voluntourism Blog

World Travel Tourism Council (WTTC) is an organisation specialising in very detailed research and analysis of economic importance to tourism and travel. This organisation is ‘renowned for the depth and breadth of its research’ reports and forecasts the economic impact of travel and tourism for 184 countries and 25 geographic or economic regions in the world.

The WTTC and its partner, Oxford Economics, latest 2014 research shows travel and tourism generated US$7.6 trillion (10% of the global GDP) and 277 million jobs to the global economy. These figures remind us of how important travel and tourism is to local, national and international economies.

There are, to our knowledge, a variety of tourism opportunities for travellers. One such opportunity isVoluntourism, where people combine travel to a destination abroad with volunteering on projects that assist a local community. This type of tourism can be very important and beneficial for a community. Voluntourismtravellers are usually unqualified volunteers from first-world nations such as Australia who pay to volunteer overseas. For example, it may be a trip taken as part of school, a gap year or career building strategy.

Whilst this is a great way for people to travel and give back to the community they are visiting, there is, according to an excellent article by Nadia Boyce – Pro Bono Australia, 28th of April edition, a ‘dark side’ to Voluntourism.

Boyce’s article ‘Responsible Voluntourism Campaign to End Humanitarian Douchery’ informs the reader about an international campaign launched by two Gen Y Canadian university students. The students Christina Guan and Kaelan MacNeill use humour to raise awareness of the ‘dark side’ of voluntourism and to call for an overhaul of this type of travel. So what are some of the issues with Voluntourism that are creating the ‘dark side’?

According to Guan and MacNeill, issues include:
• Work might aim to benefit volunteers more than local communities
• Volunteer work can disrupt local economies and foster dependency
• Bad volunteer behaviour
• When volunteers flaunt their experiences on social media and portray themselves as ‘heroes who are saving the third world’.
• Volunteer attitude is often based on ‘helping the needy’ and changing the world and not on empowering these communities to make the necessary changes.

Obviously not all volunteering and volunteers fall into this category. Voluntourism is often a wonderful experience for both the traveller and the community. However, it is also important to raise awareness to this ‘dark side’ of volunteering and in the words of Guan and MacNeill, “Educate people about how to volunteer responsibility, ensuring they can create a beneficial experience for both themselves and their host communities .”

Coming from a Community Development perspective and the philosophical base of empowering communities to have control over their destiny, I was both surprised by, and very interested in the ‘dark side’. I found Boyce’s article on Guan and MacNeill’s campaign for an overhaul of voluntourism and their suggestion of a proposed alternative – Fair Trade Learning – exciting and a great way to ensure volunteering is one of a lasting and sustainable change.

Guan and MacNeill’s campaign can be seen on Twitter hashtag #EndHumanitarianDouchery and Nadia Boyce’s synopsis may be read on 28th April edition of Pro Bono Australia. A must read for all those who are contemplatingVoluntourism, travel companies who market voluntourism and general travellers.