wellbeing and this has been proven through semi-structured interviews which the company carried out. Data was collected from participants from Benidorm aged 62 to 86, 20 were female and 7 were male (Sedgley, 2018). The study showed that 20 of the participants travelled not very much or not at all since retirement but 19 of them said that they travelled a great amount; around 2-3 trips per year. Participants stated that IMERSO scheme offers them liberation from their family duties. Similarly, one of the participants talked about how the scheme has helped her to defeat her feelings of depression stemming from her husband’s death (Sedgley, 2018).
Overall, it is clear that participation in tourism can lead to increased wellbeing which in turn can improve the mental health of older individuals and perhaps even limit physical health risks (Hazel 2005). The challenge for the UK is clear, depression and anxiety are rife amongst the older generation (Ageuk, 2017), therefore, the adoption of European state-funded policies, for example the IMERSO scheme in Spain, would benefit the British society (McCabe, 2009).