Social Tourism could stimulate the rural economy

The Family Holiday Association has submitted evidence to the UK parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee for their newly launched inquiry into the role of tourism in supporting rural growth in England.

Kids on dune

The charity highlighted the recent Department for Work and Pensions’ Households below average income report that asked people with a low household income to indicate the most important activities their circumstances meant that they were forgoing. The top activity by a considerable margin was “a week’s holiday for themselves and their children”. The survey found that 35% of parents wanted to do this and yet could not afford to do so. In addition, the report found that 900,000 pensioners aged 65 and over were in material deprivation in 2014/15 and that 37% of all pensioners wanted to take week’s holiday a year but cannot afford to do so. Again, taking a week’s holiday was top of the list of activities that pensioners in low income households most wanted to do.

The charity drew two lessons from the DWP study. The first is that people view taking a holiday is a very important component of their wellbeing. The second is that, if the Government is to fulfil its stated aim of delivering a more equitable society, then the very high level of non-participation in holiday-taking for families and the elderly is an issue that needs to be urgently addressed.

Seaside Walk WeekAddressing Seasonality

Seasonality dramatically impacts on the sustainability of tourism businesses in rural destinations and gives rise to considerable spare capacity.

The benefits of filling this spare capacity would extend far beyond the accommodation sector and would filter through into the wider community by improving the viability of local services and facilities used by residents of these communities, a lot of which are very marginal at the moment. This is because although social tourism would see the accommodation provided at reduced rates, the people using the spare capacity off-season would provide valuable secondary expenditure to a wide range of local businesses including post offices, transport services, shops, pubs and tourism attractions. Providing more full-time jobs by using this spare capacity for social tourism would also help retain residents in rural areas, encourage businesses to invest in training and infrastructure and result in a better standard of experience for visitors.

The Family Holiday Association submission stated that social tourism represents a solution. Facilitating out-of-season access to rural destinations for groups that currently find going on holiday an almost impossible undertaking offers the opportunity to both boost the economy of rural destinations and, at the same time, help fulfil the Government’s agenda on delivering a more equitable society.

European Evidence

There are a number of well-established and very successful social tourism programmes in operation throughout Europe that could be used as models for the UK. French, Spanish and Belgian examples provided all show the twin benefits to the recipients and to the host destinations.

the role of tourism in supporting rural growth in EnglandReplacing the Common Agricultural Policy

The charity’s submission concluded by noting that the Government has agreed that the current CAP programme will continue until 2020. It also noted that the Government has undertaken to replace the CAP programme with a new scheme that provides greater benefits to the UK rural economy and will better maintain the environmental, historical and cultural assets that form UK rural landscape. These assets are also the foundation stones of the rural tourism industry.

The current CAP programme represents payments and grants of £3.5bn over the period 2014-2020, equivalent to almost £600m per annum. The charity proposed that if the Government intends to maintain this level of funding in the CAP replacement programme with the objective of supporting the rural environment and boosting the rural economy, then one of the most cost effective ways of using a small percentage of this funding would be to support the development of a social tourism programme that would address both the issue of seasonality and the issue of providing for a more equitable society.

A copy of the charity’s submission can be downloaded here.


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