Key words: volunteer tourism, commercialisation, developing countries
"Volunteer tourism applies to those tourists who volunteer in an organized way to undertake holidays that might involve aiding or alleviating the material poverty of some groups in society, the restoration of certain environments or research into aspects of society or environment" (Wearing, 2001, p.1). Such form of tourism is meant to benefit local communities as well as the natural environment and is based on very altruistic principles of helping developing countries. It is also aimed at improving the cross-cultural relationships and commit to sustainable development (Raymond and Hall, 2008). However, as contemporary tourists seek for opportunities to truly interact with local residents and really experience the culture the volunteer tourism market has rapidly expended and number of commercial volunteer tourism trips have been developed by tour operators (Mintel, 2008). Where it can be said that every little helps, reputable charities such as Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO), raise the issue of lack of effectiveness of commercial tours, as well as accuse operators of focusing on financial benefits rather than on helping those less fortunate in life (Mintel, 2008). Therefore, it is valuable to evaluate and compare impacts of volunteer tourism activities- the commercial one and the altruistic one.
VSO is a charity with a long and successful history of making a real difference to communities of developing countries aiming at delivering long lasting positive changes. Their projects strive to empower the residents and to lead to break the poverty line, rather than to simply make a short-term impact. What's more important, projects run by organization are always carefully research and ensure that local governments and institution have their input on planning and delivering them. Moreover, volunteer who participate in VSO volunteer programme are pre-selected to ensure their skills are utilise in best possible way- giving them chance to grow and develop their own skills, while at the same time performing as the specialists in their field amongst host communities. For instance, education projects led by VSO's volunteers provided training for over 134 000 teachers and school managers across the world, successfully improving their skills as well the as the quality and accessibility of education. This is predicted to result in countries' education systems becoming strong and independent so they will no longer require assistance from developed countries (VSO,2012).
In opposition to those altruistic volunteers and well-planned volunteer projects stand commercial operators, who have been heavily criticised by charitable organizations for their focus on financial benefits, not on helping developing and undeveloped societies. These commercial opportunities to become a volunteer tourist emerged from a very high demand for such form of holidays; this therefore resulted in shifting focus from making a difference to less fortunate populations to satisfying customer expectations. In addition, the concern of unskilled and unprepared individuals working on projects in such close relationship to communities was highlighted (Mintel, 2008). Tour operators such as Charity Challenge offer variety of expeditions, fun and unique experience combined with raising money for charity. Where fundraising is a positive aspect, all this money goes back to developed countries, rather to host communities. In addition, the interactions between participants and local communities are very limited and of short-term and do not provide volunteers with a real opportunity to experience the culture. Raymond and Hall (2008) warn that it can lead to reinforcement of stereotypes rather than to improved cross-cultural understanding and communication. They further argue that commercial volunteer tourists are likely to cause more harm than good, as in most cases they are not skilled nor train to work in poor communities.
To sum up, volunteer tourist can be the positive force in the world, there is a clear evidence of the extremely positive influence they have had on developing communities (VSO, 2012). However, there are many factors that determine this success, careful planning, selection of volunteers who have the skills and the knowledge to make a real change and most of all engagement of communities in which this charitable work takes places is the key. However, commercial volunteer tourism trips have a doubtful positive influence on local communities; instead create a risk of emphasizing cultural differences and gaps in development (Raymond and Hall, 2008). Nonetheless, as charitable organizations are not capable of meeting the demand, involvement of commercial sector is understandable. Though, those commercial trips should be planned much better to ensure real long-term benefits for the poorest. Possibly some collaboration between voluntary and private sector would lead to better ways of supplying the high demand without spoiling the principles of volunteer tourism activity.
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) Impact [online].[Accessed 23 April 2012]. Available at >http://www.vso.org.uk/about/impact/>
Wearing S. (2001) Volunteer Tourism. Experience That Make a Difference CABI: Oxon