|"Collecting turtle eggs on Tybee Island" Copyright © Mermaid Cottages, All Rights Reserved
One Small Island, One Mighty Mermaid!
Resort islands are unique destinations for the development of voluntourism programs. Small locales though they may be, there are a number of advantages to engaging travelers in serving these communities, especially with the possibility of directly supporting the natural environments of the space. Tybee Island is one such destination and Mermaid Cottages has spearheaded the voluntourism effort on this resort island. To learn more, I caught up with Diane Kaufman, founder of Mermaid Cottages, for this issue of The VolunTourist Newsletter to answer our 3Qs.
1) How did you first become interested in voluntourism?
"My previous career with Marriott hotels (26 years) was my first introduction to Voluntourism. The Marriott Family is very philanthropic and constantly encouraged all of us to find ways to give back. The natural progression was finding ways for our guests to give back as well to a destination. During my Marriott days we did everything from help paint a school in Costa Rica to walking the beach on Marco Island FL looking for sea turtle nests to helping pick up trash in a park in NYC. I always felt that Tybee Island would be the ideal place to encourage voluntourism!"
2) What do you feel are the elements of voluntourism that are the most challenging for someone like yourself, an owner/operator of an accommodation on a resort island?
"The most challenging elements have been to gather the info on what's available for our visitors! This is such a new concept that asking our Tybee non-profits to share info with me to post on our various websites is challenging. They are starting to come around more but we need to constantly be asking for the opportunities to share."
3) When you have conversations with voluntourists, those who have participated in programs you have organized and implemented, what are some of the comments that have surprised you in terms of participants' responses to the experience?
"People LOVE being part of this experience! Picking up trash on the beach or along the marsh makes them feel good! Especially when we explain how long it takes for marine litter to de compose and all the problems it causes for marine life. Plastic bags look like jelly fish and sea turtles eat the bags and die. We've even had families plan a holiday around one of our beach sweeps. We are also encouraging our "snow birds" who are here for a month or longer in the winter to volunteer while they are here at the Tybee Lighthouse or Marine Science Center. This has also had a great response."
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