Voluntourism, the red-hot travel niche, has attracted its share of industry self-regulation in hopes that its good intentions do not get exploited.
Planeterra, the non-profit arm of GAP Adventures dedicated to the development and support of small communities around the globe, recently released a checklist that voluntourist or tour operator may want to consider before putting together a trip or a voluntourism program.
• When is my need to “do good” potentially a selfish act on my part?
• Am I helping or hindering by taking time and resources away from the community and project managers just so I have a “feel good” project to work on?
• Are valuable time, effort and resources being wasted and misappropriated just to prepare for and accommodate a voluntourist?
• Can I really make a contribution in a lasting, significant way in the short time I’m there?
• What is the optimum duration for a meaningful voluntourism stay?
• Is the project just a “front” for fundraising or attempt to generate exposure, creating contrived situations for my benefit and not really the benefit of the community?
Best Practice Recommendations
• Programs must be set up to engage the voluntourist in task-specific scenarios so people can see the tangible results of their contributions.
• Voluntourism programs are ideally no shorter than five days and optimally 14 days.
• It’s vital to have a designated tour leader or guide who helps facilitate the volunteer experience so that project staff aren’t taken away from running their regular programs.
• Designated projects are ongoing and sustainable; they are not simply there just to ‘entertain’ travelers. This being said, many of the activities would be taking place without travelers present, but it is because of the voluntourists that these tasks are able to be completed.
• It’s important for voluntourists to have realistic expectations; while they won’t change the world by volunteering for a few days, they will open themselves up to learn more about a local community that can be shared with others when returning home.
• There’s an overall need in the voluntourism travel sector to shift the focus toward sustainability. This enables projects to be taken over eventually by a community, thus minimizing dependence on outside help.
• Everyone needs to recognize that the end game is total community control and quite possibly the disappearance and solution of issues and conditions that brought the original need for the project – and voluntourists — in the first place.