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Volume 2 Issue 4 - 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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VolunTourism: From Whence They May Come - Part I

VolunTourism, if it is to grow, prosper and become sustainable, must have an ever-increasing supply of participants. What nations will likely produce a regular supply of VolunTourists? This article represents the first in a series that will explore the answer to the question.

I want to begin 2007 with what will be an ongoing series of articles on potential markets from which VolunTourists may originate. As the VolunTourism industry continues to expand, conscientious travelers will hail from all corners of the globe. Throughout this series, I will look at numerous studies on voluntary service, philanthropy, and travel as it relates to these home destinations. My goal will be to share with you my conclusions as to why these countries will be exporters of VolunTourists.

2007 has arrived and, quite likely, you are still formulating your New Year’s Resolutions. Why not consider VolunTourism as an extension of your personal, or corporate, social responsibility? By setting up your personal life or your business operations to be more generous to the communities to which you travel or in which you conduct your business, you may find that Newton’s Third Law of Motion is equally applicable in the land of philanthropy – giving AND volunteering – as it is in the realm of physics.

Of course, it is difficult to start such an endeavor without knowing who might be your travel companion or your target audience. Thus, the appropriate question is: From whence might potential VolunTourists come?

Photo Courtesy Of North By Northeast Tours, All Rights Reserved

In 1990, the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Center for Civil Society Studies embarked on the Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project (CNP) to better understand the nature of nonprofit organizations and the contributions they make to their respective societies throughout the world. The CNP initially focused its efforts on collecting data in 13 countries and has since expanded to 40.

Led by Dr. Lester Salamon, a core research team oversees the reporting of data from nearly 500 researchers and contributors around the globe. In December 2005, the CNP released its findings from a comparative study on volunteering and giving as it relates to a contribution toward a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Between 1995 and 2002, CNP collected data on the giving and volunteering habits of 30 nations around the world. The results were published in a very simple document that suggests The Netherlands may be a “producer” of potential VolunTourists.

According to the results, the Netherlandic contributed the equivalent of a whopping 4.7% of GDP through volunteering, nearly 20% more than its closest rival in this category, Sweden (4.03%). An estimated 1.9 million residents provided nearly US $17 billion in voluntary labor. But what about the travel habits of the Netherlandic. Is there reason to believe that this value placed upon service can apply across the travel market?

Each year, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) releases its Travel & Tourism Economic Research projections for 174 countries. Information released for The Netherlands regarding 2006 suggested that personal domestic and international travel would equate to more than US $36 billion, or 11.6% of all personal spending. When compared to the nearly US $3 trillion spent on travel and tourism each year throughout the world, this may seem fairly insignificant. But if you are trying to understand the nature of VolunTourists and why they participate in such itineraries, it is easy to forget that you are basing your decision on the combination of both travel AND service habits. We see within these numbers that residents of The Netherlands clearly have a propensity to do both.


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Now let’s turn our attention from quantitative data, to review some qualitative information that will shed further light on the people of The Netherlands and how they may become future VolunTourists.

Rene’ H.P.F. Bekkers, PhD, is an assistant professor at Utrecht University in The Netherlands. In 2005, he received the Gabriel Rudney Award for the best dissertation from the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana. His 2004 dissertation was entitled: Giving & Volunteering in the Netherlands: Psychological and Sociological Perspectives. He focuses the bulk of his research to answer a very simple question: "When and why do people contribute to the welfare of others?"

His dissertation delivers a wealth of information about the motivators for giving and how these apply, in this particular case, to The Netherlands. Suffice it to say he provides substantial evidence for a sociological tradition of volunteering in The Netherlands that could very easily be translated into volunteering outside of the boundaries of the country itself.

But what I found to be most helpful in fully understanding the potential crossover between volunteering and travel was this short opening paragraph from a section of his dissertation entitled "The Role of Education":

The results of this dissertation also have broader implications for policy makers. The repeated observation that the level of education is positively related to pro-social behavior suggests that an investment in a higher level of education of the population will produce a stronger civil society. Higher educated people are more likely to give blood, to donate their organs after death, they are more often members of voluntary associations, volunteer more often, and give more money to charitable causes.

Many from the travel industry already know about the direct correlation between education level and travel, especially international travel. Here we have a common link between volunteering and education as well. If we extrapolate, using the transitive property of algebra (If A = B and B = C, then A=C), we can infer that volunteering and travel have a direct relationship.

Photo Courtesy Of North By Northeast Tours, All Rights Reserved

In addition, the Netherlands is one of eight countries, excluding the US, that hosts an affiliate of the Hands On Network. Michelle Nunn started this organization in 1989 as Hands On Atlanta and it has grown to include more than 50 affiliates in nine countries. Although the majority of locations are US-based, it is important to note that Amsterdam is one of only eight affiliates outside of the US.

And finally, there is this letter that I recently received from Bart Wijlaars. (Please keep in mind that English is not Bart’s first language and that the text that appears here is unedited. Draw your own conclusions about the voluntary service spirit of The Netherlands.):

Dear David,

I am a Dutch reporter and I just came back from a trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I'm afraid I don't know your organisation well, though it showed up when I started searching the web for information about a certain subject and I just hope you can help me anyway.

The subject I'm referring to is voluntourism. A term I became familiair with when I was helping out demolding a house of some Hurricane Katrina victims in the area of Biloxi. These people told me voluntourism is the combination of both holiday as volunteerwork in the same trip. To use the Gulf Coast example: go help out for a few days, take a good rest in the casino's of Biloxi for a few days and that's your holiday.

My first question: are we talking about the same form of voluntourism?

Secondly, if we are then I'd like some very specific information about voluntourism in the Gulf Coast Area. It would be great if you can tell me how to explain to my readers how they can become a voluntourist in that area. I'll tell you why.

The reason I was at the Gulf Coast is simple: I was invited. Invited by touristic agencies that operate in the area, by the many casino's and restaurants, by the museums and by the hotels. Their message was that they're open to business. I can understand that message. It is important that tourists start coming to the Gulf Coast again and spend their money. All for the benefit of the area and its inhabitants.

What I couldn't understand though was how they could say they're open for business while several thousand families are still living in FEMA-trailers. When you drive through the area you see mostly nothing. Sites where once hundreds of houses stood strong, groundworks of churches, every now and then these trailerparks. The size of the devestation shocked me and at moments I could not believe I was in the richest country of the world. To me it just seemed as if there was still a lot of work to do.

I'm not sure if you know how these presstrips work, but as a reporter you're supposed to write everything down nice and neat and lure your readers so to speak into going to the place you've been. This time I'm having a hard time doing that. Of course, the casino's and the restaurants are open for business at the Gulf Coast, but for the same reason I could not have a fun holiday in Baghdad, I can't have that at the Gulf Coast. The devestation is just everywhere. The people need help, way more than tourists spending their money in the area.

That's when I joined a group of volunteers who were at that time demolding a house. Even though I only 'worked' for a couple of hours, it gave me more satisfaction than everything we did there until then. And that's when I was first told about voluntourism.

What I want to do is write a story that encourages my readers to go to Mississippi and become a volunteer. Help some people out who might be forgotten, if I couldn't imagine there were people in the richest country of the world living in the conditions I some in the FEMA-trailers, more people can't. And I'm convinced they must be helped. Done volunteering? Take a bath at the beautiful Beau Rivage, eat at the best restaurant you can find and sleep in the biggest ocean-view suite you can find. It's all there and since you pay for it you help out the locals anyway. But combine the two, don't just go waste your time there. Help those people out and feel human, I guess that's what I'm trying to see.

I always try to keep these kind of emails short and I never succeed to. I hope you can help me, and in that way help the people on the Gulf Coast.

Kind regards,
Bart Wijlaars

Reporter of Telegraaf

I have read this letter several times to myself and to others since I received it. It is this kind of sentiment that galvanizes my conviction that The Netherlands is a homeland for future VolunTourists.

Up Next... Canada

In our next issue, we will cross the Atlantic Ocean and visit the land of Canada in Part II of this ongoing series. What makes Canada a proving ground for would-be VolunTourists? Let's just say its the "warm" hearts, not the winters.

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