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How to Justify Travel During a Recession?

Photo by Valley Vistas

Perhaps, a volunteer vacation. A lot has been written on the Internet and the in the press about the popularity of volunteer vacations during this recession. The New York Times touted these trips as “guilt-free” getaways because people can rationalize taking “trips that emphasize service, values and personal fulfillment.” Volunteer vacation satisfies one’s desire:

* to spend inconspicuously
* to spend on something more meaningful to justify the cost
* to feel good and have a purpose
* to put their lives in perspective
* to take a vacation to escape the stress of the economy

With public sentiments toward travel being less about self-indulgences through frivolous pleasures and more about the innate pleasures that come from giving and sharing, travel companies are offering endless varieties to every segment of the market from Abercrombie & Kent’s luxury tours with aspects of volunteering or giving back to Sierra Club Outings, which offer a series of economical “service” trips.

Bookings indicate that people are buying into volunteer vacations. These trips are keeping people traveling during this recession. Compared to traditional vacations, volunteer vacations have not dropped as much this year. In some cases, they have been growing. Projects Abroad reported February bookings up 20% year over year. Some of these travelers are recently laid off but others simply want a service element in their trips.

We have seen the travel industry take drastic price cuts — in airfares, hotel rates, vacation packages — in its effort to encourage bookings. With so much competition vying for our travel dollars, it is somewhat surprising to see the resilience of volunteer vacation bookings. Demand for volunteer vacations shows low price elasticity (resilience to price movements) which means that people are not taking these trips because of their lower cost; rather, they are motivated by something inside them apart from the cost factor alone. This inner shift toward things that “anchor the soul” — something purposeful, meaningful and relevant — is defining how people live and travel, ultimately determining where and how they spend their money. This lifestyle shift bodes well for the robust sustainability of the volunteer travel industry during both economic bust and boom.

Do you have a hard time justifying travel during a recession? What kind of vacation are you planning to take? Are you planning to take any volunteer vacations? Share your thoughts.

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