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Volunteer tourism- making the world better place or just improving your resume?

Volunteer tourism- making the world better place or just improving your resume?
Author: Hanna Ryynanen
1 Commentries
Economic development has helped the growth of tourism industry. Bigger wealth has made travelling possible for greater number of people. Technical progress has enabled better comfort and speed for leisure travelers. Real cost of the holidays has lowered and it is estimated that by year 2020 there will be around 1.6 billion international tourists. Recently there have been debates of mass tourism and its negative impacts. These debates have led to a need for more environmentally aware and culturally acceptable form of tourism.

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
Volunteer tourism- Making the World Better Place or Just Improving your Resume?
Author: Sharlene Maxwell
For the author to begin with a brief synopsis of the tourism industry, and what has enable its progress and also given an estimate of what the travel industry would be like in years to come is commendable. It was also interesting to see that the author defines what volunteer tourism is and discusses the direct benefits it has on both the community and the volunteer. So for the author to state that volunteers has become increasingly popular and more available in different parts of the world is definitely a fact as Mintel (2008) has stated that Volunteers have an enormous impact throughout the world. The United Nations has stated that volunteerism is an important component of any strategy aimed at poverty reduction, sustainable development and social integration and throughout the world; the number of people participating in volunteer activities is increasing.

For the author to make this statement that volunteer tourism cannot be either seen just as an altruistic act from individuals without ulterior motives and people may seek personal rewards from volunteer tourism. I must say that I do not concur with this statement, for the mere fact of coming from a developing country in which tourists who volunteers just for the mere fact of giving something back to society without any ulterior motives and also dislike the fact of been class as volunteer tourist. And to further back up my statement in Mintel (2008) with the continuous growth of this industry, many of the volunteers dislike the terms 'voluntourism' or 'volunteer tourism' perhaps as it lends to the notion of being on holiday rather than the important work that is being accomplished. However, many find that volunteering is very important and it is not hard to imagine in today's fast paced world. As the global community shrinks in size, the notion of helping your neighbour is expanding. People are seeking ways to give back within the local community as well as throughout the world.

However, in this conference paper the author says that volunteer tourism programmes should be designed to really help the needy and also there is no benefit for the society that the volunteer just to go to a location without a plan is not entirely true. A statement made by Richard Hawkes International programmes director of Volunteering Sending Organisation (VSO) states that the ethos of VSO is that they get volunteers to where they are needed, but with the rise of consumer driven volunteer tourism, if volunteers were placed in a country of preference, instead of making the choice based on the country's need for their skills, some countries will inevitable suffer (Keese, 2011).

It would also be beneficial if the author had list a few of the types of people who are likely to participate in volunteer tourism because it is not just base on the fact that people who partake in volunteer tourism are just doing it for the mere fact to get better jobs, boost their resume' and to higher their social status because in a research done by Benson and Henderson (2011) most of these volunteers are Retired seniors, University Students, Families, Scientists, Doctors and Young Professionals are all seeking a more meaningful way to give back to society. Whether, this means teaching English in Cambodia, tracking migrating bird population in Ecuador, dishing out meals at soup kitchen in the or helping doctors give medical attention needy children.

The conclusion of the conference paper provides a good summary of the debate, however highlighting the studies of volunteer tourism, even though I do not concur with some of the statements that were made by the author. However, this paper would provide a good basis in which one could debate on in more depth.

Reference List

Benson, A.M and Henderson, S. (2011) A Strategic Analysis of Volunteer Tourism Organisations. The Service Industries Journal Vol.31 Issue 2, pp.405-424 [online] (accessed 14/05/12) http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=hjh&AN=57420051&site=ehost-live

Keese, J.R, (2011) The Geography of Volunteer Tourism: Place Matters. Tourism Geographies Vol. 13 Issue 2, pp.257-279 [online] (accessed 14/05/12) http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=hjh&AN=61158227&site=ehost-live

Mintel, (2008) Volunteer Tourism- International. Mintel: London (accessed 14/05/12) http://academic.mintel.com/sinatra/oxygen_academic//display/&id=294955/display/id=395957?select_section=395956