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Why Britons Don't Take a Holiday: Social Tourism and the Case of Youth Hostels

Why Britons Don't Take a Holiday: Social Tourism and the Case of Youth Hostels
Author: Katja-Mirjami Tuominen
1 Commentries
The universal right to tourism is widely considered a natural continuation of the right to rest, leisure and paid holidays, yet in 2006-7 one in four UK residents did not take a holiday. Reasons for exclusion from tourism include low income, long-term illnesses, disabilities, and complex family relationships. Holiday participation is inversely related to income and in the UK affordability was found to be the largest factor for non-participation in tourism.

Many interpretations exist of what constitutes social tourism but fundamentally social tourism is seen to encompass commercial, non-commercial, governmental and private initiatives, all aspiring to offer holiday opportunities for to those that would not otherwise have them. Examples of social tourism range from holidays provided for people with disabilities and charity holidays for disadvantaged children to larger projects of community tourism development in economically underdeveloped areas.

Helping families with low incomes to afford participation in holiday taking in Britain is not as advanced as in mainland Europe which has resulted in reliance on the voluntary sector for provision of tourism to those otherwise excluded. Elsewhere in Europe the benefits derived from regular holiday taking have urged governments to promote access to leisure travel as positive social and economic activities enabling creation of state-backed schemes to provide and promote affordable holidays and recreation. For example, in France a national agency organised the "cheques-vacances" (holiday cheques) scheme allowing 6.3 million people to earn holiday vouchers by saving a part of their monthly salary which then would be topped up by the employer.

The mental and physical benefits from holidays are widely recognised. Holidays are especially thought to be important by parents for enabling a break away from the stress of everyday life, and allowing for 'quality time' and a chance to strengthen family relationships. Paradoxically, a holiday is often the first major family expenditure to be sacrificed by families living in poverty.

In the UK social tourism has focussed on disabled people more so than any other disadvantaged group and a clear imbalance is present between the need and access to holidays for families with financial disadvantages. However, in 2003 the British government assessed child poverty using relative low income and material deprivation as an indicator including a week long holiday away from home at least once a year with family. In addition, in December 2009, the European Parliament voted for the adoption of a preparatory action to develop social tourism in Europe to ensure universal access to holidays to those EU citizens still excluded from tourism.

Social tourism in particular has been found to considerably change the lives of the participants and the changes can be achieved by modest investments in terms of time and money. Only going away for a week during the low season and staying in fairly basic accommodation can affect the participants positively in terms of family capital - the relationships between the family members and their resilience when faced with adversity, and social capital - an increase in the valuable relations between the individual and the world surrounding him or her.

Social tourism in the UK depends largely on charities and several voluntary and charitable agencies work to provide support enabling specific groups to access holiday opportunities. Youth hostels function in the field of social tourism offering affordable holiday accommodation for young people and their families.

The UK Youth Hostel Association (YHA) functions within the principles of social tourism facilitating participation in tourism within those with low income levels and its socially inclusive approach enables the disadvantaged groups to participate in exploration of new places and cultures as well as promoting personal growth. Although open for all, the focus of the association is on enhancing the lives of disadvantaged young people; an issue seen especially important in the UK as in 2006-7 approximately 2.9 million children lived in income poverty. YHA is a charitable association and its 1,200 staff are complemented by 2,000 voluntary workers.

At present YHA provides around two million overnight stays each year to individual travellers, families, and school and youth groups, and the association is a member of Hostelling International (HI), the world's largest budget accommodation network. Additionally, YHA helps provide learning opportunities for schools and youth groups and partly funds a trip through its 'Breaks 4 Kids' scheme benefitting thousands of disadvantaged young people each year; the camps have been able to subsidise the cost of the experience ensuring that every young person regardless of their economic circumstance has a chance to take part in a camp.


Hazel, N. (2005) Holidays for Children and Families in Need: An Exploration of the Research and Policy Context for Social Tourism in the UK, Children and Society, 19, pp. 225-236.

McCabe, S (2009) Who Needs a Holiday? Evaluating Social Tourism, Annals of Tourism Research, 36 (4), pp. 667-688.

YHA (2006) http://www.yha.org.uk/ [Accessed 19/4/10].
It's not always down to money….
Author: Faye Coulson
I am impressed with the factual base of this paper. It highlights how important social tourism needs to be addressed in order to help make tourism for all. It has been argued that everyone does and should be entitled to a holiday. There are many deprived areas within the UK and yes many people can't afford to go on holiday and your statistics show that this is the case. However, it is not necessarily down to the fact that they can't afford to go on holiday.

Research has shown that policies now incorporate social tourism and it is ranked fairly high in UK policy agendas. Charitable organisations do support the concept of social tourism and some organisations provide grants or even holidays for families with low income. I do agree with this concept as everyone should have the right, but what about the other people? Segregation happens everywhere in society and needs to be addressed in terms of participation in tourism.

Non-participation happens for a variety of reasons. Tourism has become a very influential product that shapes our society and changes our consumer patterns. It has been found that people go on holiday to get away, relax; and as you have said get away from the stress and have quality time with the family. Holidays don't get rid of the issues we have at home; we like to think this and that for one or even two weeks we can forget about all the troubles in our lives but we still come back to them in the end. Instead we like to think that going on holiday determines who we are; the more expensive the holiday, the better the image?

Class is said to determine our access to tourism but is this always the case? There are many people that don't go on holiday for a variety of reasons and research lets us believe that it is down to the fact that we just can't afford to go on holiday. Research has shown that people may not be interested in all in tourism and therefore have another interest elsewhere. Ideas such as money, class are the secondary factors that limit participation to tourism. Our lifestyles have also changed our holiday patterns. As even though these 'high flying' executives have a lot of money and have important jobs and we think that they have fancy exotic holidays. At the end of the day they still have to work for their money. Working irregular hours and having to deal with the stress of the job they have. People can just not find the time to go away as their jobs are too important or the workload is too high. So are these people excluded as well?

I do agree that community development and social inclusion should be highly ranked in all areas of societal development. But it shouldn't be 'us' and 'them'. It should be encouraged for all areas of society to interact with each other regardless of your class and your job status. It's not as easy as it sounds and it's not meant to; integration takes time and so will the idea of tourism being truly for all.