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2008 Voluntourism Report: Insights on the Volunteer Tourist

With the rising popularity of voluntourism, more research have been undertaken to understand the motivations and interests of voluntourists — leisure travelers who include volunteering in their trips. Armed with greater research, the industry can better assess business practices to serve the traveler and the local communities more effectively. The newly-released industry report, 2008 Voluntourism Survey, provides some great profiles on voluntourists and how they influence volunteer tourism participation. The authors, David Clemmons of Voluntourism.org and Nancy McGhee and John Lee of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Virginia Tech, did a thorough job mining, examining and extrapolating the research data.

The full report is available for purchase, but here are some highlights and findings from the report that you may find informative:

  • It is estimated that the number of U.S. voluntourists exceeded 4.7 million in 2007 with more than 1 million of them traveling abroad.
  • Four motivational themes identified by voluntourists themselves: cultural immersion, giving back, seeking camaraderie, and seeking educational and bonding opportunities.
  • Voluntourism experiences have transformational triggers and traumatic transformational triggers — events that activate a reaction that is either transformational or traumatic.
  • Voluntourists can be segmented into three clusters based on motivational levels:

    1. Vanguards: The smallest, but most highly motivated group. They are young; they volunteer at home consistently and has a fairly high levels of leisure travel experience. They have the time for an extended voluntourism experience (an average of 17 days). They are flexible with accommodations but they love their western amenities like internet and hot water. Of the three groups, they are most interested in the skill-building that can come from a voluntourism experience. They do pre-trip legwork and information gathering. Vanguards expect trip providers to provide lots of clear policy information before departure. In terms of activities, Vanguards seek the most physically and mentally intense voluntourism experience, and are interested in both environmental and human-contact activities.
    2. Pragmatists: The next (and largest) group in terms of motivation level. They are motivated mostly by the idea of developing a relationship with members of the host community. They are the least experienced in international travel, so they are very interested in safety and security issues, and they prefer private sleeping accommodations. Europe has the greatest appeal to them as a destination for voluntourism, followed by The Americas and the Caribbean. They have the least amount of time and money to spend on voluntouring. They look to trip providers for pre-trip information, policy information, and orientation upon arrival. Pragmatists are less interested than Vanguards in an intense voluntourism experience.
    3. Questers: The third (and oldest) group. They are less certain of what their motivations are to participate in voluntourism. They are the most experienced group in terms of international travel and willing to spend 1) the most money and 2) the greatest amount of time volunteering on a voluntourism trip. They are most interested in traveling to South America.  Like the Pragmatists, they look to trip providers for pre-trip information, policy information, and orientation upon arrival, but to a lesser degree.

How to apply the research? By understanding and getting better profile of the voluntourists, voluntourism operators can conduct better screening. Better screening can mitigate the risk of traumatic transformation triggers that lead to traveler dissatisfaction and potential negative impact on the local communities. For the voluntourist, this research provides an additional self-assessment tool to help you decide which types of voluntourism is most suitable for your profile.

photo by the dilly lama


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