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Volume 3 Issue 1 - Feature Article 1

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VolunTourism: From Whence They May Come - Part II

In this, the second installment of our series, I will explore Canada's potential to yield a crop of new VolunTourists. What makes Canada such fertile territory for producing VolunTourists? Environment, Desire, and Capacity!

When I began reviewing the underlying elements that make Canada a potential incubator for VolunTourists, I was struck by four items that surfaced from my research.

  1. A Nationally-Pervasive Philanthropic Culture Spearheaded by the Canadian Government
  2. The Potential for Domestic VolunTourism
  3. A Significant In-Country Volunteer Base
  4. The Leading International Destinations Chosen by Canadian Travelers

At the most fundamental level these four elements comprise the two basic qualities necessary to incubate VolunTourists: An environment in which philanthropic and service-minded objectives can be cultivated and fulfilled (Points #1 & #2 above), and a desire/capacity to serve and a desire/capacity to travel by the citizens themselves (Points #3 & #4 above). These elements are profoundly integrated, almost symbiotic in nature.

As I discovered from the various sources that I reviewed, Canada has the over-arching environment in which its citizens can cultivate their desire to serve and travel and subsequently fulfill those desires once they have achieved the capacity to do so.

Photo Courtesy Of Aquila Tours, All Rights Reserved

Influence From The Top

In December 2006, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) released their Fiscal Year 2004-2005 annual report. According to the summary of the report, CIDA disbursed $4.14 billion (roughly .32% of Gross National Income) in Official Development Assistance (ODA) funds overseas. This represented a 52.4% increase in comparison to the previous fiscal year (2003-2004).

The mission statement on CIDA's home page reads as follows:

Supporting sustainable development, reducing poverty and providing humanitarian assistance in order to promote a more secure, equitable and prosperous world.

and one of CIDA's mandates is to:

Mobilize Canadians to build our society's capacity to contribute effectively to global poverty reduction.

Is there a correlation between government support of developing nations and the overall philanthropic and service attitude of its citizens?

In answer to this question, I would offer a resounding "Yes!"

CIDA is developing a giving environment and a culture to which citizens of Canada can direct their attention as they see fit. Whether it is taken as a matter of holding the government accountable for supporting fellow, global citizens or as a source of nationalistic pride, in either case, the message is being delivered regarding the importance of providing for those who have fewer resources at their disposal. And, this message slowly disseminates into the mass consciousness of the entire population.

Countless studies on giving and volunteerism point to the influence of the society as a whole in which an individual is born, reared, and subsequently attains adulthood. If this society proactively embraces giving and volunteering, then its citizens will likely follow the same path. As to a specific age at which citizens will begin to give and/or volunteer, however, this seems more closely connected to achieving individual capacity.

Domestic VolunTourism

Canada boasts one of the world's largest percentage of open space per capita. Canada is also host to a rich, indigenous culture that stretches throughout all of its provinces. There is an abundant supply of maritime conservation areas and national heritage sites. This speaks highly to the potential for VolunTourism that focuses on any aspect of the natural environment and/or cultural and historic preservation.


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Parks Canada is ideally situated to be the liaison between these magnificent "assets" of Canada and its residents, particularly those who have an interest in adding a voluntary service component to a vacation. Rather than expending the goodwill of its citizens in far off corners of the world, Canada has the unique opportunity of engaging its residents between the 50 - 80 degrees North Latitude and 60 - 140 degrees West Longitude - a land mass that comprises the world's second largest country. (For more information on Canada, you can review this World Fact Book Canada Profile.)

Social issues may also be addressed by Canadians through VolunTourism. Business VolunTourism can flourish in major metropolitan areas in which conventions and annual meetings are held for corporations and professional associations. With the successful, personal experience of being a voluntourist amongst fellow co-workers and peers, it is quite possible that convention and meeting delegates will consider incorporating VolunTourism into an individual, family, or group leisure travel option.

VolunTourism "Practice," if you will, in the domestic setting builds confidence, especially among the young members of the population. Visualizing the potential of expanding the VolunTourism opportunity beyond one's national borders becomes a far easier task following a successful domestic experience. (For those interested in diving deeper into this subject, I encourage you to review Students Today Leaders Forever and their "Pay It Forward Tours" which focus on their Domestic VolunTourism efforts in the United States.)

Canadians Volunteer!

In June 2006, Statistics Canada published a document entitled: Caring Canadians, Involved Canadians: Highlights from the 2004 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering, and Participating. (For those interested in a PDF version of the document, click here.)

The "Key Findings" of the survey that are relevant to the potential development of VolunTourists are these:

  1. 11.8 million Canadians (45% of the population aged 15 and older) volunteered their time to charities and other nonprofit organizations.

  2. Volunteer rates were highest among youth, those with university degrees, those with household incomes over $100,000, and those who attended religious services weekly.

  3. Canadian volunteers contributed an average of 168 hours in 2004.
Photo Courtesy Of Aquila Tours, All Rights Reserved

Statistic #1 gives us an indication that volunteering is important to a broad base of the population. Statistic #2, particularly items regarding a university degree and household incomes over $100,000, correlates with demographics amongst travelers. Statistic #3 tells us that in a year's time volunteers will contribute an average of 168 hours. Over the course of a one, two, or three-week VolunTourism experience, the amount of time dedicated to volunteering would be virtually insignificant compared to this figure.

Which one of these statistics is likely the most important?

Statistic #1 is probably the most crucial. This is by far the largest percentage of voluntary service by this age group in any country in the world. With nearly half the population already familiar with the concept of volunteering, it is not difficult to convince them of the merits of doing so in conjunction with their travel.

Canadians Travel To Potential VolunTourism Destinations

According to Statistics Canada, the top six destinations for Canadian travelers abroad in 2005 were:

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Mexico
  4. France
  5. Cuba
  6. Dominican Republic

Three of these countries - Mexico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic - represent destinations that have a track record of hosting VolunTourists. Although there is not an accurate figure to quote at this time, it can be mentioned that a number of Canadian VolunTourists have already taken the trip to the U.S. Gulf Coast to support the reconstruction efforts following the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina & Rita. Whether the UK and/or France have an infrastructure to host VolunTourists at this juncture is still unknown.

If, however, Canadians focus on Mexico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, certainly they will discover a wealth of resources available to them to support the formation of any type of VolunTourism journey. Canadians' escape from winter's cold grip into milder climates may become a boon for VolunTourism in these countries.

Final Thoughts

Canada, in my mind, has all of the ingredients necessary to make it a significant contributor to the ever-growing population of VolunTourists in the world. The physical and societal environments coupled with its service- & travel-minded population are precisely what is needed to produce VolunTourists.

Establishing a platform by which these would-be VolunTourists can begin to explore their potential in a domestic and/or an international setting will only enhance the possibility. CIDA, Parks Canada, and other organizations may collaborate to form a VolunTourism Network to support the citizens of Canada in taking their civic-minded values on the road with them in the months and years to come.

Up Next... Australia

In our next issue, we will cross the Pacific Ocean and visit the continent of Australia in Part III of this ongoing series. What makes Australia a proving ground for would-be VolunTourists? Location, Location, Location!

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