The VolunTourist™ is a premium Newsletter for the Travel Trade. For those interested in discovering what is happening in the world of VolunTourism and seeking emerging practices, general information, and case studies, this is your Source.
Our “3-Q’s” for this month were answered by Sarah Griffin, of Buffalo Tours in Vietnam. Here is what she had to say in answer to our questions:
1. What would you say are the most challenging aspects of developing VolunTourism itineraries in Vietnam?
Developing projects which are both interesting for the traveler as well as beneficial for the community. For example, we are careful not to put short term placements in situations where the local communities may be left 'stranded' when the volunteer leaves - if orphans get too attached emotionally it is very disruptive for them when the volunteer leaves.
Another example is English teachers... we need to ensure this is a long-term placement or there is a steady flow of volunteers so the benefits are long-term.
Another challenge is we need to work very closely with the local governments as many areas where communities are most in need are off limits to tourists or require specific permits. Therefore, a lot of negotiating is required to access these areas most in need.
2. In the case of tour operators, what information and education do you think would best serve them when considering the development of Vietnam VolunTourism itineraries for their clients?
We provide operators with sample project/itineraries and suggested target markets. We are very straightforward with tour operators regarding which trips have basic conditions (e.g. drastic poverty) or require certain fitness levels (e.g. types of labor). We are also unabashed in describing which projects are emotionally confronting (such as the agent orange refuge for disformed children).
We require tour operators to provide us with specific information about the clients requirements. Some clients just want to 'visit' a project for half a day or day trip. Others want to be involved in a month's volunteer work. Some come in groups and complete a project (such as building a library for an orphanage), others are individuals who want to join a pre-existing community project. So to advise the best project, we require operators to find out all this information from the client.
We also provide information on Vietnam and Cambodia in general in terms of culture, customs, what to bring and travel requirements.
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3. In terms of VolunTourists, what information and education would best support them as part of their pre-trip preparation, during-the-trip, and post-trip awareness?
Briefing sessions about the culture, mentality and customs are a necessity. Even though the major cities are accustomed to foreigners, many of the community project areas do not often see tourists, so we need to be very sensitive to both the local community and the traveler to ensure the cultural exchange and experience is positive and respectful.
Briefing sessions about the project and local community so volunteers can begin to develop a relationship with the community before they even arrive.
We would prepare detailed fact sheets about the projects and communities as well as the region in general before travelers depart.
In terms of post trip awareness, we have some programs in place for volunteers to stay in touch and continue to support the project or community if they wish.
Buffalo Tours specializes in innovative travel to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Offering tour packages and customized travel to leisure and business markets, our products include adventure and premier options.
Established in 1994 as a two-man operation, Buffalo Tours has grown to over 200 employees, with offices in Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and our head office, in Hanoi.
In addition to being a leading inbound tour operator, Buffalo Tours has formed strong, global relationships to become the leading destination management company in the region.
For more information, please contact Sarah Griffin
Or visit Buffalo Tours online.
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