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July 2005 - Feature Article 1

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Inbound VolunTourism: "Watch Out for MICE Traps! " - - Part II

What are the biggest challenges that Incentive Travel Executives and Meeting Professionals face in relation to VolunTourism? In this, our second installment of the three-part series, we address how to mitigate your Risks.

Mitigating Liability Risk

We know that as a corporation or contracted meeting professional one of the major concerns is Liability Risk. Here are some options to support you in mitigating this risk:

  • Obtain a “rider” status on your existing liability policy for the nonprofit organization or NGO with which you are conducting VolunTourism activity
  • Apply for specific insurance coverage for this particular VolunTourism event under your current liability policy (contact your agent directly for instructions)
  • Apply for a more comprehensive policy to include VolunTourism activities in conjunction with your MICE operations (select this option only if you plan to participate in VolunTourism activities regularly throughout different employee divisions and/or locations of your operations)
  • Sponsor the nonprofit organization or NGO with which you are conducting your VolunTourism activity to add your company as a “rider” on their liability policy


Tuesdays 10am ET/7am PT

(UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you engage in an activity in which the nonprofit organization or NGO is not covered by some form of liability policy – either through their own policy coverage or as a rider on your existing policy.)

Of the above options, #4 is clearly the best in terms of mitigating your own liability risk. Although it may prove more costly in the short-term, perhaps $100 or $200 versus $50 - $100 for the other options (depending on the coverage limits, of course), the long-term benefits far outweigh this insignificant charge.

But you may want to wait and determine the type of coverage you will select based upon your perception of the risk involved in the VolunTourism activity that your group chooses. If you are boxing school or medical supplies for children and families in Mexico, then you may perceive this risk to be quite low (consult your insurance agent before finalizing this decision, however). If you are building a home in a rural village outside of Johannesburg, well, then you may determine that the risk is far greater than you want to accept – sponsor that rider policy for your company!

Mitigating Safety Risk

Any VolunTourism activity in which you and your company or client participate will have some safety challenges. The way to reduce this risk is to follow the wisdom of the ages: Be Prepared.

Preparation is a function of two things: 1) Delivery of Information, and 2) VolunTourism Operator Staff Identification & Response. Balance will be the key to your success in both of these areas.

If you try to deliver too much information to your participants, for example, then you may frighten them to a point of not wanting to participate. Instead, present them with a general overview of some of the safety risks involved. If they are working with paint, suggest that they wear safety goggles. If you cannot afford safety goggles for the activity, then have those that wear glasses be the folks that do the painting that requires looking up at a ceiling or high wall. If, however, you fail to tell them that the paint in Mexico is often lead-based and that painters should take a regular break to breathe fresh air, you may have a sick person on your hands. Balance the amount and type of information to be presented.

The VolunTourism Operator Staff has the task of identifying the safety challenges. This comes from direct experience with previous groups but it also follows from discussion with local residents and communication with clients. For instance, your group may have participated in an activity in the past that is similar to the one that you are conducting this year. You may have noticed a particular quality of your participants – they are Type A personalities that do not read instructions. Okay, we will use team leaders and team preparation time to review the safety challenges rather than hand out instructions to be read. This is utilizing experience to assist in identifying safety challenges.

VolunTourism Operator Staff should also be trained in how to respond to a safety issue once it has been identified and/or an individual has suffered some type of injury. This is part of the preparation. How well-versed your staff are in handling these situations will have a direct impact on the level of perceived risk by participants. An accidental injury may occur early on in a project. If the participants feel that your staff have addressed the situation with speed, diligence, and confidence in spite of the difficult nature, then you can be assured that they will perceive less future safety risk and more readily reassume their duties.

This preparation includes organizing local residents and educating them on how to be more careful and cognizant of the way in which they perform activities on the work site. Residents may have a great deal of practice in using shovels, hammers, or other tools that may be required to conduct a work project. But they must also be alerted to the fact that VolunTourists may not have this experience. Residents will need to be aware and pay attention to these issues as they perceive them to arise during the course of activities. VolunTourists should also be educated on how to interact with residents. This includes dressing accordingly and eliminating expensive and ostentatious jewelry as both a social courtesy and a safety measure.

Many of the methods for reducing Safety Risk involve what some will call “common sense.” But VolunTourism Operators and MICE industry representatives should always take into consideration that what may be “common sense” for one individual is “wisdom & insight” for someone who is not necessarily familiar with the type of work being conducted or the best ways to interact with residents and members of other cultures. When in doubt, err on the side of providing more information and preparation!

Mitigating Risk of Event or Project Failure

The best way to insure success in your VolunTourism activities is to be REAL! Let your incentive travel team know that this is not a golf outing where the tee times will be honored regardless of the circumstances. VolunTourism activities have numerous challenges, not the least of which is whether lunch will be ready on time. But you must expect these things. If you experience failure, it is because YOU lost perspective and let your clients lose perspective!

You may have failed to inform your participants of the high level of unpredictability in relation to these types of projects. You may have failed to properly question your client to determine their level of flexibility, or lack thereof. You may have failed to seek information from the NGO as to the nature of the project – what aspects of the project could influence time constraints, etc. Again, if there is a perception of failure on anyone’s part, look no further than in your mirror.

Now, if you want to have more control of the situation, then by all means conduct your VolunTourism activities on-site at a resort or hotel. Utilize the banquet facility, outdoor patio, or convention center to host your activity. This alleviates challenges due to transportation glitches, timely food & beverage service, and any other delays which may occur as a result of being off-site. By conducting activities on-site, you have greater control and can express your interest in having supplies delivered the day before, for example.

The other way to minimize your risk is to start slowly. Take on a project that is smaller, perhaps, than what you envision accomplishing, yet gives participants a sense of appreciation for having conducted an activity that has purpose and demonstrates support for the local community. Too many folks want to create great change in a short period of time while exercising little flexibility. This is a combination that leads to failure. Lower the expectation, increase the time commitment and extend the flexibility. This will assist you in Mitigating Risk of Event or Project Failure.

Mitigating Risk of Client Dissatisfaction/Loss

This has to be a personal favorite of mine! I have read so many stories of individuals that travel to foreign lands and make an effort to volunteer and better the life situation of others only to be disenchanted when they see the fruits of their labors unappreciated or dismantled soon after the completion of a project.

Take heart, gentle readers, this is the experience of those who are not properly educated prior to their VolunTourism activity. MICE industry representatives know how important it is to maintain sensibility and realism in conjunction with activities and events. Make certain that you do the same for your VolunTourism offerings.

No two projects can ever be the same. What was last year’s event was just that – last year’s event. This year is this year and it has to be diligently inscribed in the tablets of consciousness of your participants. “Yes, we do want to participate in an activity that brings you joy and happiness,” you may say to your guests. “However, what we are really here to do is to make a difference in the lives of residents of THIS destination. These people have needs and it is, ultimately, our job to fulfill those needs.” This may not be glamorous. This may not be as festive and joyous as last year, or, by a stroke of karmic blessing, it may be even more fantastic and incredible for this year’s group.

Remember: one person out there will experience dissatisfaction. Okay, now we know. My job as a practitioner of VolunTourism is to insure that the other 99% of the crowd realizes great satisfaction. I do this by putting the activity into perspective for them. I let them know how important the service that they are providing today really is to the residents and the destination. I make them completely vested in the task at hand by truly understanding its value in the context of the here and now – not last year, not next year – NOW – TODAY!!!

Want to avoid dissatisfaction or loss? Build the case for what satisfaction will be for the residents and the destination – translate this into satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment for participants. How well you are able to complete this translation, by speaking the language of your audience, is the art of VolunTourism. The more you practice, the more proficient you will become!

Part III

In Part III of this series (August issue), I will offer some options for overcoming the Lacks and deliver some final thoughts regarding these very important issues.

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