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Volume 3 Issue 2 - Feature Article 1

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VolunTourism: From Whence They May Come - Part III




So You May Know
Wisdom & Insight
Supply Chain
Study & Research


In this issue we take a trip "Down Under" to reveal the contributing factors that make Australia a unique incubator for present and future VolunTourists. It is far more than "Location" that makes this continent ripe for the production of VolunTourists.

[Editor's Note: This is not the first time that The VolunTourist has connected with Australia. In August 2005, Wisdom & Insight answered questions posed by Nikki Fisher of Unique Traveller magazine and later in the year Dr. Stephen Wearing (See below) provided two articles on VolunTourism for our Research Forum.]

When I considered writing this article, the first thought that struck me regarding Australia, was that of the late Steve Irwin. I said to myself: "Steve Irwin would have made one helluva VolunTourist!" I envision others from this magnificent island-continent being able to carry that same enthusiasm and zeal into their own VolunTourism journeys.

In April of this year, Patricia Karvelas wrote a brief article in The Australian discussing the potential for VolunTourism. She interviewed Aden Ridgeway, Executive Chairman of Indigenous Tourism Australia, who shared his thoughts on the subject. Here is an excerpt from her article:

“Mr. Ridgeway, who returned from an Aboriginal tourism roadshow to Europe in February, said there had been keen interest in the idea. ‘It's what I call VolunTourism, he said. It's really about getting astute tourists who want to go somewhere and give something back.’”

The Four Factors

Australia has four factors that con-tribute to its potential for producing VolunTourists:

  1. Location
  2. A "Native Son"
  3. A Conservation, Volunteerism, and Travel Mentality
  4. Wealth Accumulation


Although Mr. Ridgeway limited his remarks in the article to overseas visitors, I cannot help but wonder whether such a project could also be opened to residents of Australia.

And it is with this thought that we shall consider what makes Australia a rich, fertile land for the production of future VolunTourists. First and foremost is Australia's location. In addition to location, this country has a native son, who has spent the last decade studying volunteer tourism as a form of alternative tourism. There is also a pervading understanding of the importance of environmental conservation, volunteerism, and travel. And finally, there has been a marked increase in wealth accumulation throughout the population over the last several decades.


Australia is the only nation-continent in the world. Geographically, it resides within short-range flight options to Indonesia, the Mekong, Sri Lanka and India. These destinations are, of course, well-known for beautiful beaches and stellar tourism attractions, but with the expansion of global awareness of the millennium development goals, these destinations are also being seen as dramatic options for busying oneself to support the well-being of others. Testimony of this can be seen in the outpouring of sympathy and aid from Australia to those who suffered loss during the Southeast Asian tsunami. But this generosity did not confine itself to dangling purse strings alone. Australians also traveled to these areas and delivered their personal services in a voluntary capacity to support the recovery process.

Australians need not venture beyond their own borders, however. VolunTourism is a definite possibility for those wishing to support conservation projects in key national parks throughout the territories. 60,000 years of human history is evident in a variety of areas across the continent; if Mr. Ridgeway is successful in his bid to develop VolunTourism in conjunction with Aboriginal peoples, it will make for an incredible opportunity to further cross-cultural connections between residents.

A "Native Son"


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[Editor's Note: Dr. Nancy McGehee, who directs the Research Forum for The VolunTourist, first introduced us to Dr. Stephen Wearing back in 2005 when she posted two of his articles: VolunTourism - Can It Influence Mass Tourism? and VolunTourism & Community Development.]

As an Associate Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney in the School of Leisure, Sport and Tourism, Dr. Stephen Wearing, has dedicated an exceptional amount of time and study to volunteer tourism. In 2001, Dr. Wearing published Volunteer Tourism: Experiences That Make A Difference. In the opening paragraph, he writes:

"This book attempts to encapsulate the enthusiasm and positive attempts to use tourism as a means of support for both youth and communities. In a global society that increasingly finds dogma and marketing used to instil values and exploit social relations, volunteer tourism represents both an opportunity and a means of value-adding in an industry that seems to represent consumer capitalism at its worst."

And he concludes his offering with these words:

"Instead, this book has concerned itself with the voice of the ‘other(s)’ in the tourist enterprise: social value, interactions with and between the host community, and the self that evolves through the volunteer tourist experience, indeed the nature, in its most inclusive sense, of the experience itself. If the social value(s) of a particular site - that has and is in the process, both through historical aggregation and through contemporary practices of meaning making - is able to be engendered within the interaction with the tourist, there is more likelihood of a genuine exchange with both the space and its people. Such an experience includes the other’s view as well as one's own, which facilitates a mutual process of learning and personal growth. Where local communities have been involved in the planning, preparation, management and implementation of tourist enterprises - evidenced in the Santa Elena experience -exclusion and inferiorization of the ‘other’ can give way to dialogue in which there is a sharing and exchange of cultural meaning. The power balance between tourist and hosts can be destabilized, cultural hegemony can be challenged and tourist spaces constructed for genuine exchange which will benefit all the selves involved."

WOW! There is tremendous conviction in what Dr. Wearing offers in these words. It is this sincere appreciation and determination that can assist Australians in becoming voluntourists - ones that can truly understand the concept of mutual reciprocity. It is through VolunTourism journeys that worldviews, and ultimately consciousness can change. Having an advocate like Dr. Wearing to aid this process and to further the education of Australian citizens on this topic can only mean a promising future for the creation of seasoned VolunTourists.

FIGURE 1: Travel By Australians

[Note: Outbound or international travel involves a visit to another country. Only trips of less than 12 months duration qualify as international tourism. Data for outbound trips is presented for the year ending December 2006 due to the 3 month recall period in the National Visitor Survey.]

  • Total trips - Australians aged 15 years and over took 4.4 million international trips during the year ended December 2006.
  • Nights - Australians spent an average of 22 nights abroad on each overseas trip during the year ended December 2006.
  • Countries - The most popular international destination was New Zealand (18%), followed by the USA and Canada (11%) and the United Kingdom (9%).
  • Purpose - The most popular reason for outbound travel was holiday/leisure (50%), followed by visiting friends and/or relatives (24%) and business (23%).

Source: Tourism Research Australia and Tourism Australia (March 2007)

Conservation, Volunteerism, and Travel Mentality

Conservation is definitely part of the Australian culture. Water is a commodity whose value cannot be underestimated on a land mass that is virtually one, BIG island. Organizations such as the Australian Conservation Foundation, which has been in existence for more than 40 years, and Conservation Volunteers, which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary, are keeping conservation and global climate change in the forefront of the nation’s collective consciousness. Conservation Volunteers, for example, is directing the efforts of more than 10,000 volunteers nationwide and successfully planting more than 1 million trees annually, according to their website.

The voluntary service mentality is certainly alive and well in Australia also. Recently, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the first, in its history of census-taking, research data on volunteerism for the entire continent. The results estimated that 18% of the Australian population over the age of 15 years is currently volunteering - with women (57%) representing the majority of the participants.

This doesn’t surprise Andy Fryar, who founded OzVPM.com – the Australasian Volunteer Program Management website – back in 2002, in the very least. He offered the following thoughts regarding Australians connection to volunteerism and VolunTourism:

  • An unprecedented growth in volunteerism rates over the past decades (and all evidence suggests it is still growing)
  • A strong historical base of volunteering with surf lifesaving, country fire services, etc. - something we grow up knowing about
  • The focus on volunteering as a worthwhile activity that was spurned by the Sydney Olympic games
  • Increasing domestic voluntourists (growing numbers appear to be working in remote areas with aboriginal populations)

He went on to add:

"I think there is a certain mindset in the Australia psyche too, that because we are so remote from the rest of the world, we seem to be travellers and adventurers by nature. I am not sure that can be backed up by statistics, but I think we travel more than many other nations. You only need to go into any pub in London and count the number of Aussies there!"

And where travel is concerned, Tourism Research Australia and Tourism Australia publish a quarterly report entitled Travel By Australians (See Figure 1 for latest numbers on International Travel.) Over the last several years, there is strong statistical evidence to demonstrate the growth in both domestic and international travel by Australians to certainly support Andy’s notion.

Wealth Accumulation

“The Australian economy has had a lengthy period of expansion. By past standards, we have had reasonably stable growth and low inflation, and the economy has moved closer to full capacity.” These words were part of the closing remarks uttered by Malcolm Edy, Assistant Governor (Economic) of the Reserve Bank of Australia, to the Australian Industry Group on March 7, 2007. (The complete presentation is available here.)
Australian Economy Highlights

Mr. Edy highlighted several economic indicators that speak to these sixteen years of growth for the Australian Economy:

  • Australia’s growth rate since 1990 has averaged 3¼ per cent. That compares favourably against most (though not all) of the advanced OECD countries that we would normally take as a benchmark. One important aspect of that result is that, unlike a number of the other advanced countries, Australia avoided recession in 2001;
  • Australia ’s inflation performance has also been good. Since the inflation target was first formulated in 1993, CPI inflation in Australia has averaged 2½ per cent – in the middle of the target zone.
  • It is also noteworthy that both growth and inflation have become more stable over time. One way to summarise that is to look at the standard deviations of these variables over successive decades. Economic performance deteriorated markedly in the 1970s, but volatility has been reduced in each decade since then. In the current decade, the outcomes for GDP growth, and for inflation, have been only about half as variable as they were in the 1980s.
  • Australia has been among the beneficiaries of the shift in global relative prices that has taken place over the past few years. In fact, if we rank the countries in the G-20 grouping according to the movements in their terms of trade over the past three years, Australia has had one of the biggest increases. More generally, the gainers have been the net resource exporters like Russia, Canada and Australia. There has been a broadly neutral impact on countries with roughly balanced commodities trade, while the losers have been the net resource importers such as Japan.

Source: Reserve Bank Of Australia

This healthy economic growth has resulted in the accumulation of wealth for Australians. In a publication entitled “Australian Net Private Wealth,” the Australian Treasury has written:

“In current prices, Australian net private sector wealth was approximately $7,464 billion at market value as at 30 June 2006. This represents around $361,000 per Australian and 7.7 times the value of the annual nominal gross domestic product of the economy. Real net wealth per Australian has increased for 15 consecutive years and has risen by over $150,000 since June 2001.”

It is with this increasing wealth that Australians have more discretionary income to spend on such things as travel and the discretionary time to commit to such things as volunteering.

Final Remarks

Whatever analogy serves you best in understanding the potential for Australia to be an incubator of VolunTourists, e.g. a seed, a seedling, an egg, etc., is undoubtedly significant. The foundational elements are present.

What will compel Australians into ultimately becoming participants on a VolunTourism journey?

What type of investment in educating and mobilizing its people in realizing their potential as VolunTourists will Australia put forth?

Will they perceive the socio-economic benefit that can accrue from said education, or will they teeter on the traditional paradigm that tourism is solely an economic generator?

Australia is a new nation with an ancient history. So to, VolunTourism is a new concept rooted in the age-old traditions of travel and service. It will be fascinating to follow the parallel progress of VolunTourism in Australia and VolunTourism overall in the months and years to come.

Next Up: The United Kingdom

[Return To The Top]




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