Social Tourism in Europe. Theory and Practice
Edited by Scott McCabe, Lynn Minnaert and Anya Diekmann
Channel View Publications, ISBN-13:978-1-84541-232-6, Bristol UK, 2012
This, rather concise yet very informative and inspiring - academically as well as ethically - book, is not only the first of its kind in the english language, but comes at the right time, as the dominant neoliberal paradigm is collapsing and the inadequacy and incompleteness of european frameworks has been revealed by and during the ongoing crisis.
Fourteen contributors, twelve of whom are academics and at least half have hands-on experience with developing social tourism policy and programs offer a multidisciplinary perspective, defining social tourism, the role of tourism in the emerging 'social economy', the effects of social policies on tourism and vice versa. The book successfully connects academic discussions with best practice case studies.
Eight academic chapters are intertwined with characteristic case studies profiling key international, local and sectoral social tourism organisations and which relate to the main theme of the preceding chapter. The case studies are a bit concise however some manage to discuss the problems and shortcomings of the featured social tourism organisations. Chapter 1 offers a good introduction and summary of the book, while chapter 2 provides definitions and the historical background and evolution to this day in various European countries. Chapter 3 analyses current european social tourism supply and demand and presents the major stakeholders. In Chapter 4, vocal critic of neoliberalism in tourism Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, argues that the concept and practice of social tourism can help reposition tourism as a social force which contributes to human welfare rather than to corporate profits. In Chapter 5, Giles Claire discusses the french model of social tourism in the context of the social economy. Chapter 6 analyses the link between physical mobility and social mobility and the consequences of both on social structures such as family and work. Chapter 7 deals with the former Eastern Block policies and links the development of social tourism to the political attitudes of various euopean governments towards welfare. Chapter 8 relates social class and family situations to tourism access the impact of tourism on family relationships, while Chapter 9 focuses on the policies, realities and experiences of tourism for people with disabilities. Authors Shaw and Agarwal rightly argue that disabled people should play an active role in the development and design of social tourism programmes and packages so that these become accessible and inclusive. In Chapter 10, Christian Baumgartner, head of the historic Vienna-based Naturefriends International, which started out as a 'socialist hiking organisation' in 1895 and was banned between 1933-1945, elucidates the linkages, commonalities and differences between social tourism and sustainable tourism in the context of his organisation. Baumgartner poses many difficult questions such as whether social segregation may be the unwanted result of social tourists filling the less popular accommodations and destinations in the low season. He rightly points out that social tourism, 'tourism for all', still has an obligation to somehow be ecologically sustainable. The final chapter offers another useful summary and suggestions for future research.
It is hard to pinpoint the historic origin of social tourism in Europe, as even the ancient Olympics and similar events had some social tourism elements along with political and religious motives. But the modern origin is certainly the troubled 1930s with the introduction of paid holidays for the working class in Western Europe as well as similar schemes in the Soviet Union. Currently, social tourism involves billions of euros and millions of european citizens, however it remains a largely neglected concept in tourism literature, especially in the English language, proof of the dominance the neoliberal and pro-corporate agenda in tourism academic research.
Leisure and holidays are basic human rights enshrined in article 24 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) which states 'everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay', while article 13(2) of the Declaration enshrines free mobility (and therefore also travel): "everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own and to return to his country". The above have been reinforced by the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (1999) which recognises (Article 7) that tourism is a right, accessible to all. In addition, the lack of an ability to take a holiday once per year, has become embedded in social indicators of relative poverty.
Still, and although international tourism organisations waste no opportunity to remind us of the impressive global growth of tourism 'arrivals', the proportion among the population that does not travel has remained stable at around 40-45% for the past 60 years, even in Europe! Social tourism, as a 'tourism for all' concept, has not yet succeeded in changing this. Let us hope that this excellent book will contribute to this noble and just goal.