WLO has been promoting leisure as integral to social, cultural, economic and sustainable environmental development worldwide since 1952. As a member driven organization with a worldwide representation, WLO and for 70 years has been achieving its mission, vision and goals through its programs and activities that are developed according to four main strands: advocacy, research, education and knowledge transfer.
This year, with new goals in the horizon, and despite the global challenges that organizations and individuals are facing, our efforts and dedication will assure that the road to advocate for leisure worldwide, with your company, will be a great drive!
The registration and certificate of incorporation of the International Recreation Association (IRA) in the state of New York happened on May 28, 1952. IRA was initially supported financially by the National Recreation Association (NRA). The first offices were located on the plaza of the United Nations (UN) at 345 East 46th Street, New York.
United Nations Consultive Status & World Leisure Journal
United Nations Consultive Status and World Leisure Journal
As a result of IRA’s international mission and focus, the organization sought collaborative relationships with the UN. The Consultative status was granted to the organization by the UN in 1962 and continues to this day.
Cooperation with UNESCO began in the 1960s with a training course for youth camps in South America. In 1962, UNESCO granted the organization its non-governmental organization affiliate status.
In 1958, nearly immediately after the founding of the organization, a publication was created known as the IRA Bulletin (1958–1972) providing a summary of topics of interest to the readership and encouraging individuals to offer articles and photographs. The purpose of the publication was to keep members of the organization and affiliates informed of trends, developments and new ideas in leisure and recreation with an international perspective.
As the organization changed its title from IRA to WLRA (World Leisure and Recreation Association), the name of the bulletin also changed from the IRA Bulletin to the WLRA Bulletin (1972–1980). The WLRA Journal (1981–2000) and World Leisure Journal (2000–present) have served as the major conduit for disseminating information regarding the activities of the organization.
The first edition of the Charter for Leisure was adopted by the International Recreation Association (IRA) in 1970. It was revised by the then World Leisure and Recreation Association (WLRA) in 1979 and by the World Leisure Organization (WLO) in 2000. The current version was approved for publication by the WLO Board of Directors in April 2020, following extensive consultation with leisure-related organizations and WLO members from 2018-2020.
In 1973, IRA rebranded itself to become the WLRA. The main consideration for changing the name of the organization was the fact that IRA had begun to regionalize its works as noted in the establishment of a European Regional Leisure and Recreation Association in 1972.
The World Leisure’s Commission Program was initiated in the 1970s. The Commission Program was an ongoing effort to support the organization’s three current main objectives of research, information dissemination and advocacy. The Commission Program provided opportunities for individuals to join with others of similar interest to advance collective concerns on a global basis.
The World Leisure Honors and Awards program has evolved over time. In 1970, the Thomas and Ruth International Scholarship was established in honor of the founding director general and his wife. Past awards included an International Merit Award, a Community Excellence Award and an Award for Excellence in Leadership. These awards, with the exception of the Thomas and Ruth International Scholarship, were discontinued in 1996. Starting in 2006, a new WLO honors and awards structure was initiated. Prominent among this award structure was the development of the World Leisure International Innovation Prize Award proposed in 2000. The Hillel Ruskin Memorial Scholar Lecture Award was conceived and was first made in 2008. The Cornelius Westland Humanitarian Award and The George Torkildsen Literary Award were first made in 2010.
The World Leisure Congress has been one of the most significant and important events offered by the organization. The first International Recreation Congress was held in Philadelphia, USA, in 1956. Other World Recreation Congresses followed in Osaka and Kyoto, Japan, in 1964, The Geneva Symposium, Switzerland, in 1967, Asian Recreation in Bangalore, India, in 1969, and the European Recreation Congress in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1972.
The current congress format was first adopted and implemented in 1988, with the WL Congress held in 1988 at Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada, which focused on the theme ‘‘Free Time, Culture and Society.’’ Starting in 1996, congresses were held biennially and continue to this day. The most recent were held in Sao Paul, Brazil, in 2018, and in Pinggu-Beijing, China, in 2021. The upcoming 17th World Leisure Congress and 18th World Leisure Congress will take place in Dunedin, New Zealand, and Breda-Rotterdam, The Netherlands, respectively. The World Leisure Congresses aim to become a global platform in the field of leisure: to meet face to face, to experience, to interact and to learn from peers from all over the world.
Originally known as World Leisure International Centers of Excellence, the concept of what is today known as World Leisure Centers of Excellence (WLCE) emerged in 1988 at the World Leisure Congress held at Lake Louise, Canada. Currently, the WLCE program is an international graduate/post-graduate network which allows colleges and universities to affiliate with WLO to establish and provide graduate educational programs and research centers focused on play, recreation, the arts, culture, sport, festivals and celebrations, health and fitness, and travel and tourism with an international dimension. It gives students, educators, researchers, and professionals the chance to participate and contribute to uniquely theme-focused educational endeavors. The current WLCE network is comprised of seven Centers of Excellence: Vancouver Island University, Canada; Breda University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands; University of Otago, New Zealand; Zhejiang University, China; University of Sao Paulo, Brazil; University of Pécs, Hungary; and Université du Québec a Trois-Riviere, Canada.
In 1998, the Sao Paulo Declaration on Leisure and Globalization was drafted at the 5th World Leisure Congress. This statement recognized that globalization offered hope as well as challenge to the well-being of the individual and community, and called upon different actors to accept and promote that leisure enhances individual and social development.
In 2001, the World Leisure Chapters program was conceptualized to enable individuals and groups to affiliate with the organization. The aim was to allow groups to pursue the broader goals of the organization on a local basis to meet their own particular needs and interests in advancing leisure.
In 2002, WLO signed a contract with the City of Hangzhou, China, to implement a worldwide exposition. The 1st World Leisure Expo was held in 2006 and it was combined with the 9th World Leisure Congress focused on the theme ‘‘Leisure Changes Peoples’ Lives.’’ The World Leisure Expo continued in 2011, 2017 and 2019 in the City of Hangzhou offering a series of exhibits, special events, festivals and training programs designed to showcase and demonstrate leisure’s potential to improve our quality of life.
In 2007 the association’s Board of Directors decided to change the name from the World Leisure and Recreation Association, Inc. to the World Leisure Organization (WLO).
In 2008, a third major public policy statement was adopted by the organization, the Quebec Declaration – Leisure, Essential to Community Development. This statement was a product of the 10th World Leisure Congress and was organized into five major articles. The Declaration calls for enhancing the quality of life and wellbeing for individuals, advancing a community social capital and promoting democratic life.
In 2009, the WLO Board of Directors established a framework for the World Leisure Academy. As a program of the WLO, the Academy seeks to promote leisure concerns through its advocacy, research and educational endeavors and acknowledges the contributions of researchers, educators, practitioners, and others tasked with advancing leisure. In 2010, the World Leisure Academy held its inaugural meeting and induction ceremony at the 11th World Leisure Congress in Chuncheon, South Korea.
In 2009 an initiative started to craft a new and updated strategic plan entitled “World Leisure Organization: Enhancing the Human Condition Priorities & Strategies (2009-2014)”. The next WLO strategic plan was adopted in December 2015 in Atlanta, USA, by voice vote – “WLO Strategic Plan (2015-2020)”. The current strategic plan covering 2021-2025 was adopted by online vote in December 2020.
The 1st edition of World Leisure Games was hosted in 2010 in Chuncheon City, South Korea, with the theme of ‘‘Improving Quality of Life through Leisure Experience’’. The 2nd and the 3rd World Leisure Games were hosted by Qingdao City, China, in 2015 and 2019. The most recent editions of the WL Games have gathered several thousand participants and have been designed to encourage participation, both as individuals and within teams, from around the world.
The World Leisure Field School program was initiated at the 2014 WL Congress in Mobile, Alabama, USA. In collaboration with the University of South Alabama, it has now become one of the most successful and active programs of WLO for the youngest leisure community. The second WL Field School was organized in 2016 in Durban, South Africa, and was connected to the WLO conference choices, challenges and consequences. Having learned from the delivery of two successful experiential education Field Schools, the third WL Field School was delivered in Sao Paulo, Brazil, during the 2018 WL Congress.
In 2016, WLO Scientific and Technical moved to Bilbao, Spain.
In 2017, Special Interest Groups terms of references were adopted. During 2016 LARASA World Leisure Congress in Durban, South Africa, and in an open debate, WL Commissions were among the topics discussed. Considering the comments received from all sources, a bottom-up approach was put in place. Commissions were changed to an open and accessible Special Interest Groups format with a member-generated and member-driven approach. World Leisure Special Interest Groups (SIGs) work towards the future challenges in the field of leisure research, education, knowledge transfer, and advocacy. Currently there are eleven (11) dedicated SIGs led by experts in the area.
In 2017, the designation “World Leisure Communities of Excellence”was defined. The program is bestowed by WLO upon communities that have successfully used leisure in its widest forms to reinvent themselves and to improve the economic, social and cultural lives of their citizens. These communities have also made substantive contributions consistent with advancing the mission of WLO. In total, four (4) communities have obtained the designation.
The World Leisure Study Tour started in 2017. It was organized in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, in collaboration with and led by European Network on Cultural Management and Policy (ENCATC). The second study tour was organized in 2018 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in collaboration with SESC. A third study tour was organized in 2019 in Marrakech, Morocco, in collaboration with and led by ENCATC. World Leisure educational study tours offer first-hand site visit learning experiences for professionals, scholars, public/private sector professionals and anybody related to the field of leisure studies.
In 2019, the Strategic Priority Grants (SPGs) program was designed and announced to support member projects that further the development of leisure as a means to enhance the human condition. WLO has distributed over $40,000 USD in funding to projects in support of leadership, advocacy, research, education, and engagement initiatives that promote socio-cultural development, encourage sustainable economic growth, or improve the quality of people’s lives that are aligned with the WLO’s mission, vision, and strategic plan.
The first Leisure Experience Research Opportunity (LERO) was organized in parallel with the World Leisure Expo and Forum 2019, held in Hangzhou, China. This new initiative provided an opportunity for students of the World Leisure Centers of Excellence to participate in an internationally-oriented field research project aimed at characterizing tourism and leisure experiences in the host city Hangzhou. In addition, students had the opportunity to join the World Leisure Expo and Forum as delegates.
The World Leisure Festival event was designed and promoted in 2019. It offered the opportunity to a community or region to highlight its exceptional social and cultural leisure features. As an end destination tourist attraction, a World Leisure Festival focuses its attention on the hosting community and/or region.
The programs started in the previous decades have been maintained but with the spirit of always growing and discovering new horizons.
In 2018, the Global Leisure Studies Debate initiative was developed and presented during the 15th World Leisure Congress in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The aim was to become a forum to discuss the future(s) of leisure and leisure studies. The idea broadened its scope and was further developed during the COVID-19 pandemic and took a new designation as Global Leisure Debates. The program has three main objectives: 1) providing a platform, from different locations, for learning strategies from academics and executives on how to navigate out of this crisis; 2) provide young leisure-related leaders with a platform to learn from experts in the field and prepare for the future; 3) strengthen the global position and standing of WLO as a leading knowledge organization in the field of leisure.
The Think Tanks initiative was created in 2020. Its aim was to create a new knowledge-sharing open space which WLO members and other leisure stakeholders could use as an instrument of change supported by evidence-based discussions. The initiative focuses on encouraging dialogue as well as the generation and discussion of innovative ideas in order to bring actors together to share research findings and initiatives in the context of leisure.
The first World Leisure Day was celebrated April 16, 2021. This global initiative reinforces leisure as a social right and its importance in daily life. It also works to expand and promote leisure globally while recognizing that barriers still exist for many worldwide. The first WL Day was coordinated by WLCE/USP (World Leisure Center of Excellence/University of São Paulo), LAGEL (Laboratory of Management of Leisure experiences), and Sesc (Serviço Social do Comércio) in Brazil. In 2022, World Leisure Day will be coordinated by the World Leisure Center of Excellence (WLCE) at Vancouver Island University.
WLO represented worldwide
WLO now represents almost 80 countries worldwide, with members representing a wide range of academic and professionals in the leisure industry. One of WLO strategic goals is to develop closer projects and activity interactions in the non-represented countries.
The World Leisure Organization has a decentralized governance model, with the scientific and technical secretariat working as an engine from Bilbao, Spain and academic and professionals task forces spread all over the world. To be mentioned the leadership of the WLO Chair in Canada, the Vice Chair in Hong Kong and the Treasurer in the Netherlands. Also, in permanent international communication and collaboration with stable local teams that work towards the organization of the WLO biggest events (congresses, expos, games and festivals).
WLO events to celebrate the 70th anniversary
Past, Present and Future conversation’s podcast series
It is hard to summarize an organization that has been actively running for 70 years promoting leisure worldwide. Dive into the past, the present and the future of the World Leisure Organization through its memories and its dreams. Keep up with current events, challenges and opportunities in the leisure field across the monthly themes/spotlights and game changing conversations.
World Leisure Pathways
Welcome to 70 years of celebration!
Leisure & Sustainability
Trends and Challenges on Contemporary Leisure Research
World Leisure Organization is a non-profit organization registered in New York.