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August 2005 - 3Q's

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Tour Operators & VolunTourism?

Our “3-Q’s” for this month were sent to Frances Figart, Editor in Chief of the National Tour Association's Courier Magazine. Here is what she had to say in answer to our questions:

1. There are numerous means by which Tour Operators can demonstrate their corporate social responsibility and philanthropic support for destinations - greening their operations, sustainability, etc. What elements of VolunTourism do you think are most appealing to Tour Operators in delivering positive social impact to the destinations in which they operate?

While Voluntourism is still a relatively new concept to most NTA tour operators, many got first-hand experience with it during the past three years by volunteering to help with cleanup efforts organized by Tourism Cares for Tomorrow. Most recently, on May 13, 2005 , nearly 400 tourism industry volunteers provided a combined 2,250 hours in a single day to assist Mount Vernon ’s horticulture staff in clearing nearly 300 acres of George Washington ’s forest, near Washington , D.C. Prior preservation and conservation projects include Ellis Island , New York and St. Louis Cemetery #1, New Orleans .

Experiencing such voluntourism efforts enables tour operators to see how easy it might be to work with attractions, tourist boards or other entities to provide similar opportunities for their groups. What appeals to them monetarily about this prospect is the willingness of socially and environmentally concerned clients to actually pay more to go on a trip in order to do volunteer work. But the intangible rewards are far more attractive when it comes to helping volunteer-oriented customers achieve their dreams.

2. What do you perceive to be the most challenging aspects of VolunTourism for Tour Operators that want to incorporate volunteer projects into their existing product and service offerings?

What is probably hardest for them at this point is getting a handle on how to market such endeavors to the demographic that would be most interested in traveling to “give back.” Closely tied to this is the challenge of finding and hooking up with organizations and institutions that can help them organize voluntourism endeavors.

Joel Frank , chief of tourism for the Northeast Region of the National Parks Service, is currently working to create a voluntourism marketing segment within the park system. Once fully developed, this arm of NPS would allow tour groups or independent travelers the opportunity to assist a park while they are on their trip. Issues with organizing such a project include taking into consideration the differing needs of each park. “There are limitations to the benefits a park can gain from this type of endeavor,” Frank said. “Since the voluntourism project that we are designing is primarily centered on unskilled labor activities, if a park doesn’t have a need for unskilled maintenance, there will not be a fit.” Another issue is finding the right “liaison” to help the tour operator arrange a project through NPS.


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3. What do you think are the benefits that can be realized by Tour Operators through adding VolunTourism into their current operations?

The National Tour Association’s Areas of Interest and Marketing (AIM) program includes one group called the Cultural and Life Enrichment AIM. Members of this group are excited about voluntourism. One of these members, Phillip Parrott of Parrott’s Tours Inc. in Deckerville , Mich. , is considering developing a voluntourism program to Grenada . He believes “volunteerism has taken off because our children are being taught it is good to share our blessings with others less fortunate. They are learning community service is rewarding on a very personal level.”

Another Cultural and Life Enrichment AIM member, Larry Larsen of Ed-Ventures in Rochester , Minn. , recently did volunteer work in Honduras , and wants to incorporate elements of voluntourism into his future trips. He answers the question of why clients will pay (sometimes more) to volunteer:

“There is a missionary zeal in many of us. What good do people do in the world, if they simply amass large sums of money? How much better do they feel when they know they have taken some of that money and made life better for others? If they go to foreign lands and look atpoor people like they were animals in a zoo, they come back very empty. When they go to foreign lands or points in the United States , roll up their sleeves and make life better for someone else, they have had a ‘life-changing experience.’ They are partly willing to pay to volunteer just because they feel fortunate. But they probably also pay to volunteer because of the good feelings they have, that they have contributed to making the world better. The world is full of good people, Americans included. People want to have meaningful experiences. They want to share their good experiences with others. They give because they want to share, and they get back ten-fold, in the way those experiences change their own lives.”

About the National Tour Association

The National Tour Association has nearly 4,000 tourism professional members from 28 countries involved in the growth and development of the packaged travel industry. Its membership includes tour operators - group, independent, inbound and outbound - and the destinations and suppliers that partner with them. The association is committed to providing business results and information to its members, while offering a collaborative, caring environment in which to build relationships. For more information, please visit www.NTAonline.com

About Tourism Cares for Tomorrow

Created by combining the United States Tour Operators Association's Travelers Conservation Foundation and the National Tour Association’s National Tourism Foundation, Tourism Cares for Tomorrow is a non-profit that benefits society by preserving, conserving and promoting the responsible use of our world's natural, cultural and historic treasures and supporting education and research to help secure the positive future of travel and tourism worldwide.

In June of 2003, more than 300 tourism industry volunteers gathered on the south side of Ellis Island to “give back” to their country as part of the inaugural Tourism-Caring for America project. The volunteers performed an estimated $300,000 worth of work at the National Park site. In February of 2004, more than 350 industry volunteers participated in the second annual project where they preserved the St. Louis Cemetery No.1 in New Orleans by painting, cleaning and lime-washing tombs.

For more information about Tourism-Caring for America or to become a volunteer or sponsor, contact Bruce Beckham at 781.821.5990 or bruceb@tourismcaresfortomorrow.org.

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