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History Of VolunTourism

The idea of combining voluntary service with travel is not a new concept. In fact, it can be traced back for many thousands of years in various cultures and religious orders throughout the world.

Missionaries, healers and/or medical practitioners, sailors, explorers, and countless others have rendered service in conjunction with their travels.

But what about modern day VolunTourism?

Inside VolunTourism.org - History of VolunTourism

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VolunTourism - Historical Timeline Prior to 2000

Well, VolunTourism in its current iteration received a very big boost from the founding of Volunteer Service Overseas in 1958 by Alec and Mora Dickson and that of the U.S. Peace Corps, established in 1961 during the John F. Kennedy administration. However, some would argue, and with good reason, that the connection between travel and volunteering in the Modern Era can be traced back to the work of Herb Feith in Indonesia in 1951. Feith's contribution, the Volunteer Graduate Scheme, today known as Australian Volunteers International, may very well have paved the way for the connection between travel and volunteering that has evolved in the 60 years since.

Subsequent events include:

  • Service Learning, established in 1965
  • The Boom of Study Abroad Programs in the 1970's
  • Ecotourism in the 1980's
  • Volunteer Vacations in the 1990's (Although the first volunteer vacation was operated by Earthwatch.org in 1971, the movement was not broadly recognized until the 1990's),
  • Corporate Social Responsibility in the 1990's,
  • The UK Gap Year in the late 1990's and early '00s, and
  • Volunteer Tourism Research which began in the early 1990's but began to expand in the late 1990's and early '00s

Certainly other factors have contributed to this growth including:

  • Development of Global Communications
  • Journalism & the Media
  • Increased Wealth & Discretionary Time
  • Philanthropy & Individual Social Responsibility
  • Religion & Spirituality

Trivia Note:

The first organization to use the word Voluntourism was the Nevada Board of Tourism (NBT) in 1998. The NBT was making an effort to attract local residents to volunteer to support the development of rural tourism in remote locations of Nevada. Although this is quite different than what the term is currently being used to describe, it is an interesting bit of trivia nonetheless.

VolunTourism - 2000 To The Present

Catalyst Marketing, Inc. (CMI)

In 2000, Catalyst Marketing, Inc. (CMI) became the first company in the world to dedicate resources to officially bridge the business & leisure travel segments of the tourism industry with the nonprofit industry. (This approach was called VolunTours™ and has since been developed by the "Parent" of VolunTourism.org - Los Niños, Inc.)

That summer, CMI, a team that included Parker Pike, Brian Hawkins & David Clemmons, launched a number of Web sites including www.voluntourism.com which is still floating in cyberspace to this day. Signature Group Marketing assisted with the design elements and population of a number of additional sites from their offices in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The focus in the early days was to develop products for the corporate and association meetings market, since San Diego, the hometown of CMI, hosted a substantial number of small, mid- and city-wide conventions on an annual basis.

American Association of Health Plans (AAHP)

When 9/11 shocked the world, CMI thought that VolunTours™ would be an additional victim of this global tragedy. But something happened in human hearts and shortly thereafter a call came into the office from AAHP (renamed America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) in 2004). Eight months later, an urban community in Mid-town San Diego was the host of the first VolunTours™ event - a community health fair for some 3000 residents in which 200 AAHP members acted as the first official VolunTourists.

CMI & Los Niños, Inc. Collaboration

Following some additional research over the next three months, CMI determined that the VolunTourism market was best suited to have a nonprofit organization to lead it forward. In August 2002, CMI formed a collaboration with Los Niños, Inc. (now Via International) to expand the concept and shift the focus from a for-profit initiative to a non-profit social venture.

Los Niños, Inc. (now Via International) applied for the Yale School of Management/Goldman Sachs Foundation Social Venture Business Plan Competition with the understanding that CMI would support the effort. It was at this time that David Clemmons moved from CMI to become a full-time employee of Los Niños, Inc. (now Via International)

The Business Plan Competition did not result in financial award for the VolunTours™ concept, even though the entry made the final cut of 20 entrants out of an original 655, but it did indicate that it was a worthy venture. Los Niños, Inc. (now Via International) decided to continue pursuing the development of the concept.

The VolunTours™ Concept Paper & The George Washington University

In the Fall of 2003, David Clemmons wrote the first concept paper on Global VolunTourism. It was presented to the Research Director of The George Washington University's International Institute of Tourism Studies (IITS), Kristin Lamoureux. As synergy would have it, IITS had recently partnered with the National Geographic Society and the Travel Industry Association of America to conduct the Geotourism Survey and had also developed the Scientific, Academic, Volunteer, and Educational (SAVE) Travel Initiative for Honduras.

It was determined that based upon the combination of the findings from the Geotourism Study, the work in Honduras, and the overall concept of VolunTourism that a "Think Tank" on VolunTourism should be formed.

Travel Learning Connections

For those who have been in the travel industry for a few decades, you likely have heard of the Educational Travel Conference (formerly Nonprofits In Travel) and its Founder/President, J Mara DelliPriscoli. Mara agreed to host the VolunTourism Think Tank in conjunction with her annual conference in February of 2004. It was from this Think Tank that VolunTourism.org was started.

In 2005, GWU, Travel Learning Connections, and Los Niños, Inc. (now Via International) held the second of these events for a larger audience. There were several goals and objectives set by attendees, one of which, was to create a newsletter.

David Clemmons Founder of VolunTourism.org



In March of 2005, David Clemmons left his formal position at Los Niños, Inc. (now Via International) and began compiling information from around the globe to form the first, and currently the only, newsletter on the subject of VolunTourism. It was aptly named The VolunTourist Newsletter. As editor and publisher, he has become the global source of information on this subject and makes an effort to deliver any new developments, emerging practices, and research to both the travel trade and nonprofit industry.

2006 VolunTourism Forum

In February of 2006, the 3rd annual gathering of VolunTourism enthusiasts and practitioners was held in conjunction with the Educational Travel Conference in Baltimore, MD, USA. The results were consistent with the first two gatherings, except this time participants expressed interest in training materials, consulting for general and specific support in order to develop their own VolunTourism programs, products, and services, and to continue building momentum for the concept in the marketplace.

It was determined that an "entity" be formed to coordinate

  1. The creation of training & educational materials,
  2. A network of consultants and VolunTourism industry-related specialists, and
  3. The marketing & promotion of VolunTourism in the general marketplace

2007 The VolunTourist Webcast

On August 14, 2007, the first episode of The VolunTourist Webcast was aired. Every Tuesday morning from 10 - 11am ET (7 - 8am PT & 15:00 - 16:00 GMT) guests discuss a variety of topics as they relate to VolunTourism. 19 episodes from 2007 covered such diverse topics as Women & VolunTourism, Corporate VolunTourism, Risk Management & VolunTourism, and many others. Look for this trend to continue as 2008 unfolds.

The Present

VolunTourism.org is leading the world in the provision of educational content as well as promoting and developing formal practices of VolunTourism at the global level. What practices work? Which ones do not? How are the four primary stakeholder groups - communities, travelers, the NGO sector, the Tourism sector - involved? How can all stakeholders benefit from VolunTourism? What "permanent" and sustainable changes can occur through VolunTourism?

The list of questions is endless. We are simply taking the initiative to identify some of those questions and begin to craft possible answers to them. And we are not alone in this effort:

  • Other VolunTourism.org Team members and colleagues - Dr. Nancy McGehee (Virginia Tech University), Luc Lapointe (Connexion Internationale), Dr. Jan Louise Jones (Southern Connecticut State University), and Nola Lee Kelsey (TheVoluntaryTraveler.com), just to name a few, are actively engaged in conducting research, authoring books and articles, and developing programs all related to voluntourism.
  • Dr. Stephen Wearing at the University of Technology (Sydney) is co-editor and author of several books on the subject of volunteer tourism, the newest of which, due to come it in 2012, is entitled Volunteer Tourism: Integrating Travellers and Communities.
  • Travelocity offers 8 grants annually and provide an online community for VolunTourists to share their experiences with others.
  • Xola Consulting & the George Washington University's International Institute of Tourism Studies continue to conduct research on emerging practices in Volunteer Tourism.
  • The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and Planeterra are convening (September 2011) a group of stakeholders to discuss the establishment of International Guidelines on Voluntourism.

Ever in the foreground of our consideration is that we want to create a systemic approach to VolunTourism that conscioulsy and conscientiously evolves with the input of all stakeholder groups. We welcome all who are interested in joining us in this endeavor!

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