ScotSpirit, a campaign to give struggling families in Scotland a break.

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A ScotSpirit family enjoying Glasgow Science Centre

For me a holiday truly is a human right, not a privilege. We all know how it feels: the chance to unwind, relax, recharge, spend quality time with our loved ones away from the stresses and strains of life. It helps us cope, it helps us feel human.

Sadly, even a short break isn’t on the cards for many families. 1 in 3 families in the UK aren’t able to get a break and in Scotland alone, over 250,000 children live in relative poverty. For many of them, there’s no opportunity to share stories with friends of where they went, no opportunity to experience new places and learn new things together as a family.

That’s why the ScotSpirit Breaks are so important and why I’m so proud of their success. In just its second year, the initiative has enabled (and that really is the operative word, I think) 420 families in Scotland – that’s over 1,600 people, most of them children – to enjoy a short break or day out in their own country, an increase of over 60% on last year.

The ScotSpirit initiative is a partnership between VisitScotland and ourselves, The Family Holiday Association, and its success has been made possible thanks to the generous spirit of businesses within the Scottish tourism industry, which have kindly provided the accommodation, transport and visitor experiences for these families to enjoy.

Seeing the coverage on the BBC, in the Daily Record and other media outlets, I am reminded of how powerful collaboration can be in making positive change.

Watch the Wednesday 20th December 2017 BBC Reporting Scotland news item –

(Click images for links)






Two thirds of the families had never had a break together before, which for many of us will be really quite shocking. Yet it’s the reality for so many struggling families in Scotland. It is heartening to see the impact that these breaks are having: they impact positively on wellbeing by reducing stress, increasing confidence and the ability to cope with challenging life circumstances, while at the same time providing a chance for families to spend quality time together away from home and develop lasting happy memories. Continue reading

For the past 40 years, social tourism has struggled for recognition in the UK. What now?

While on a family break earlier this year, my wife, daughter and I were strolling along a Majorcan beach, its thin strip of white sand framed by pine trees, and we delighted in soaking up the utter idyll of it all.  It reminded me of how lucky we are to be able to enjoy the benefits of a break away from home.

Of course, working at the Family Holiday Association makes you especially aware of the importance of holidays.

But too many families – 2.2 million at the last count –  don’t have the wherewithal to experience even a simple few days away from home far less a holiday on a Mediterranean island. Or, put another way, every year some 5 million children are denied the opportunity to walk on a beach and feel the sand between their toes.

© Copyright Michael Powell. 17 Cow Lane, Tealby, Lincs. LN8 3YB. 01673 838040.

The implications of this for the families and children concerned and wider society have rarely registered on anyone’s policy agenda.  And yet considerable research confirms that time away from the stresses and strains of everyday life can help to build happier, stronger families. The charity has always understood that its work in helping thousands of families each year, could never, on its own, be enough to meet the need.

Holidays: the social need.

It was almost exactly 40 years ago, that a report, jointly commissioned by the English Tourist Board and the Trades Union Congress, raised the need for this lack of access to be taken seriously.  The report stated that “social tourism”, offering socially disadvantaged people the possibility of taking holidays and enjoying recreational activities at low cost, was one way of addressing this inequality.

“In view of the essential role of holidays, social tourism should be recognised as an important part of a general social responsibility to all of the disadvantaged groups which have been considered in this report.”

The report was promptly forgotten about. Continue reading

Scottish Government supports social tourism

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Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop congratulated the ScotSpirit partnership work of VisitScotland and the Family Holiday Association during her keynote speech to the Tourism Society’s Symposium in Edinburgh last month.

ScotSpirit was VisitScotland’s £-multi-million international marketing programme that also contained an innovative social tourism programme that supported struggling Scottish families access hundreds of short breaks and day trips donated by over 30 tourism industry partners.

Click here to view clip of Fiona Hyslop’s speech.

The programme is being repeated this year with increased numbers of partners and aims to help even more families. Continue reading

Scottish Parliament debates social tourism

The work of the Family Holiday Association was given top billing during a recent debate in the Scottish Parliament. 

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs introducing the Inclusive Tourism debate – Tuesday 14 March 2017

Following VisitScotland’s successful ScotSpirit campaign last year and the social tourism pilot in Glasgow last October, the Scottish Government scheduled the following motion for debate that began –

“That the Parliament recognises the vital role that tourism plays in Scotland’s prosperity, not only in its direct economic impact, but in the many ways that it can help to tackle the inequalities that exist in society; notes the recent collaboration by VisitScotland, the Family Holiday Association, Historic Environment Scotland and the many industry partners to provide ScotSpirit Breaks for families in difficult circumstances, which has shown the positive impact that the industry can have on improving the lives and life-chances of people who are not able to step outside their everyday routine…” My emphasis.

The following video is only a small portion of the debate that lasted over two and a half hours and garnered cross-party support.

The full debate can be seen here and the transcript can be downloaded here – Official Report 14 March 2017. Continue reading

Such a lot has happened in the past 15 months

Searching through Google can throw up some interesting results; well, in this instance, for me anyway.

As part of constructing a brief for our work in Scotland I happened across a YouTube clip of me speaking at our charity’s 2015 Holidays Matter conference at the Excel Centre in London.  It’s footage I had not seen before.

The conference was held during that year’s World Travel Market and a WTM cameraman appeared and asked what we were doing.  I recall having the microphone thrust into my hand and being asked to talk about the event.

Looking at the video – which is only 15 months old – reminds me of how far we have come in such a short period of time, particularly in our relationship with VisitScotland.

Because shortly after the conference we were invited to partner VisitScotland in their huge ScotSpirit campaign and we also went on to successfully complete the Glasgow pilot programme.

And only last week John Kinnear, our Programme Manager, and I travelled to Glasgow to participate in a VisitScotland roundtable; the aim of which was to discuss how best to take social tourism forward north of the border.  The most significant outcome of the meeting was an agreement to see the essence of the ScotSpirit campaign repeated in 2017 but on a much expanded scale.

Continue reading

Social tourism in the UK – a short history


Social tourism, as a term, is not well known in the UK and is even less understood. 

But actually helping people access a break is a long-established practice here; indeed, a recent on-line social tourism survey carried out by the University of Nottingham and the University of Exeter of the not-for-profit sector in England and Wales alone showed that upwards of 600 registered charities provided, as part of the help they offer to people, support with breaks and day trips.

“To give children a holiday in the country does not at once fit them to become either useful workers and desirable members of the community or healthy parents of a new generation, but it affords an admirable stimulus to all manifestations of their physical and moral progress.” The Lancet[1] June 1907

From the Industrial Revolution and well into the first part of last century, the more benevolent factory owners organised holidays for their employees and, even today, some employer and trade union schemes still exist. However, there is no equivalent to be found here in the UK to compare to the social tourism facilities and structures common in mainland Europe. Continue reading

Social tourism is gaining traction in Scotland

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs meets with families and business partners involved in the VisitScotland ‘ScotSpirit’ breaks initiative at the Glasgow Science Centre.

Over the past seven years the Family Holiday Association has been actively engaging with organisations in Scotland to promote the benefits of social tourism. There have been roundtable discussions in Edinburgh and Glasgow, debates in the Scottish Parliament, discussions with politicians from the main political parties and joint projects with charities across the country.

Now seventy families facing some of the toughest challenges life can bring will be able to enjoy a day out thanks to a new partnership between VisitScotland, the Family Holiday Association and Scotland’s tourism industry.

The pilot programme was launched at the Glasgow Science Centre by the Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop who recognised the need for everyone to be able to have a holiday particularly people living in difficult circumstances .  I was particularly delighted to be able to meet and thank  Stewart Lorimer, Hilton Worldwide’s General Manager and Jannine Russell from Scotrail for their companies’ generous support and Lee Anthony of One Parent Families Scotland one of the partner organisations.

After an appeal by VisitScotland to visitor attractions, transport companies and other public bodies, over 300 people from disadvantaged backgrounds —including 200 children — will receive a much-needed break this October. Families from the West of Scotland will be among the first in Scotland to take part in the initiative. Continue reading