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October 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.

FEATURE ARTICLE 1

Inbound VolunTourism: The CEO Dilemma - - Part II

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In this second installment of our series, I offer a step-by-step approach to identifying appropriate VolunTourism options that will meet the needs of the destination and satisfy the "top brass."

Step One: Identify Your Audience

Businesses provide products and services for consumers. But interestingly enough, quite often they fail to recognize the importance of connecting with these consumers via social issues and concerns. This “business of service” is not viewed as a potential means by which the relationship between business and consumer can be solidified beyond that of brand loyalty.

Of course, there are some companies like Avon, for example, that have done a tremendous job of solidifying the relationship with their consumer base via the support of “Race for the Cure” and other such social endeavors that align directly with the needs and concerns of their consumers. But this takes research and a willingness to listen to consumers as to what issues are of greatest import to them.

The research expands beyond the consumer base. It also applies to the employee base, the stakeholders, and the suppliers. It requires a sincere effort to develop a research instrument that engages participants in really sharing the things about which they care the most. The information is invaluable. It can assist a company in identifying service projects in a destination with the intent of participating in something that serves both the local residents – potentially some of its consumers, and its employees simultaneously.

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Step Two: Develop The Survey Instrument

Determine what survey methods will support you in achieving your primary goal and objective as it relates to your various target audiences.

With consumers you may want to conduct simple “exit interviews.” With stakeholders, you may want to include a simple survey with a shareholder report. With employees, you may want to send out a survey with a company newsletter.

Whatever instrument you develop, incorporate it naturally into the communications tools that you currently use to reach these various audiences.

Step Three: Collect & Review The Research

Begin compiling the submissions that you receive immediately. If you have a public relations firm, utilize their services to handle this activity for you. If not, you may want to outsource this service.

Once the results are compiled, review the research. Take note of any similarities between your audiences. If there are similarities, you are already well along in your process. If not, you will have to make a determination of which audience you will try to appease first.

Step Four: Have Well-Defined Recommendations & Options Available

Armed with your research, you can now make some “educated” selections as to what social issues you should address as part of your potential VolunTourism activities. These selections should be aligned with each audience according to the research results.

This will give you a strong set of options to review with those who will be making the final decisions.

Contact the destination marketing organization (DMO) or your local contact in the destination. Let them know of the results of your research and ask them to cross-reference your findings with the needs that they have in the destination. When they reply with the potential options, you will be able to match these with your audiences.

When you can demonstrate needs of the destination meeting preferences of the audiences you serve, you have created an incredible argument to support your proposed VolunTourism options!

Step Five: Take Everything To The TOP!

Whether you contract with a PR Firm, a group of college interns, a consulting team, or take the in-house route to conduct your research. YOU MUST TAKE IT TO THE TOP!

So often, a company will spend money conducting research, create a presentation or documentation of the results, and present it to someone with the company that does NOT make decisions about the socially responsible practices of an entity. But why does this happen?

Likely, as is the case in most companies, the Human Resources (HR) Department is responsible for the direction of corporate philanthropy and social responsibility. It certainly does not fall under the category of “Product Development,” but why not? Who made the decision that social impact and engagement by a company is less important than say, marketing?

The only way to shift this culture is to take the research to the CEO. It may be challenging. It may be risky. It may appear as brazen foolishness. But if you make the effort to share the data with the CEO, change can most assuredly occur.

Conclusion

The point of this exercise is not to discredit the good intentions of a CEO or top-management. The exercise is intended to support the company or association in delivering services to a population that is in need of receiving those services while concurrently aligning these needs with a direct connection to desires of a particular audience that you, as a corporation or association, already serve.

VolunTourism should be a natural extension of the business practices of a company or association. If it is not, then the participation in VolunTourism is little more than a display of misguided philanthropy.

Service is meant to be a natural extension of the activities of a company or association. VolunTourism allows that service to flow within the context of annual meetings, events, and incentive-based travel.

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