Since the start of the Holiday Participation Centre, both the offerings and the number of participants have grown.
The largest increase occurred in 2007, the year that requests for day trips were automated.
An intensive research process was conducted from October 2007 to February 2008.
At the end of the two research phases, a number of clear and practical conclusions emerged.
Collaboration by the different partner organisations with the Holiday Participation Centre is good. This finding is in line with previous holiday surveys, from which it can be concluded that the Holiday Participation Centre has developed an efficient working method. The new online booking procedure is also highly appreciated by the majority of member organisations and attractions.
Both the surveys and the focus groups show that holidays can have positive effects, also after the holiday experience itself. While the holiday cannot remove all of the holidaymaker's problems, it can be a "stepping stone" to positive changes. This stepping stone effect can bring about, for example, improved family relationships, an expanded social network or increased self-confidence. In this way, the holiday can be an integrated part of the full set of welfare services. In order to achieve this, this research also proposed opening up support of the holiday process to this full set of welfare services.
The surveys as well as the focus groups acknowledge the prominent role played by the member organisations in the holiday facilities. Their support is very important in effectively achieving the potential positive changes that a holiday can bring about. Yet it is unrealistic to expect each member organisation to offer all forms of support to each holidaymaker. Consequently, the "best practice" model proposes collaboration at local or regional level that respects and optimises the nature and expertise of the member organisations. The variety of methods used by the social organisations and the many activities that revolve around clubs and associations in Flanders, are strengths that can be optimally made use of in this regard. To this end, it is necessary that the present holiday facilities be examined and that possible local shortcomings in the facilities are addressed.
Finally, the motivations of the private sector in supporting the Holiday Participation Centre were looked into. It is the goodwill and voluntary collaboration of the private sector that makes the Flemish system of social holiday offerings so unique and cost-effective, and thus it is necessary to understand their motivations and attitudes. Many participating attractions appear to have strong humanitarian motivations and to grant discounts primarily based on these. There are, however, also more commercial motivations, such as extra advertising or the new trend toward ethical entrepreneurship. Since demand for day trips and holidays continues to increase, and many member organisations plan to expand their holiday offerings, an expansion of the offerings is vital. To obtain increased support from the private sector in the future, further specific research is needed into the effects of the support. More detailed information is also needed concerning what encourages attractions and accommodations to grant discounts. This could assist the Holiday Participation Centre in recruiting new suppliers.
The research process consisted of two components. A first component was the annual Holiday Survey that was sent to the attractions, accommodations, member organisations and holidaymakers. A second component was a series of focus groups held with the member organisations. The two sets of data were intended to address the following questions:
The Flemish social tourism facilities are unique due to the collaboration with the private sector. What motivates the private sector to give such discounts voluntarily to people with a low income?
In Flanders, the position is often defended that everyone is entitled to a holiday, and thus that social tourism is a justified government intervention. Social holidays are also linked to a series of positive effects that increase the well-being and the integration of the holidaymaker, even after the holiday, such as increased self-confidence, an expanded social network, improved family relationships and a more proactive attitude to life. Are these effects noticeable in Flanders?
Previous research showed that the role of the member organisation in achieving these positive effects is crucial. However, these member organisations in Flanders differ considerably in size, objective and way of working, and not every organisation is able to provide each form of support. How then can appropriate support be provided to each holidaymaker? Can a “best practice” model be developed for this?
The Holiday Survey examined in detail why the private sector voluntarily decided to grant discounts to the target group of the Holiday Participation Centre. The results show on the one hand that there is a strongly humanitarian awareness present among the attractions, i.e. that everyone has a right to a holiday and recreation. Thus, many attractions are involved in social tourism based on charity considerations. This is the most important motivation for almost 40% of them. Such an attitude is inconceivable in many other countries in the world, and this shows how strong the tradition of social tourism is in Flanders. On the other hand, a large group of attractions is not blind to the more commercial effects of the collaboration, such as greater name recognition, extra advertising, ethical entrepreneurship and greater numbers of visitors. Since demand for the attractions is increasing more quickly than supply, it can be important for the Centre to highlight these more commercial motivations. Further specific research is needed into the effects of the support on increased numbers of visitors and turnover. More detailed information is also needed concerning what encourages attractions and accommodations to grant discounts. This could assist the Holiday Participation Centre in recruiting new suppliers.
Both the surveys and the focus groups show that holidays can have positive effects for the holidaymakers, also after the holiday experience itself. These effects were grouped into four categories, i.e. an expanded social network, a more proactive attitude to life, greater mental strength and increased use of public transport. In addition to the right to a holiday, which is strongly respected in the long tradition of social tourism in Flanders, these positive effects are a further justification of the holiday facilities provided by the Holiday Participation Centre. A holiday is more than “a short time away from home”. It can increase the quality of life and integration of specific groups in society.
While the holiday cannot remove all of the holidaymaker’s problems, it can be a “stepping stone” to positive changes. In this way, the holiday can be an integrated part of the full set of welfare services. In order to achieve this, this research also proposed opening up support of the holiday process to this full set of welfare services.
The role of the member organisations in the holiday facilities was emphasised in the surveys as well as in the focus groups. Their support is very important in effectively achieving the potential positive changes that a holiday can bring about. Yet it is unrealistic to expect member organisations to offer all forms of support to each holidaymaker.
The reasons for this include, for example, the size of the organisation, its objectives (organisations that for example only work with children have little influence on family life), the expertise of the organisation (not every organisation can provide specialist help), etc. For this reason, the research report proposes a “best practice” model that can achieve this. The basis of the “best practice” model is the concept of progress, i.e. progress from one type of holiday to another and the progress of the holiday experience to a positive change in the daily life of the holidaymaker.
This is the “stepping stone” function cited above. The barriers that confront the holidaymaker differ from person to person, e.g. some holidaymakers have little experience with holidays and don’t know what to expect, whereas others prefer not to leave the home environment for a night. Some also find the planning very difficult (how to get to the destination, what to do once they are there, how to save money, what to pack?). Some holiday types present less of a barrier than others, and one of the Holiday Participation Centre’s strengths is the wide range of holiday types it offers. The graph below shows the progress in helping the holidaymaker overcome barriers and move from one type of holiday to another.
Such progress often occurs based on growing self-confidence, an improved bond with the member organisation or the support of a social network. These are also the elements that make positive changes possible after the holiday.
Progress can be made possible in various ways, e.g. by adequate preparation for the holiday, by offering an appropriate type of holiday, by supervision during the holiday and by support after return. The model proposes collaboration between the organisations, and an integration of the holiday facilities into the entire welfare services package. To this end, awareness needs to be raised concerning the role and effects of the holiday, and the role that member organisations can play in this.
A proposal was also made to map out the holiday facilities and make local forms of collaboration possible. The “best practice” model also underscores the importance of effective communication to the target group, and shows that communication skills suitable for a general public are not always adequate for this target group. A personal approach, based on the trust between the holidaymaker and the member organisation, is often best obtained via direct, verbal contact.