The history of Social Tourism

The beginning of Social Tourism

Tourism as in its present form only appeared in the 19th century. At that time, it was accessible to a high society elite only since the laws ruling labour did not include holidays for employees, who had to go to work every day, including Sundays. Therefore, possibilities for most of the population to go on holidays were very limited. 

The actions of social tourism started in 1936, when the International Labour Organization (ILO) agreed on the Holiday with Pay Convention (Convention no. 52). The substance of this convention has also been mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, where it is said that "everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay". 

The right on holidays

We can consequently say that social tourism was born out of an ethical demand. This demand was claimed by activists, who justified their legitimacy with a specific right, i.e. the right to tourism, as a natural extension to the right to work, to rest and to holidays with pay. 

It was only after World War II ended that social policies about tourism appeared in some countries, in particular thanks to the aid to buildings (subsidy for building, renovating and updating equipment and infrastructures) and the aid to people (measures taken to help people go on holidays). Numerous associations were created as well, under the auspices of trade unions, family movements, works councils, etc., which all had one common objective: to develop and expand social tourism. 

Social Tourism at International level

On top of those different associations, which were often operating on a national level, at the end of the war were also created federations, on a national or international level, bringing together organizations striving for the same goal. It was the case of the International Camping and Caravaning Federation and the International Youth Hostel Federation

In that context, the International Bureau of Social Tourism (BITS) was created a few years later, in 1963. Its main funder, Arthur Haulot, ensured for many years the promotion and development of social tourism at an international level.

logo oitsIn 2010, the name of the BITS was changed into the International Social Tourism Organisation ISTO. Since the congress that created BITS in Brussels, ISTO has changed dramatically, and so have the world and the society. Now more than ever, ISTO should be the voice of those who cannot or have difficulties to go on holidays. It should be an organisation that raises public and social stakeholders awareness of the importance of tourism and the right to go on holidays. It should also be at the forefront of advocating ethics in tourism, through the promotion of values. 

From its starting point, Europe, ISTO expanded to the Americas and also to Africa to share and strengthen its convictions. Let's keep working together to serve the just and good cause that brings us all together, to pursue the dream of a more humane, environmentally friendly and accessible form of tourism!