One of these forms is volunteer tourism. Volunteer tourism is a form of tourism where a tourist volunteers in local communities as a part of his/her travel. It has become increasingly popular and more available in different parts of the world. Volunteer tourism has directs benefits both for the community and also for the volunteer. Volunteerism can be seen as a selfless act where the volunteer spends time, money and effort to participate in different altruistic activities. Couple of organisations offering volunteer tourism activities are for example Youth Challenge International, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Earthwatch.
Participating in volunteer tourism can have some serious impacts on individual's life and way of seeing the world. It is also a great possibility to gain and share information about different societies. In volunteer tourism literature the recurring theme is that people have a desire to make a holiday with a difference and at the same time give something back to the community. Just the interest in making friends can be seen as one motivation for people participating in volunteer tourism. Other motivations for volunteer tourism are working with people from different countries, interacting with people that share common interests and values and also meeting local people at the tourism location and experiencing the local culture with or through them. This all adds meaning to person's volunteer experience through social processes.
But volunteer tourism cannot either be seen just as an altruistic act from individuals without any ulterior motives. It can be argued that there are as much selfish reasons for people participating in volunteer tourism than just altruistic ones. People may seek some personal rewards when participating in volunteer tourism. These rewards can be feelings of superiority, opportunities to fish and hunt with people in power, accessing expertise or goods from people who work in the field. Advantage can also be taking business opportunities from the volunteerism if the volunteer is a service provider and in need of more business. And for some, participating in volunteer tourism can be a good mark for the resume. If volunteerism helps to get better jobs and higher social status the act may not be as genuine. However, people can change their motivations and maybe seek deeper significance through volunteer experience
As all forms of tourism, volunteer tourism has also positive and negative characteristics. The discussion of the motivation of people participating in it is not the only negative one. Example of a problem with volunteer tourism sector is the fact that it has expanded so rapidly within years that regarding the skills quite many volunteer tourism projects have minimal or maybe even non-existent requirements regarding the skills a volunteer worker needs to participate. Also, tourism in developing countries and at some parts of developing nations is usually owned and managed by external companies. This leads to capital moving away from the country and little local control of the operations made in the nation.
All volunteer tourism programmes should be designed to really help the assistance receiving society. There is no benefit either for the society that the volunteer just to go to a location and do something without a good plan. The possible negative impacts related to volunteer tourism should be treated as possible consequences that should be avoided and not as an unavoidable series of consequences created by the volunteer tourism projects. To sum it up, sometimes volunteering can do more harm than good. And sometimes people participating in volunteering are not doing it for the right reasons. But does it matter? If the participation is helping the local people or the environment, is there a difference whether it is done for reason something than altruistic ones. There is a definite need for help in lots of parts of the world and if volunteer tourism is a one way to make a difference, even a small one, there should be people watching over that it is done right.
Guttentag D.A. (2009) The Possible Negative Impacts of Volunteer Tourism, International Journal of Tourism Research 11 (6)
Ooi N.and Laing J.H.(2010) Backpacker tourism: sustainable and purposeful? Investigating the overlap between backpacker tourism and volunteer tourism motivations, Journal of Sustainable Tourism 18 (2) 191-206
Wearing S. (2001) Volunteer Tourism- Experiences That Make a Difference, Wallingford, Oxon New York