A growing phenomenon in travel these days is short term volunteer travel vacations, also known as “voluntourism,” “travel philanthropy,” “charity vacation,” or “traveling for good.” It’s to travel someplace and serve as a volunteer or add on a volunteer element to your holiday or vacation. A less hands on approach includes supporting local concerns either through staying in local hotels, using local services, buying fair trade, etc. or seeking companies, products or services dedicated to giving back to the community.
For many of us, volunteering abroad evokes images of dedicated young people and retirees living in makeshift huts in remote corners of the world. While these traditional volunteer vacations still attract thousands of people, this total immersion model is no longer the only option for people who want to combine adventure and altruism. Travelers are discovering they can do both — play and work — on the same trip.
According to the Travel Industry Associations of America (TIA), more than 55 million Americans have taken some form of volunteer vacation and nearly twice as many are considering doing so. More than one in ten travelers said they were more interested in taking a volunteer vacation now compared to five years ago. A recent survey sponsored by msnbc.com and Condé Nast Traveler revealed that 20% of those polled had taken at least one volunteer vacation, and 62% more said they are likely to take one. A University of California, San Diego study reported in 2008 that roughly 40% of Americans say they are willing to spend several weeks on vacations that include volunteer service. Their top priorities include helping schoolchildren, families and people in poverty.
Is this a sustainable trend? Through a confluence of world events, people are redefining their perception and expectation of travel, experiences, personal fulfillment and altruism — all of which influence their lifestyle choices. They want to experience destinations, full cultural immersion, and give to a community. People recognize that they are not trying to save the world, but they can still make a difference. People have a fundamental desire to contribute to making the world a better place. In our sophisticated society today, people want to seek unique experiences, something they have not tried before. They know they can make a difference in a fun way as they travel.
What are your thoughts…trend or lifestyle?