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Study: Interest in Global Voluntourism Continues to Climb

A survey just released by University of California San Diego Extension showed Americans’ interest in voluntourism climbed by 21% from a year ago. About 69% of Americans surveyed have participated in donating money or time to a global cause, up from the 48% in their spring 2008 poll.

“More and more people in all stages of life are thinking of becoming global ‘voluntourists,’” says Bob Benson, director of the Center for Global Volunteer Service at UC San Diego Extension. “People are looking to volunteer their time in meaningful ways that make contributions to people in regions other than their own, and younger people are especially eager to make voluntourism part of their lifestyle.”

Surprisingly, of those surveyed most prefer shorter term service trips and do not plan to make a career out of global service. The majority (63%) prefer to volunteer outside the United States.

The top five types of volunteer assignments the survey respondents want are:

1. Education or artistic and cultural development: 23 percent
2. Provide spiritual or emotional assistance: 19 percent
3. Improve health and nutrition: 18 percent
4. Construct roads, homes and technology infrastructure: 14 percent
5. Environmental clean-up or agriculture assistance: 12 percent

Despite the interest in frequent service to the global community, surprisingly, fewer than 7 percent of respondents, regardless of age, expressed an interest in making global service a type of career. The top three motivations for a desire to volunteer were:

1.(tie) Pursue a cause or purpose you believe in: 30 percent
1.(tie) Contribute something meaningful to the community: 30 percent
3. Feel needed and helpful: 23 percent

Survey respondents plan to prepare for future voluntourism in a variety of ways:

1. Talk to others who have done so: 86 percent
2. (tie) Take a class or read a book: 77 percent
2. (tie) Visit Web sites to see what is available: 77 percent
4. Learn some of the language of the place you want to go: 76 percent
5. Start saving money and look for financial sponsors: 70 percent

Approximately two out of three Americans (63 percent) would prefer their volunteer vacation outside of the United States. The top four desired global travel destinations for volunteering are:

1. Africa: 14 percent
2. (tie) Australia: 11 percent
2. (tie) Europe: 11 percent
4. South America: 8 percent

What we conclude from this survey is that a growing number of people see (and are attracted to) voluntourism purely as vacation travel and not necessarily as a way of life. The popularity of volunteering in Australia and Europe, which are known to have more ecological projects, indicates that people are just as interested in ecological trips as development/community aid trips, generally found in Africa and South America. We believe people are looking for vacation that are in sync with their beliefs and lifestyle. Today, people are into authenticity, generosity, and experience. Voluntourism embodies all of these, so this is one reason why volunteer vacation is so desirable.

Photo: UC San Diego Extension


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