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August 2005 - Feature Article 1

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.


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

What are the biggest challenges that Incentive Travel Executives and Meeting Professionals face in relation to VolunTourism? In this, our third installment of the three-part series, we address how to aquire what you LACK.

When we talk about a “lack” of something, we have a couple of ways to address it. We can either compensate, a more passive approach, or we can take a proactive stance and acquire the necessary items/skills to remove the dearth permanently. Since VolunTourism is certainly a proactive approach to travel and tourism, we shall focus on acquisition of that which we lack.

Aquisition of Knowledge

Part of our effort with The VolunTourist is to begin providing you with the knowledge that you will need to create a VolunTourism activity in conjunction with your MICE projects. This means you can give yourself a nod of approval; as you are already working toward acquisition of knowledge by reading this newsletter! But there are other ways to increase your knowledge base besides reading your monthly issue of The VolunTourist.


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Conferences and annual meetings for such groups as Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and the Professional Convention Managers Association (PCMA) are beginning to include breakout sessions and workshops that focus on the inclusion of voluntary service in conjunction with annual meetings and conventions. If you are a member of these professional associations, you can also check with the “Director of Education,” or an equivalent position, and discover if they offer online courses or monthly meetings that may have VolunTourism as part of a future program or topic area.

If you are a member of a Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) or Destination Marketing Organization (DMO), ask to speak with the director of member services or a representative of that office. Let them know that you are interested in learning more about VolunTourism. Explain why you are interested and determine if they can find someone that can come and speak to the membership on the topic of VolunTourism for the inbound market. They may be able to introduce the topic at a monthly breakfast or luncheon meeting, or create a separate seminar on the subject.

Online research is another way of educating yourself about VolunTourism programs and opportunities. Generally speaking, there is at least one article per month that can be found on the search engines that discusses the topic of voluntary service projects and their incorporation into MICE activities. These articles range in scope from referencing companies that specialize in “teambuilding with purpose” to nonprofits that assist meeting professionals in coordinating these options. There are also articles that discuss what a company or association did in rendering service to a destination through in-house PR sources and other reports. This will give you a flavor of what is possible and spark your interest in taking a particular track for your own projects in the future.

Familiarization (Aquisition of Familiarity)

The best way to familiarize oneself with something is to become a participant -VolunTourism IS a participatory sport!

But what is the process by which this can occur?

If you are a member of a professional association or group, review the upcoming program for the annual convention and discover if they will be offering a VolunTourism activity or event at the gathering. If not, ask the planners if they intend to do so in the future and/or what it would take to compel them to include VolunTourism at this year’s conference. You may very well decide to undertake the lead position on a committee to put such an activity together, or at least become a committee member as a way to “practice” for your own operations.

[Remember: Since at least one out of every four people that you meet is a current volunteer and at least one out of every two people has volunteered in the last two years, the odds are favorable that you will have a conversation with someone who also appreciates volunteering and may set in motion the necessary steps to incorporate a VolunTourism activity at the annual meeting.]

In addition, you may be able to speak with your local Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) or Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) and ask if they have recently referred any groups that wanted to provide a voluntary service project as part of their MICE activities. If you are a member of the CVB/DMO, let them know why you have called and ask them to forward your contact information to the entity to which the CVB/DMO referred the inbound group. This is an excellent way to introduce yourself to a potential supplier/vendor for future VolunTourism operations that you may conduct while providing you with the necessary familiarization.

And, of course, online research is an option for you to discover what organizations or companies offer VolunTourism programs for the MICE industry. Give them a call. Quite possibly they will be open to hosting you to participate in a future event. At the very least, they will know of your interest and can stay in contact with you.

Finally, you can simply address your fears and concerns and produce your own VolunTourism event in conjunction with an annual meeting for one of your existing clients. Select a client with which you have a long-standing relationship and let them know how important you think that it is to create one of these types of events. Speak to them with sincerity about your wishes and let them know the truth – “This is our first time putting one of these together.” They may very well appreciate the fact that you would see them as a potential candidate for something like this. Or you may select a client that you find has a long, rich history of employee volunteerism and suggest to them that a VolunTourism event might be the next step in the evolution of their employee volunteer program. You may find that they have wanted to do something like this but never found a vendor willing to make the effort to coordinate the project.

Acquisition of Suppliers/Vendors

Research, Research, RESEARCH!!

Yes, this may seem redundant, but research is the only way you will ever discover what suppliers/vendors are currently in the marketplace. You must realize in your search that the lack of suppliers/vendors may not necessarily be a function of their existence as much as it may be a function of their lack of ability to market their operations properly. Some may be grassroots organizations or members of larger coalitions of nonprofits that do not have individualized presence on the World Wide Web, but can be accessed through collaborative contacts.

Do not forget the power of the MICE industry and its affiliates. This includes contacting colleagues, writing us a letter here at The VolunTourist, or finding other meeting professionals that have created these programs and asking them for referrals. Networking will be an excellent tool in assisting you in this process.

But what if there is not a supplier to be found?

You can continue your research, or you can make an effort on your next site visit to encourage the destination – the CVB, DMO, or Board of Tourism – to connect you with organizations in the region. Depending on how “interested” you describe the “wishes” of your client to be of service in the destination, these entities will make the necessary effort to get you a name and a contact.

In the meantime, we will assist you in expanding the network of VolunTourism suppliers/vendors by continuing to produce The VolunTourist and establishing relationships with NGOs, development organizations, and companies around the world that have the capacity to assist you in creating and coordinating VolunTourism activities and events.

Acquisition of Financial Resources

Money is, and always will be, an obstacle!

This is “clearly” one of those laws that Sir Isaac Newton forgot to add to the list.

But you might get creative with your budgetary constraints and determine what options you have.

For example, if you are putting on a meeting that includes a significant number of educational panels, it is likely that sponsors will have a much less visible presence for these programming elements. However, a VolunTourism event or activity may deliver greater exposure to potential sponsors. Depending on the type of project that you create, you may find many opportunities to provide sponsors with name & logo recognition including things like “team jerseys,” tools, supplies & materials for projects, “welcome” banners, “thank you” banners, “thank you” cards or plaques, etc. The list can be very lengthy and far more expansive than the current options available with an educational meeting.

You also have the flexibility of offering the sponsorship as a “tax-deductible” contribution from the “philanthropic” side of a sponsor’s business operations. This is very different than marketing and promotional dollars and may give you access to funds that traditionally are not available to meeting professionals. What a concept, eh?!?

But you may also decide to conduct your VolunTourism activity as a pre- or post-conference event. This may assist you in meeting room blocks and other challenges that will give you a chance to free monies that may have otherwise been allocated to cover contract obligations.

The point is this: VolunTourism opens the “Financial Options Box!” We talk about getting away from old habits and patterns of behavior – generally around the first of each year, but not everyone holds their annual meeting or convention in January. It is easier to forget about options when September & October roll around. But VolunTourism is not limited to January activities – granted there is great need in the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year, but the other eleven months also represent times in which valid needs can be met. VolunTourism can give you a sense of financial freedom or at least some flexibility. And we all know that “flexible” is good!

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