4 ways our society can benefit from social tourism initiatives

better tourism
4 ways our society can benefit from social tourism initiatives

Homelessness is growing at an increasingly distressing rate. In November 2021, there were 9,099 people living in emergency accommodation in the Republic of Ireland with 70% of those residing in Dublin. Of this number, 6,5441 are over the age of 18 - an age that makes them eligible for employment. Unfortunately, as the housing crisis continues, this number is expected to be greater and growing. Why am I sharing these facts you might ask, when this is a site dedicated to tourism? Well, it has been stated that tourism can alleviate poverty by stimulating and encouraging the participation and involvement of the local community (Harrison, 2008). We have seen social initiatives and tourism businesses, like city tours, being set up around the world to aid homeless communities in various countries. In December 2018, a similar social enterprise emerged in Dublin, called Secret Street Tours, to aid in raising awareness of the homelessness problem in the capital, the stigma that exists around it and to boost the confidence of their guides by helping them build new skills and through employment. By the end of their first year, 94% of the people who participated felt more aware and engaged with the issue of homelessness and 85% said that their perceptions of homelessness had changed. After having attended one of these tours, my perspective changed as a visitor to Dublin. I was given an insight into the past life of Shane and Kenny, our tour guides. They also shared how they have benefitted from working with Secret Street Tours and what opportunities it has given them. This is just one example of inclusive and social tourism which demonstrates how tourism can do good and how local communities can benefit from tourism initiatives. Later in this article I share a few more. First of all, I wanted to introduce the topic of Social Tourism. 


What is Social Tourism?

There has been a never-ending discussion on whether tourism should be referred to as a right or as a luxury. Those from higher social and economical backgrounds have had the disposable income to venture off on exciting getaways that have liberated their minds and immersed themselves in another culture. A holiday gives the tourist the opportunity to experience something new, to visit new communities and to also expand their thoughts and knowledge by learning from the communities they visit. Holidays have been said to maximise learning possibilities while also impacting the happiness and life satisfaction of tourists and creating positivity and optimism in their lives. If these are some of the many benefits that tourism can create for people, should it not be accessible to all? Tourism can have both financial benefits for the economy and moral benefits for society So, if tourism is treated as a right to all rather than a luxury, maybe positive effects could be seen amongst the vulnerable groups of our local communities. 


Social Tourism demands a fairer society  and calls for tourism to engage with social and health issues , such as disabilities. The International Social Tourism Organisation (ISTO) describes it as “the connections and phenomena related to the participation of people in the countries of destinations as well as of holidaymakers, of disadvantaged layers of society or those unable to participate in tourism, holidays and their advantages for whatever reason". Social Tourism has been considered as a more responsible and ethical form of tourism that benefits the tourist and the host. Through its ethical position, it aims to encourage social participation among groups who are vulnerable to isolation, through social exclusion, non-participation or accessibility issues, to name a few examples. There are three pillars to sustainable tourism, the economic pillar, the environmental pillar and the socio-cultural pillar. Much emphasis is placed on the first two and the third can sometimes be forgotten. Social tourism puts this third pillar to the fore and returns society to the equation.


Examples of social tourism initiatives

  • Lough Ree Access For All allows wheelchair users to experience life on water, something that many of us might take for granted, through their accessible boat trips. This is an example of how social tourism is a form of accessible tourism.
  • In Italy, Città Solare is a cooperative that works in social integration between locals and immigrants in environmental services, industrial manufacturing and hospitality. Their Casa di Colori accommodation offers reasonably priced rooms for short- or medium-term stays for people travelling for work, tourism, study, medical care and cultural or sporting events, while also creating employment and offering temporary accommodation to marginalised people.
  • The Family Holiday Charity offers UK families who have struggled with illness, mental health disability or domestic violence with holidays away to give them time to be together away from their daily pressures.
  • In Chile, Sernatur offers senior citizens discounted packages to travel in the low season. 


4 ways our society can benefit from social tourism initiatives


1. Raising Awareness of Important Social Issues

As mentioned before, through these homeless street tours, awareness is raised about the life of a community that is marginalised from society. This can be essential for deconstructing stigmas and thought patterns as well as encouraging tourists and the general public to engage and help in a proactive way. In the UK, Unseen Tours offer tours and experiences curated and led by their tour guides who have experienced homelessness. In Copenhagen, Street Voices offer similar services to visitors of Denmark’s capital, likewise in Prague through Pragulic. In other capitals, such as Berlin, the refugee crisis has been highlighted by sharing experiences through the eyes of those who have had to flee their homes. Refugee Voices Tours offer walking tours given by various guides from Eritrea and Syria. These social initiatives are examples of how tourism can be more inclusive to marginalised communities, increase their sense of belonging and give an opportunity to share their authentic, honest, real-life stories.


2. Combats Seasonality and Adds to Sustainable Tourism

 It has been mentioned that visitor related social tourism can combat the issue of seasonality through the offer of off-season budget holidays to groups such as the retired community and low-income families creating more sustainable destinations. In this way, the industry thrives for longer and more jobs are created. Examples such as Sernatur above spreads the season out and promotes travelling in the off-season.


3. Health and Well Being Improvements

Other benefits include health improvements and an increase in self efficacy. Research suggests that the participation in social tourism has led to positive developments in the physical, mental, cardiac and vascular health of tourists while also increasing their quality of life, well being and expanding their knowledge and learning. In a study relating to low-income earning families, research concluded that social tourism initiatives improved their family relations by giving them an opportunity to spend more time together and create a greater bond which has a positive impact on behavioural change. Travelling and tourism opens the minds of travellers, it increasing serotonin and curiosity levels and the desire to explore. Travelling is a learning experience and through this happiness levels are increased, thus improving the health and well-being of tourists.

4. Creates a More Inclusive Society

Many researchers have described social tourism as helping a local community through tourism. In this document you can see many examples of how social policies and initiatives around the world have intentionally created programmes that give opportunities to the various groups within our society with the goal of making tourism more inclusive and accessible to all.

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