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Volunteer Tourism: Help Me to Help You!

Volunteer Tourism: Help Me to Help You!
Author: Thi Lan Ho
1 Commentries
Volunteer tourism has grown to be one of the biggest segments in Tourism market with positive impacts spreading peace and love around the world. On the other hand, there are some doubts in the effectiveness of the projects that Volunteer tourism offers that have not yet been clear to both volunteers and host communities. When you decide to be a volunteer tourist you need to be conscious on both potential negative and positive impacts in order to maximise the benefits of the projects and minimise the potential harms.

Volunteer tourism is ''the role of international travel in promoting understanding and trust among people of different cultures. . . a foundation on which to build improved relationships towards the goal of world peace and prosperity", this quotation captures the spirit of the Volunteer tourism. In the real life there are more need to be done than only volunteering to achieve the goal of world peace and prosperity. Volunteer tourism is a step forward to create unique opportunities for tourists to explore inequities in social between the countries as well as in environmental and political issues with the message of improving cross-cultural understandings and reducing racial, cultural and social boundaries by participating in activities in their host communities.

However, in there are inevitable concepts of rich and poor, judging and criticising between the volunteers and aid-recipients. The concern is mostly in among of young people as they are vulnerable and easy to be affected as many of the volunteer tourism projects involve working with children, which creates tension with host communities. A 'Trojan Horse' example has been compared to the situation mentioned above as the communities embrace the habits without realising the potential consequences. Generally volunteer tourism projects are one time off and the aid is offered to the destinations that appear to be most pitiful and poorest. After the projects are over there is no sign of if the host community can pick up where the volunteers left them and continue to survive, which the values and effectiveness are questioned as there are no guarantees for long term impacts.

There are four components in volunteer tourists' experience: Ordinary life, episodic task, challenges and personal development. Volunteer tourists has been compared to heroes as people leave their ordinary life to receive tasks and trying to overcome challenges in their journey of life changing personal development. It depends heavily on what stage of life course a potential volunteer is in to determine the values, which are important decision makers in choosing a volunteer tourism destination and organisation.

According to Geckogo's Volunteer service online survey in April 2009 about volunteers expectations and experiences in volunteer work from all over the world (51% Europeans, 24% North Americans, 13% Asia/Pacific and 12% Middle East/not defined) were mostly interested in mid-to long-term opportunities for example from two weeks to one month or more than one month. There are three most important factors for choosing where to go were the usefulness of the projects, a personal learning experience and unique experience. Almost all of the respondents found their experiences meaningful in some way. In the opinions of the respondents the best parts of volunteering were for example being able to help out others and make the world a better place. For the worst part of volunteering were for example the natural environment such as insects, heat, diseases, being alone while trying to adapt to the local culture, not being able to do as much as they wanted and leaving.

"The volunteer tourist contribution is bilateral, in that the most important development that may occur in the volunteer tourist experience is that of a personal nature - that of a greater awareness of the self as a global citizen". According to Dr. Wearing volunteering is a great opportunity for people to take part in local activities and interact with the community, which can benefit both host and tourists in volunteering projects.

Volunteer tourism is mostly concentrated on the positive impacts spreading love and peace that the potential harms of the projects are being putting aside. For example, the issues in volunteer tourism are the host communities who appear to be most pitiful and poorest will get the aid as well as one time off projects, which the after results are unknown. We need to have more considerations regarding these matters towards volunteer destinations and not only advertise the most pitiful host community to attract tourists. The balance between the potential volunteer destinations needs to be measured in order to spread the love and peace throughout the world. Overall, the involvement of the volunteer tourists are meaningful experiences as you feel like being a hero for the less privileged. The rewarding feeling is when you get back home with the full of knowledge of becoming a better citizen to the world.

Key References:

Geckogo, Volunteer Travel Insights 2009, available online http://www.geckogo.com/volunteer/report2009, [accessed 5th May 2012]

Tomazos, K. and Butler, R (2010): The volunteer tourist as 'hero',
Current Issues in Tourism, 13:4, 363-380

Wearing, S. (2001) Volunteer tourism: experiences that make a difference, Wallingford, Oxon New York : CABI

Is volunteer tourism really that good?
Author: Joanna Zielinska
The paper firstly provides information about the significant growth of volunteer tourism sector and its possible positive influence on both host communities and volunteers. It also raises the issue of being culturally conscious when making the decision about becoming a volunteer tourist. When this gives a good bases for further discussion about the real outcomes of volunteer tourism activity and the sensitive nature of this type of travelling, the role of tour operators and charitable organizations which are the providers of volunteer tourism opportunities should have also been considered. As found in Mintel (2008) it is the commercialisation of the sector that raises the biggest concerns. Furthermore, as Hall and Brown (2006) highlight the outcomes of volunteer projects rely heavily on organizations which supply such opportunities, as they are the one to research and organize them, as well as it is their responsibility to recruit the volunteers.
Author further defines volunteer tourism and the role it is meant to have in breaking the cultural barriers between societies, as well as its importance in building world peace and prosperity. What is missing in this discussion is fact that this form of tourism has also been recognized by the UN as an important factor in reducing poverty and working toward sustainable development (Mintel, 2007). Nonetheless, the issue of questionable impacts of the presence of volunteer tourists in developing communities is raised quite well. Paper highlights the problem of temporary nature of volunteer projects, and difficulties that host communities face after volunteer tourism leave the destination. It would have been valuable for the discussion to support this statement with an example. In addition, it is staged that volunteer tourism projects are usually of a short nature. Where, it is true when it comes to volunteer tourists who use commercial tour operator as their supplier, projects run by charitable organizations such as VSO are always of a long-term (VSO, 2012). All VSO projects are carefully research and planned, and ensure involvement of local communities and institutions, even when individual volunteers join the project for 2-3 weeks; they are more than likely to be a part of longer, ongoing scheme which will result in positive changes to local residents' life. Therefore, it can be argued that the outcomes of volunteer tourism projects are not as highly dependable on the period a single volunteer spends in the destinations as they are on the planning and management of it which is secured by sending organization not by volunteers themselves (Lyson et. al, 2011).
Motivations and factors, which determine volunteers' destinations and projects choices, are also discussed. Where the key determinant are listed as: usefulness of the projects, a personal learning experience and unique experience further discussion could have taken place, as number of academics have recently research the motivations to become volunteer tourist. Brown (2005) stages "four major motivational themes appear to take shape concerning why individuals volunteer while on a leisure trip: cultural immersion, giving back, seeking camaraderie and seeking educational and bonding opportunities" (p.487). Providing more in depth debate on volunteers motivations would have been valuable as it is motivation that lead to growth of the market as well as raise the concerns of volunteer tourism benefits to local communities (Wearing, 2001; Raymond and Hall, 2008).
Overall, the paper provides good debate about the benefits and costs of volunteer tourism activities with a good balance being kept between volunteers' and host destinations' benefits. However, a greater attention should have been paid to operators as they are the key stakeholders in ensuring balance between positive impacts on host communities and personal interests of volunteers is kept. Nonetheless, there is a good and contemporary discussion about the issues associated with volunteer tourism.


Brown, S. (2005) Travelling with a purpose: Understanding the motives and benefits of volunteer vacationers. Current Issues in Tourism, volume 8, issue 6, pp. 479-496
Lyons K., Hanley J., Wearing S., Neil J. (2011) Gap Year Volunteer Tourism. Myths of Global Citizenship? Annals of Tourism Research 39 (1) pp.361-378
Mintel (2008) Volunteer Tourism- International Mintel: London
Raymond E. M., Hall, M. (2008) The Development of Cross-Cultural (Mis-understanding) Through Volunteer Tourism Journal of Sustainable Tourism
VSO, (2012) Evaluation [online].[Accessed 25 April 2012]. Available at <http://www.vso.org.uk/Images/ppa-external-evaluation-nov2010_tcm79-30026.pdf>.
Wearing S. (2001) Volunteer Tourism. Experience That Make a Difference CABI: Oxon