Hunziker refers to social tourism as a phenomena that encourages the participation in travel ‘by the economically weak or otherwise disadvantaged elements in the society’ hence, it is generally accepted that social tourism aims to guarantee the right to holidays and access to tourism for all social classes, particularly those with limited resources (1957). Based on its public nature, it seems predictable that the Government should be responsible for this in India. However, in the Asian context, it is generally seen that the government fails to put in place definite policies to promote such tourism. This clearly shows evidence of lack of awareness, although in India some initiatives have definitely emerged over the years.
Position of social tourists & benefits Tourism is one of the emerging industries capable of shaping the entire economic potential of a nation. India, an emerging market economy, is experiencing a substantial growth in the tourism industry with the sector contributing to a large proportion of the National income and generating huge employment opportunities. It accounts for 6.8% of their GDP making it the third largest foreign exchange earner while currently ranking 42nd in the UNWTO rankings for foreign tourist travels (Turner, 2015).
India is a democratic country which means that the government has played a significant role in tourism development however, the right to travel by the disadvantaged has been rather low on the agenda (Verna, 2015). This is because, social tourism is a relatively new phenomenon that is more popular in Europe and has only began to develop in India. The concept, social tourism encompasses a broad range of activity from welfare tourism, voluntourism to accessible tourism that policies directly aimed at this sector still remains relatively unclear. Evidence suggests that social tourism is an extension of tourism through the integration of welfare policies to ensure that everyone is entitled to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay (Diekmann & McCabe, 2011).
Based on Hunziker’s explanation, India does have social tourists. These include the elderly, the poor children and families, the working population, the disabled and the youth population. Social tourism aims to benefit India economically in the sense that visitors get the opportunity to visit rural/slums, volunteer, purchase items as well as sightseeing. On the other hand, Hazel suggests that these policies would benefit the disadvantaged and socially excluded individuals and families more in the sense that, it helps relief from stressful or mundane situations and a break from routine and the encouragement of social interaction (2005).
Indian tourism Industry/ Policymakers
Initially, tourist development was largely an unplanned exercise for India that was neither funded nor guided by the government. Worldwide, the number of International tourists was still limited and among those tourists there were only few who considered going to such a place as India simply because the country was characterized by mass poverty and underdevelopment. It was not until 1956 that the development of tourism was taken up in a planned manner coinciding with the Second Five Year Plan.
This was the creation of the Indian Tourism Development Corporation in 1966 which was mainly setup to develop tourist infrastructure and services. However, these tourists services offered were limited in operations, simply because the Government did not pay much attention at the time (Baken, & Bhagavatula 2010). But the Sixth Plan marked the beginning of a new era when the public sector began to consider tourism as a major instrument for social integration and economic development (Lalnunmawia, H 2016).
Tourism activities only began to gain momentum in the 80’s. This was partly due to the prospect of the country holding the Asian Games of 1982 so that same year, the National policy was announced whereby the Government gave a sixth point plan to put facilities in place to accommodate these visitors. The main aim of this policy was mainly to ‘promote balanced socio-economic development, promote and preserve the rich heritage and culture of India and also create employment opportunities’ (Abhuyankar & Dalvie 2013). Whereas, tourism had previously been left to the private sector, the level of Government intervention began to increase, thus paving the way for other forms of tourism development such as the awareness of social tourism.
Over the years, the government of India has taken on significant steps to promote the growth of travel and tourism sector. The first real action made towards social tourism as a cause for concern was through the introduction of the new tourism policy 2002 by the central government. This policy was developed based on the idea that tourism can be used as a development tool in order to generate ‘high quality, mass employment and prosperity among vulnerable groups in backward areas’ which all aims towards encouraging domestic tourism among the Indian population. This policy not only helped to build India as a ‘global brand’ in the world of tourism but pave the way for developments linked to social tourism (Baken & Bhagavatula 2010).