"Holidays to be accessible for everyone" 
Charles Etienne Bélanger, Director of the International Social Tourism Organisation (ISTO)
Everybody is familiar with tourism, but what does social tourism mean?
The concept of social tourism is reflected differently between cultures but the values stay the same: accessibility, sustainability, solidarity, respect for local population and heritage. More concrete, social tourism wants holidays to be accessible for everyone, especially youngsters, elderly, families and disabled people.
Or as Professor Louis Jolin (University of Québec in Montreal) puts it clearly: “Social tourism refers to programmes, events, and activities that enable all population groups – and particularly youth, families, retirees, individuals with modest incomes, and individuals with restricted physical capacity – to enjoy tourism, while also attending to the quality of relations between visitors and host communities“.
The main theme for your upcoming World Social Tourism Conference 2014 is "Tourism based on development - Unity in Diversity". Why?
The idea behind this theme is that, as mentioned before, social tourism means different things in different continents and countries. There exists a lot of diversity within the aspects of social tourism, such as solidarity tourism, community tourism, accessible tourism etc. But in the end, they all have the same fundamental values: a human and social approach.
This congress theme will focus on four lines of reflection which are tourism and inclusion, tourism and education, tourism and solidarity, and tourism and sustainability. Through plenary sessions, panels and workshops, the congress will present a rich and diversified panorama of “development tourism" in different continents.
For the first time the International Social Tourism Organisation (ISTO) is organizing its world congress in South America in São Paulo, Brazil. How come?
It is thanks to the invitation of the Serviço Social do Comércio – São Paulo (SESC SP), the oldest member in the Americas - that ISTO is organising this conference in South America. Created in 1946, the SESC is an initiative of the Brazilian business community that started to offer, in partnership with the government, an educational and cultural alternative to a Brazil that was rapidly urbanizing and industrializing.
SESC economic model is based on the fact that companies in the commerce and service sector pay a compulsory contribution, which today is equivalent to 1.5 percent of their payroll, to a fund. They have 33 centers located in 19 different cities. In 2013, more than 21 million people visited SESC’s cultural centers.
For those who cannot come to São Paulo from 7 to 10 October 2014, can they follow the World Social Tourism Conference remotely?
There won't be a live stream, but the conferences will be recorded and the videos will be available on the Congress' website some days after the event.
What are the main three challenges for ISTO today?
POLICY - The inclusion of social tourism policies within public policies, to gather public deciders as actions have to be local and global. We have to change the view that most politicians have on tourism: a second zone activity. Tourism is a unique multi-faceted sector, which should be considered more seriously.
DEVELOPMENT - Promoting social tourism as a driving force for the development of domestic tourism. Encourage tourism operators and visitors to support development projects in local host communities.
REAL ACCESS TO HOLIDAYS - How to give real access to travel and holidays to more people, which is the reason for the existance of social tourism... without damaging the environment (impact of travel by plane, water consumption, etc.) and heritage and without disturbing the destinations?
The International Social Tourism Organisation (ISTO) is an international non-profit association, whose aim is to promote access to tourism for all, and more particularly for low-income population groups. With its worldwide network of 150 members, the ISTO is nowadays considered the true world organization of social tourism. ISTO members include associations, trade unions, cooperatives, private organizations, as well as public authorities in charge of tourism. The World Social Tourism Conference 2014 will take place from 7 to 10 October 2014 in São Paulo, Brazil. w w w. oits-isto. org