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Volume 2 Issue 1 - Feature Article 1

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FEATURE ARTICLE 1

Relief VolunTourism: Is The Luxury To Choose No Longer An Option?

Mother Nature is not pleased with our tending to the Planet. Storms are becoming more fierce, drought more intense, and the impact to humanity greater than ever. Have we reached a point at which VolunTourism has become a necessity?

Editor's Note: Brian T. Mullis, principal of Sustainable Travel International, offered great insight and content regarding global warming and prevention strategies to offset global warming for this article. I would like to thank him for his contribution and suggest that you take time to review some of the substantive work of STI on their website.

“Be Worried. Be VERY Worried” Were the words on the cover of Time Magazine for April 3, 2006.

Fortunately, I enjoy the hype of marketing and advertising and figured that this was an inventive use of the English language to draw attention to the magazine. But once I read through the article, I had a much different opinion – Natural Disasters may really not be “natural” at all; they are, potentially, a demonstration of our own passivity and ignorance in addressing our impacts on this Earth.

Six years ago when I began developing concepts and simulations of how VolunTourism could add a dimension to travel and tourism that had been, admittedly, untapped by many destinations, I thought of how freely it would be adopted, primarily because of the positive social impact.

I mused that business-related tourism would lead the field as meeting professionals would want to engage their clients in socially responsible activities that included a team building element. Later, the leisure tourism market could easily be adapted to incorporate VolunTourism for groups and individuals because many of these same people would be volunteers in their home communities. But just as addressing global warming is not in our daily purview, social responsibility is not traditionally the language that resonates with us when we have fiscal responsibilities and must meet stakeholder expectations for financial performance.

Photo Courtesy Of VolunTourists Without Borders, All Rights Reserved

Now, however, we have a different reality to address. By ignoring the environment and our impacts upon it, we are starting to reach a “tipping point” – the concept that small changes have little or no effect on our planet until a critical mass is reached after which time small changes result in a large effect. Whether we care to admit it or not, global warming, caused by human induced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions - such as carbon dioxide (CO2) - is one of the most serious global threats we face.

Although travel is inevitable, the impacts from travel activities are one of the main culprits of climate change. Currently, transportation related activity accounts for up to one third of all GHG emissions, with air travel being the fastest growing contributor. The average US domestic flight, for example, emits nearly a ton of CO2 per passenger, which, in some cases, is more than that person’s vehicle will emit through driving in a year; and it represents more emissions than many people in developing countries will be directly responsible for emitting in their entire lives.

These impacts, in turn are beginning to have a profound impact on the travel and tourism industry, and the planet at large. Both our inbound and outbound tourism industry faces serious repercussions, as there is a strong relationship between global warming, travel, and coastal tourism. All around the world - Mexico, Guatemala, Romania, Kenya, Thailand, Australia, and The United States – countries bear the scars of the climactic changes that are occurring. What once may have been viewed as a “luxury” of creating a VolunTourism initiative to support the social challenges of destinations may soon become a necessity to address those brought on by environmental changes that we have created.

According to World Changing in an article entitled “Biodiversity Meets The Bottom Line”:

“For companies in the forestry, mining, energy, fishing, or other sectors linked directly with natural resources -- or tourism, which relies in part on nature's bounty to attract customers -- the links between biodiversity and business’ success are pretty clear.”

Tourism depends on the health of the destination, of the earth itself. If the earth is unhealthy, so, too, will be the fate of tourism in that destination.

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We have seen what devastation does to tourism. Year after year, we are provided with examples. But we have also seen how tourism can adapt and slowly rebound in these situations. Based on our experience of the post-Tsunami visitation and that to the Gulf Coast region in the U.S., we are seeing that travelers are making conscious decisions to be of service from the Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean in the East to the Caribbean and the Gulf Coast in the West. Of course, they want to experience the traditional elements of travel, but they are also more than willing to give of their time and financial resources to help.

But could this effort be better organized? Absolutely it could, and can.

I suggest that as a community of persons interested in VolunTourism that we reflect upon how important it could be to develop a plan for Relief VolunTourism. Initially, we could concentrate on coastal destinations that reside in known “hot spots” for flooding, hurricanes, etc. We could craft a plan for each of these destinations that would figure into their existing Emergency Preparedness Plans (EPPs). Likewise the media would be alerted to the time at which a destination would be implementing their Relief VolunTourism plan – thus, people would not be “flocking” to a destination when relief supplies would be better served in assisting the residents of the area. In fact, the destination might create an “invitation only” time period in which only Relief VolunTourists would be allowed to come to the destination.

Simultaneously, we could be educating and training Relief VolunTourists in advance of natural disasters. These would be individuals with the financial wherewithal to travel to certain destinations, to utilize accom-modations and support the local economy during the transition and rebuilding process. But they would also have certain skills that could be tapped to support the social challenges. These persons might also speak the language of the area, live nearby, and have a history of traveling to the region, thus they are more likely to know its culture and particular customs that might require delicate handling and diplomacy in the aftermath of devastation.

And, of course, we can work toward the goal of - - PREVENTION.

One ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) has the same impact on global warming wherever in the world it is emitted – or saved. You can certainly make an effort to consume less energy by using public transportation and hybrid vehicles, and by walking and biking in destinations or at home; but some emissions are unavoidable.

Photo Courtesy Of VolunTourists Without Borders, All Rights Reserved

Fortunately, there are a growing number of conscientious consumers and responsible businesses – both inside and outside of the travel and tourism industry – that are donating financial resources, time, talent and economic patronage to renewable energy, energy efficiency, reforestation, and afforestation projects. These, in turn, help to offset the impacts of the developed world’s GHG emissions through carbon sequestration and by reducing emissions elsewhere.

Review your practices. Are you doing what you can to reduce the impact of global warming? Are you offsetting your CO2 emissions? Are you treading as lightly as possible? The average American household produces about 18.5 metric tons of CO2 each year. Specific measures to reduce energy consumption levels include taking no- to low-cost energy saving actions and measures and investing in energy-efficiency. Start by ensuring your home is energy efficient. Most home energy enhancements pay for themselves within a few years in lower utility bills.

Also, determine the impact that your travel, including daily commuting, has on the environment. Investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects through voluntary programs like the MyClimate and Bonneville Environmental Foundation are great ways to travel with a clear conscious.

You can also participate in reforestation and afforestation projects like Sustainable Harvest International and Trees for the Future. By actively supporting environmental conservation at home, at work and in our leisure time, together, we can make a difference in helping to restore the delicate balance upon which our fragile ecosystems and we ourselves are dependent.

Conclusion

Prevention and Intervention will be dancing partners for many years to come. If either is neglected, the likelihood that global warming and its consequences will be adequately addressed is very slim. Providing specific destinations with a Relief VolunTourism plan for implementation, a group of dedicated Relief VolunTourists ready to engage in supporting a destination, and previously designated partnerships to facilitate these efforts will insure greater efficiency in the F-U-T-U-R-E. And I think we all seem to appreciate the hope implicitly demonstrated in those six letters.

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