Is Volunteer Travel Recession-Proof?
Yesterday’s New York Times article confirmed what we have been saying, voluntourism or volunteer travel is resilient during this recession because people will find creative ways to source and pay for their travels if they feel their travels have value and meaning. Certainly, there will be adjustments and compromises as cost becomes a bigger factor in the decision-making process. But as the article noted, teens, in this case, will continue to go on service trips because these experiences are far too important for them to forgo. Schools are requiring community services and parents are looking to keep their kids challenged and engaged. Parents see these trips as an investment in their kid’s education, development, and future. When travel is put into that context, people are more willing to sacrifice to make this kind of travel possible.
What the recession has done is create pause in families who previously would have readily paid for service-trips as they reconsider their options. Still, even as consumers are cutting back on small and big luxuries, some families are scraping together steep fees to send their children on these service/learning programs this summer.
At a time when the overall travel industry is in a slump, operators of camps, and educational and volunteer travel programs say they are surprised at the sustained interest. As for parents, many tend to echo the programs’ marketers and describe them in terms like “investment” and “value.”
Programs with price tags of $1,000 to $2,000 or more a week are proving relatively recession-proof. Service programs like Global Works, with trips ranging from 20 days in Nicaragua for $3,195, to a 27-day French home stay for $6,195, report interest only slightly below last year’s. Global Leadership Adventures, which runs tours to Africa, Asia and Latin America, has enrolled 50 percent more students this year than last, and B’nai B’rith Youth Organization is filling seats on its Israel tours.
The difference in 2009, program operators say, is that parents are deliberating longer and seeking discounts. They are also picking shorter, cheaper versions of programs. To offset the costs, many parents are also asking children to contribute and cutting back their own vacations.
Some companies find their strongest draws are cheaper offerings. Global Leadership offered just one short itinerary in 2008, to Guatemala. But most of its expanded enrollment this year is in programs lasting two weeks or less, costing about $4,000 total, said Andrew Motiwalla, executive director.
As one parent stated, “When you have a 16-year-old and he’s excited about doing something, you encourage it.”
[via New York Times ]
Photo: Global Works