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Industry Snapshot: Volunteer Travel Abroad — Where is it Headed?

Recently Linda Stuart, Executive Director of Global Citizens Network, alerted us to a 2008 survey done by the Brookings Institute’s Initiative on International Volunteering and Services. The survey of 29 volunteer organizations yielded some interesting general industry statistics and trends.

Here are some of the results from the survey:

1. Volunteers going abroad are projected to increase by 55% to 85,000 in 2010 from 55,000 in 2007.

2. Top 10 destinations listed for placing volunteers were Peru, Mexico, Kenya, India, Honduras, Ecuador, Brazil, Belize, Costa Rica, and Sudan. Latin and South American countries represented 7 of the 10 listed.

3. 77% of 2007 volunteers served for 1 month or less. The trend appears to shift from longer duration of service to a shorter duration with 2 weeks-1 month accounting for the largest share at 51% and 6-12 months accounting for a 3% share, dropping from 10% in 2006.

4. The five most popular types of volunteer work were Health, Education, Environment, Community Development and Economic Growth and Development.

To put some perspective on the survey results, we did a quick research and found that the total travel abroad market in the U.S. was 64 million in 2007 based on data from the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries (OTTI). The leisure travel abroad market accounted for about 40 million travelers or 63% of the total market size. The average length of trips was about 2 weeks and spending per visitor totaled $2800 including airfare.

Based on the data, voluntourism or volunteer travel accounted for less than 1% of the total leisure travel abroad market. What this tells us is that despite phenomenal growth, this small niche within the travel industry still has great growth potential with growth coming from more industry participants (hotels, tourism bureaus, cruises, etc.) and more favorable public sentiments and awareness toward volunteer travel. We believe how fast it grows will depend on how the industry handles this growth through its efforts in marketing, shaping perceptions, transparency, best practices and standardizations.

For the traveler, we believe the best introduction to this emerging alternative travel is good, independent information on the industry and travel companies — which of course is our goal.

Photo by hyperscholar

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