Volunteering is where compassion meets solidarity.
Today marks International Volunteer Day on the 5th of December, 2022. Rising inequalities worldwide implore that we must work together to find common solutions. International Volunteer Day highlights the power of our collective humanity to drive positive change through volunteerism. Volunteers, drawn together by solidarity, help find solutions to urgent development challenges and for the common good.
At EcoHotels.com, our work and voice connect to the tourism industry. Therefore, on this International Volunteer Day, we want to zoom in on the concept of Volunteer tourism!
What is volunteer tourism?
In brief, volunteer tourism is a type of tourism where people travel abroad to a destination that is most often considered developing to offer their support and help. Volunteer tourism has many positive outcomes and can be a force for good in several ways:
- – Many volunteer tourism projects involve working with locals, areas, or animals who are, to some extent, ignored or neglected by society in some way. The work and effort made by volunteers play a part in improving the well-being and livelihoods of the host society and environment.
- – Many of the host communities of volunteer projects are not typically the most visited destinations for other forms of tourism, such as business tourism, leisure tourism, and sports tourism. Therefore, the financial support from volunteer tourism can play an essential part for the communities, as the communities do not benefit financially from tourism as other destinations and communities may.
- – Volunteer tourists can bring valuable skills to host communities that locals appreciate learning. For example, teaching English is a common voluntary project and provides host communities with basic knowledge of the English language. In addition, hosting volunteers provides host communities with opportunities to learn about other societies and cultures.
- – Likewise, many volunteers learn valuable skills and acquire knowledge about the cultures of the host communities where they volunteer. This personal learning level heightens cultural sensitivity and awareness.
- – Volunteer tourism, therefore, enables more cross-cultural understanding by combining cultures and world views: more cross-cultural understanding and appreciation help to reduce racial, cultural, and social boundaries and resistance.
Possible negative impacts of volunteer tourism
But.. There are two sides to the coin. While volunteer tourism offers substantial benefits to host communities and volunteers and enables cross-cultural understanding, researchers and tourism stakeholders often critique the industry, and several negative impacts have been pointed out.
First, volunteer tourism is designed to provide a ‘product’ to meet the needs of a particular market segment, and it falls under the umbrella of niche tourism. Volunteering is a long-standing activity, and volunteer projects are predominantly organized by charities and are philanthropic in nature. But when the combination of volunteering and tourism happens, this sometimes changes the form of volunteering. Here we mention some important factors to be aware of concerning volunteering tourism.
- Sometimes, the trend and aim of volunteer tourism shift away from altruistic activity into the arms of tour operators, who profit from providing the volunteering experience. Since tour operators are profit-driven, the end goal of helping those in need risks being down-prioritized. While many sincere and determined volunteer organizations exist, examples of profits being swallowed up by commercial volunteer tourism organizations have been seen.
- When communities receive adequate money, and the goal of helping those in need is the sincere top priority for volunteer organizations, volunteer tourism projects sometimes risk supporting a cycle of dependence. Communities can risk becoming overly reliant, relying on money and help from volunteer tourism, making it difficult for the communities to gain self-sufficient momentum.
- Lastly, many volunteers are overly motivated by self-centered interests such as advancing their careers, enhancing CVs, or having an adventure rather than altruistic intentions. In these cases, this can have negative consequences for the conditions, quality, and determinism of the help provided to the host communities.
Are you considering doing volunteer tourism?
The above should not scare you away if you plan a volunteer tourism journey. Instead, this blog post is meant to highlight the importance and necessity of researching the organizations you are considering and your options. There are many excellent volunteer organizations and projects to participate in, and by researching beforehand, you can avoid volunteering with organizations and projects where the money and work you provide do not adequately benefit the host community. Therefore:
- Consider how the money you pay is spent by the organizations facilitating the volunteering projects and whether the organizations are working with local workers instead of taking jobs away from them.
- Look into whether the volunteer organizations prioritize supporting and building up the host communities in a sustainable manner, where the communities do not become overly dependent on volunteer tourism.
- Before choosing a volunteer tourism project, consider your motivation and why you are doing it. Choose a cause you’re passionate about, and prioritize projects where you can use some of your strengths, not improve your weaknesses. This way, you can participate in the volunteer project and help the host community or project receivers in the best possible and meaningful way.
With all this said. Do your research, go out there, drive positive change and make the world a better place through volunteerism (also abroad).