Going on holiday can be life-changing

A story told by Scott McCabe England, Nottingham

Scott McCabe is Professor of Marketing & Tourism, University of Nottingham (England). He and his team have been conducting research into social tourism for years. He works to raise awareness of the personal development potential that holidays afford. We interviewed Professor McCabe at the ISTO Global Social Tourism Conference in Zagreb.

Social tourism offers holiday opportunities to people who would otherwise struggle to go on holiday for financial, logistical or practical reasons. According to Professor Scott McCabe, holiday experiences can be life-changing. Social tourism also has societal advantages, and in order to understand these better, scientific research needs to be carried out which goes beyond the direct economic impact. The effects on healthcare costs and other factors are examples of further areas which should be analysed in greater detail.


Professor McCabe, can you tell us about a time when you saw the power of social tourism at work?

Scott McCabe: “I’ll always remember the story of a mother who took her children for a brief holiday by the sea in England. Her son, who had a serious skin complaint, spent the whole week in the swimming pool. She said that not only was her kid having so much fun, his skin problems had even improved. This mother had probably been looking forward to a relaxing holiday at the coast, and enjoying some extra quality time with her family, but the holiday benefitted them in unexpected ways. I think that’s so important, the fact that holiday experiences can surpass the expectations people have at the outset.

What can we learn from this story in connection with social tourism?

Scott McCabe: “Stories like this show that the impact of holidays goes deeper than the obvious advantages that come to mind such as getting away from home, seeing new things, meeting new people and so on. I think social tourism can transform people’s lives. It can result in people seeing their life differently, getting a new perspective on things. That’s why I think that when it comes to social tourism we need to look beyond the short-term effects which are visible on the surface. We need to pay closer attention to the long-term impact these holidays can have on people’s lives.

Can social tourism help to reinforce these long-term effects? 

Scott McCabe: “Definitely. As researcher Lynn Minnaert has argued, it is important to consider people’s personal circumstances and customise their holiday to suit their specific needs. Social tourism organisations and social workers need to adopt an individualised approach and look at things from a development-oriented point of view.

How can they do that?

Scott McCabe: “They need to carefully consider what’s best for the person, and see holidays as part of a more general approach to life. Slowly introduce leisure activities which are suitable for their needs and situation. Anticipate risks and reduce them, so that people can be assured of a good experience rather than a fiasco. Take things step by step, so that people can develop their own abilities and build holiday experiences into their lives. Then, after a while, people will start deciding to take holidays of their own accord, for their own sake and their children’s sake. In the end, people will be able to plan their own holidays without needing help from external intermediaries.”

The social sector has an important task on its hands in that respect. Is there enough awareness among the social services of how important holidays can be in people’s lives?

Scott McCabe: “I’m not sure that’s the case, not in the United Kingdom anyway. The public social sector has been through a raft of restructuring measures and budget cuts. The roles of professionals are changing, and workloads are heavy. Raising awareness of the importance of social tourism is still a challenge in our country, mainly because the sector is run by primarily small-scale organisations with only very small budgets for getting their message across in the media. There are organisations that try to raise awareness of the topic, such as the Family Holidays organisation, or the efforts that are now being made in connection with Visit Scotland. They are making major efforts to draw people’s attention to the importance of holidays.”

How can research contribute to this?

Scott McCabe: “The academic world is trying to contribute, particularly by analysing the direct societal added value that social tourism can offer. Plenty of research has already been done into the economic added value of social tourism. Now I want to look at the effects on society. For example: how does taking a holiday affect the number of doctor’s visits an elderly person needs, or the amount of help required by an elderly person living alone? Do holidays help people to live a more active and healthy life? Do they increase quality of life? Can social tourism help reduce the need for things like anti-depressants? I think so, but we need proof. And that’s something we don’t have – at least, not yet.”

Authored by Griet Bouwen Bilzen