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FEATURE ARTICLE 1

Inbound VolunTourism: "Prepping Your Destination"

What steps will support you in "Prepping Your Destination" for MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, and Events) VolunTourism

For Incentive Travel Executives, and Meeting and Event Professionals, VolunTourism represents a new canvas upon which you can wield the brush of your creativity. A stroke to the right and you have created an environmental project that turns your competitors enviously "green." A stroke to the left and you have engineered a construction project that lends solar powered light to bus stops at night.

Whatever the level of your creative talent, VolunTourism gives you the opportunity to raise it. There is absolutely nothing like the inspiration that flows from knowing you are setting into motion a project that will benefit the lives of destination residents AND spark enthusiasm and joy in the hearts of your clients.

But how does one begin this process?

The process of formalizing VolunTourism products and services in your destination begins with "Prepping Your Destination."

Here are the KEY elements:

  • Commitment
  • Research
  • Identification & Contact
  • Establishing Partnerships
  • Developing a VolunTourism "Product" Catalog
  • Marketing & Promotion

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Commitment: You must make the determination at the very beginning of this process that you ARE committed to developing VolunTourism products and services for the MICE Industry. Once you have committed your team, you can follow the steps listed below to fully achieve viable products and services for potential and existing clients.

Research: The initial step is to do some basic research. The research will have two components - companies and nonprofit organizations or NGO's.

Companies - Your research will include answers to the following questions:

  1. What companies are coming to your destination (potential & existing clients) in the next three years?
  2. What social issues do they currently support - whether by financial contribution, product donation, or employee volunteerism?
  3. If they have an employee volunteerism program, who is the Director of the program?
  4. Do they have a local branch office or affiliate in your destination?

NGO's - Your research will include answers to the following questions:

  1. What social issues and challenges does your destination face?
  2. What NGO's are addressing these challenges?
  3. Are there any NGO's in your destination that support companies in fulfilling their employee volunteerism goals and objectives?

An intern or other recently hired staff person can easily acquire this data for you.

Do a comparative analysis of the data. Note any matches between social issues addressed by companies and those within your destination.

Identification & Contact: Now that you have a working list of social issues, it is time to begin connecting with the NGO's in your destination. There may be numerous NGO's that address the social issues that you have found in your research, however. First you must identify which of these social issues you want to address. Follow this by identifying what organizations may be able to assist you in developing projects for inbound clients and potentials.

The best approach is to identify four or five social issues and determine that you will specialize in designing products and services to address these issues. It is much too cumbersome to do otherwise.

Contact the corresponding NGO's that support the social issues that you have identified and schedule meetings with their Executive Directors. When holding these meetings, you will want to receive answers to some specific questions:

  1. Do you currently work with volunteers and support volunteer placement in your organization?
  2. Have you worked with companies and their employees to create volunteer projects for them?
  3. Do you conduct regular assessments to determine what needs residents have in the community?
  4. Have you partnered with other organizations or companies to develop events and activities?

Establishing Partnerships: Once you have made your initial contacts and held meetings with NGO's, you will want to select which NGO's will be the likely candidates for partnership opportunities. This may require more than one face-to-face meeting, however, you should have a working list of important attributes and characteristics for which you are looking in a partner. These may include:

  1. Previous demonstration of working with corporations -either in offering fees for service, in collaborative partnerships, or via cause marketing initiatives
  2. Recognized status/history in supporting the issues that you plan to address
  3. Current or past inclusion of social business activities or earned-income strategies

These represent a few of the criteria that may warrant your review in establishing long-term partnerships to support your VolunTourism efforts.

Creating a "VolunTourism Product Catalog": One of the best ways to insure a place for you, and your developing partnerships, in delivering VolunTourism products and services is to create a Product Catalog. This may contain only two or three products and services initially. However, as your partnerships expand, as you begin to experience success in your efforts, and as marketing and promotion draw attention to your activities, your product catalog will grow.

The VolunTourism Product Catalog is one more element that helps you to differentiate your products and services from in-market competitors. Granted this is not the core reason for developing these products and services, but it certainly is an excellent incentive to make the commit-ment to VolunTourism.

The Product Catalog will have design aspects similar to other collateral that you provide to potential and existing clients. In fact, you may want to include your VolunTourism products and services in your current proposals. These may be offered in several ways:

  1. Highlighted in a special section within your existing list of services
  2. Highlighted as options for enhancing your current products and services, e.g. a cocktail party with purpose
  3. Highlighted as services for a specific audience - guests & spouses, conference/event attendees, or sponsors
  4. Highlighted as a separate brochure or piece of collateral that draws attention to your commitment to improving your destination AND to serving the social responsibility goals and objectives of your potential client

Again, the approach will represent your creativity and your commitment as it relates to your clients, the products and services that you offer, and the destination you serve.

Marketing & Promotion: Finally, after you have developed each of these steps to a point that satisfies you and your team, you will want to adopt marketing and promotional strategies that are in alignment with your overall goals and objectives. If, for example, VolunTourism is a demonstration of your corporate social responsibility, then you will most likely work with your NGO partners to market and promote your VolunTourism partnership and the services that you have developed.

In addition to traditional promotional vehicles - collateral materials, websites, telemarketing, and trade shows - you may incorporate some of the following:

  • Partnership/Cooperative Marketing
  • Cause-related Marketing
  • Public/Community Relations

These strategies will assist you in expanding your reach and giving you a higher return on investment (ROI) for each marketing dollar spent.

Conclusion: For those who make the commitment to utilize VolunTourism for MICE products and services, the reward will be far greater than additional business that you secure through your efforts. It is likely that you will also experience, internally, a marked improvement in employee morale. Externally, you may receive recognition for your efforts that would not be possible otherwise.

How you choose to prepare your destination to deliver these products and services will certainly have a direct impact on your operations. The key is to follow a recipe for success - success for your clients, success for your partners, success for the residents of the destination, and success for YOU!

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