Édition #5

The benefits of group holidays for children and teenagers

Clotilde DESARMÉNIEN Director of Savoie Mont Blanc Juniors
A children’s group holiday, whether it is a school trip or part of a holiday programme (holiday camp, mini-camp, sports course, etc.), is a living space that is a complement to their daily family life and school. Being away from parents and their usual environment plays an active role in learning know-how and interpersonal skills from a very young age and throughout adolescence.

At holiday camps, children are invited to do fun activities, where enjoyment and discovery are on the agenda every day. During school trips, the emphasis is on learning, in line with the school year’s educational project. Whatever the type of holiday, the development of life skills and know-how is an ever-present theme. Children learn to become more independent, look after their belongings, pack their bags, etc. Each of them is working on connecting with others: interacting with new acquaintances, helping each other out, playing together, preparing menus together… The children always come out of it more resourceful and caring. Studies have also shown that the longer the stay, the more the children’s self-confidence and social skills grow.

Group holidays also have outdoor activities in common, inviting young people to stretch their legs outside the classroom. With a lack of time in natural surroundings and mobility being increasingly observed among the younger generation, group holidays are the ideal opportunity to reconnect them with activities and environments that contribute to their health: walking, running, breathing in fresh air, honing their balance… all benefits that contribute to better health, all the more beneficial in areas where forests, mountain pastures, lakes and rivers have soothing and re-energizing effects. It was with health in mind that the first group holidays in the mountains of Savoie and Haute-Savoie were introduced.

THE SOCIETAL AND ECONOMIC CHALLENGES OF GROUP HOLIDAYS FOR CHILDREN

A group holiday is built around the challenges identified for the smooth running of our society: finding one’s place and defining one’s role within a group, getting to know and respecting people from different backgrounds, working as part of a team, adapting to collective rules, protecting and making intelligent use of natural resources, etc.

Contributing to these trips is a way of helping new generations to build the society of the future. In fact, we cannot help but wonder about the link between the rise in individualistic and unkind behaviour in society and the decline in policies encouraging school trips, the reduction in company works council subsidies for holiday camps, the large number of local authorities that has stopped managing holiday centres, the end of military service, etc. In short, a range of factors that encourage collective action, living together and, consequently, a certain balance in society.

The stakes of these group holidays as a factor in the renewal of a customer base is well established. The memories of holiday camps and school trips are so vivid in people’s minds that most of them come back with their families to rediscover those childhood memories. This is why a love of the mountains should be passed on from a very early age. In this sense, group holidays are the perfect way for children to discover and become attached to this environment and project themselves into it later in life. Discovering professions and activities can inspire vocations and passions that will bring children back to the area.

“When a group accommodation closes its doors, a whole area of a region’s economic activity is affected.”

Savoie and Haute-Savoie are the leading departments for these group holidays, with 2.9 million overnight stays by groups of children in 2019 (1.4 million on school trips and 1.5 million in holiday centres), representing 550,000 children and teenagers a year. It should be noted that this exceeds the number of nights spent in open-air accommodation (2.3 million).

The historic development of this type of accommodation in Savoie Mont Blanc can also be seen at regional level: In the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, 81% of the overnight stays in this type of group accommodation in 2022 were in Savoie Mont Blanc.

Unfortunately, around ten group holiday centres go out of business every year. It is important to remember the social framework in which this tourist activity takes place. The economic models are very fragile and the priority is to ensure that these holidays are affordable for the general public. The vast majority of schools, youth facilities and parents have very tight budgets. Faced with these challenges and the facilities’ economic model, many of them can no longer afford the heavy investment required to refurbish them and bring them up to standard. The pandemic had a major impact on the sector and current inflation is adding to the difficulties. Keeping holiday prices accessible is becoming a complex issue.

When a holiday centre closes its doors, a whole section of a region’s economic activity is affected. The school trip ecosystem involves a large number of professional players: accommodation (holiday centres, youth hostels, etc.), activity providers (nature instructors, mountain guides, heritage guides, sailing clubs, ski schools, museums, leisure and sports sites, art instructors, educational farms, etc.), public transport (coaches, trains), retailers (equipment hire, souvenir shops, dairies, etc.) and all the technical service providers supplying food, hygiene products and equipment.

Unlike tourist activities that are closely linked to the school holiday periods, this activity also offers work for professionals during other periods, thanks to school trips.

The closure of any group accommodation represents a major economic and social loss for the region, both in the short and long term.

“In mountain regions, everyone must start rethinking the traditional ‘school ski trip’ as a ‘mountain trip’.”

TO BOLSTER GROUP HOLIDAYS, THE CONTINUED EXISTENCE OF GROUP ACCOMMODATION MUST BE ENSURED

The Savoie Mont Blanc Juniors (SMBJ) association contributes on a daily basis to the sustainability of the sector that hosts and manages groups of children by representing, supporting and promoting it and facilitating its contacts with those who plan school trips and holiday camps. This associative network, backed by the Savoie and Haute-Savoie departmental councils, brings together the region’s professional players. Considering the leverage it provides, this associative model has been replicated in other departments, such as the Isère, Drôme and Auvergne.

On a local level, local authorities and tourist offices can help the sector to structure itself around actions intended to improve the quality of group reception, develop partnerships between players, facilitate travel, adapt facilities, define a regional identity and design theme holidays with adapted prices, etc.

In addition to this, supporting initiatives to ensure the long-term viability of collective accommodation mainly involve engineering assistance, whether for compliance with standards, the implementation of obligations to reduce energy consumption, the Egalim¹ law, etc.

In mountain regions, the traditional “school ski trip” must evolve in everyone’s minds towards a “school mountain trip”. Adapting children’s holidays to climate change is a project that needs to be worked on collectively, in terms of supply, regulations and communication.

Lastly, local authority funding schemes and endowment funds such as Enfance et Montagne² remain the most effective means of collecting funds for school trips and holiday centres. With current inflation, they will be even more so.

Apart from the financial aspect, going on a group holiday must once again become a given in people’s minds, whether to meet the economic challenges facing our regions, or to develop the benefits and life skills of our younger citizens.


1 Egalim law: a law on balanced trade relations in the agricultural and food sector and healthy, sustainable food accessible to all. This is a French law from 2018 resulting from the États généraux de l’alimentation (French National Food Conference) launched in 2017.
2 Launched in 2020 by the French National Ski Instructors Association (SNMSF).

 

Clotilde DESARMÉNIEN
Clotilde DESARMÉNIEN
Clotilde has a qualification in “Promotion and development of tourist facilities” and has worked for local authorities as a tourism representative. In 2016, she joined the Savoie Mont Blanc Juniors team, with the aim of structuring and developing this associative tool dedicated to the bi-departmental sector of socio-professionals who host and manage groups of children.