Systems of social tourism in the European Union: a critical review
Recently, the European Commission (EC) has placed a focus on social tourism issues within Europe. The underlying logic of this intervention is that social tourism aims for social equity, aiding access to tourism to provide fair tourism for all citizens and contributing towards sustainability of the European tourism industry. By linking social tourism to sustainable development, the EC sets priorities for future policies to foster mobility within the community. Yet, most European countries have different approaches, priorities and diverse ideological interpretations of the role of the state in tourism provision. Consequently, systems and practices vary strongly between nations and seem to put the ideal of a common approach a very distant prospect. This paper outlines the context of these approaches to social tourism to highlight these challenges and to propose initiatives for the future integration of the European social tourism sector. It presents a comparative analysis of social tourism systems in seven European countries with important social tourism structures. The paper assesses different interpretations of social tourism, examining development and employment issues. In addition, the paper assesses the links with the commercial tourism sector and provides recommendations for future development in the social tourism sector and consequences for European policy.