A Conversation with Jean Marc Mignon

Jean Marc Mignon
President of ISTO
International Social Tourism Organisation

In the occasion of the European Social Tourism Forum 2013 and the ISTO 50th anniversary, Jlag has the pleasure to interview Mr. Jean Marc Mignon, President of ISTO. Founded in 1963, ISTO aims at “favouring the development of social tourism in the international framework”. As of now, ISTO counts more than 165 member organizations in almost 35 countries.
Here is the official website: http://www.bits-int.org

 

  • We wish to open the conversation with a short explanation about social tourism nowadays.  Which is the best definition to mainstream?  Which are the main challenges?

“Social tourism” is, indeed, an expression which is not understood the same way in all countries; that is why, at ISTO, we like to speak of “tourism for all”, meaning that our ambition is to give access to tourism and holidays away from home to more people.

A second point which should be added is that “social tourism” is the combination of two aspects: the action of the tourism operators which identify themselves as actors of social tourism, either in favour of children and youth, families with low wages, or senior citizens and disabled people, and the action of public authorities which, through specific dispositions or policies, contribute to facilitate the access to tourism or holidays (for instance through the creation of “holiday checks”).

We see “social tourism” as a concept having a real modernity, as the rate of those who can afford going on holidays has been declining in for the last few years, even in .wealthy countries, not to mention continents like Africa or South America.

  • From October 1st to October 3rd 2013 the ISTO will host the 7th edition of the European Forum on Social Tourism, during which a memorandum on social tourism will be issued. Will the memorandum represent a new European policy document? Can you tell us more?

ISTO has decided to prepare and adopt this Memorandum due to the political calendar of the European Union: in the spring of 2014, a new European Parliament will be elected by the European citizens and in this present fall, the Commission and the Parliament are discussing the budget for the 2014-2020 period. We have, then, considered that it was a special momentum to remind the future European deciders that, within a European tourism policy that the Lisbon treaty now makes possible, there should be a social dimension; there is no doubt that an increase of the departure rate might stimulate first domestic tourism, but also what we could call a “European domestic tourism” with all the positive aspects on the economy and employment. ISTO will thus publish, on the day of the celebration of its 50th anniversary, October 4, at the European Parliament, a memorandum structured around 10 points which will be widely diffused in the European instances and member States.

We do not see this Memorandum as a global document on tourism, but as a contribution to the global reflection on tourism policies which should be led for this new political period being open.

And finally, I would like to add that the development of an intra-European tourism for more citizens could affect positively the feeling of European identity, which has really been jeopardized in the last years, by the crisis and by some political choices.

  • Which role can European Institutions play in social tourism? Which is the role for the EU Member States?

We see the European institutions as a possible catalyser of social tourism, completing what the national States and Regions – which took an increasing importance in this particular field – do or should do. An example is the recent financing of a European platform of social tourism (www.ecalypso.eu), but we would like to see Europe lastingly engaged in this support, with dissemination of good practices, incentives and financial support. However, there is no doubt that the main action still has to be led by member states, as tourism is still not considered as a main European priority.

  • 2013 is an important year for ISTO as it celebrates its 50th birthday. Which changes have you seen so far? What innovative initiatives and projects have you seen in social tourism along the years? Any bad practice?

The fact is that the need for a social dimension of tourism is still unquestionable, as I told at the beginning of our conversation; not more than circa 55 % of European citizens go on holidays, though it has to be precised that the reason for non departure is not only the lack of economic means.

But, over the years, fiscal changes have occurred, lining up most of the non profit sector in tourism with the profit one, and a demand for quality and sustainability has emerged, impacting on the cost of the social tourism offer.

However the two best practices created over the past decades have been the “chèque vacances” in Switzerland, France and Hungary and the programs in favour of senior citizens launched in Spain, Portugal and now in France, by the States.

  • Last but not least, the social tourism discussions are of huge interest among the international community, but there is still a poor knowledge that can lead to ineffective decisions. What are the recommendations that you feel you want to share with the stakeholders who wish to take actions in the social tourism field?

Undoubtedly, we have to be better understood, and it is our responsibility to be more precise, more practical; we have to be able to propose a larger definition of what we mean by social tourism as we are convinced that the interest and the need do concern the whole international community; the European Commission and UNWTO do help us. But I would like to say to the stakeholders interested by enlarging access to holidays to more people that it is of course a global interest that we are sharing and that they are all welcome in a collective action and projects, such as ecalypso.

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