It is clear more and more travellers want “giving back” volunteer opportunities either as the focus of their entire vacation or as an add-on piece of a longer trip. Hence, the focus of this website! This post aims to discuss how international volunteer tourism has grown, and how the demand for volunteer tourism trips will continue to change the tourism industry.
According to a recent NPR radio program, more than 1.6 million tourists are spending over $2 billion dollars to participate in foreign volunteer trips, and the numbers of volunteer tourists continue to increase. Besides participating in growing tourism industry trends such as AirBnB – one recognised brand of the sharing economy, or slow travel trips that understand “doing less is actually more,” millions of people are drawn to “paying to work” vacations because they are purportedly known to help disadvantaged third world communities. However because this activity is not actively regulated, many host destinations are not benefitting as much as volunteer tourists may hope. This is likely because the experience is packaged as a consumer driven project rather than a sustainability focused host community development initiative.
While volunteer tourists may have their heart in the right place, the demand for volunteer tourism experiences that make a lasting impact to host communities will continue to change the tourism industry. Volunteer tourism sending organisations and community planners will need to realise that volunteers must be matched according to their skill set, or as in the case of “orphanage tourism,” understand that orphan detachment disorders typically occur because of episodic presence of caring adults. Demographic groups such as Millennials known as “loyalty seekers” who like to take extended meaningful trips because of the unappealing thought of participating in mass tourism, and Baby Boomers looking for a voluntourism experience during their cruising holiday, need to be studied to ensure their activity contributes positively to development in these communities.
The question is, how will the industry continue to respond to this growing tourism subset? And, how will international volunteer (tourist) preferences and ethical stances shape the industry? It appears ethical stances of groups and individuals, for example, have already given their stamp of disapproval towards orphanage tourism as a form of volunteer tourism. Time will tell how the phenomenon of international volunteering will progress. But one thing appears to be true, this type of tourism is not going away any time soon!