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
VolunTourism: From Whence They May Come - Part IV
In this issue we look to the Northeastern Atlantic and the United Kingdom to discover what contributing factors may play a role in the growth of VolunTourists amongst the population. The Gap Year is certainly one element, but what else is building a culture of VolunTourism in the UK?
If you were asleep for the month of August in the UK, or spent your time without multimedia contact of any kind, then you likely missed the extensive coverage of VolunTourism in the United Kingdom. I decided to stop counting after I reached the number fifty in terms of print media, weblog entries, television and radio spots on the subject.
Granted the coverage was not flattering for VolunTourism, but that is not always a bad thing. In fact, it made the timeliness of this article, which was announced the month prior, seem that much more synchronous. (I took some time to respond to some of the criticisms of VolunTourism in this issue's So You May Know column and will not focus on that here.)
The stories were excellent. They discussed some of the contributing elements as to why we will likely see a large number of VolunTourists coming from the United Kingdom well into the future. The Gap Year was the prominent factor, but there was also a focus on responsibility as it relates to travel & tourism. In addition, the articles discussed the societal impetus to be of service and some of the organizations that contribute to that pervasive "drive" throughout all generations - whether they be faith-based or NGO. And there is, of course, the significant number of VolunTourism Operators (VTOs) that have their headquarters in the UK.
The Four Factors
The United Kingdom has four factors that contribute to its potential for producing VolunTourists:
- The Gap Year
- Responsible Travel
- Societal Impetus To Serve
- VolunTourism Operators
The Gap Year
Call it a right of passage, call it passing your GCSE's (General Certificate of Secondary Education tests), or call it advancing to the ripe old age of 17 in the UK, the Gap Year is a young person's passport to the notion of traveling abroad for up to three hundred and sixty-five days. There are Gap Year books, web sites, blogs, companies, and counselors that specialize in assisting these youthful enthusiasts in discovering their "perfect" placement or trip.
Over the last decade, a relatively new feature in these Gap Year programs, which have traditionally been focused on travel & tourism or, possibly, Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), has been the inclusion of voluntary service opportunities. Projects are as varied as the destinations and are organized by NGOs and companies alike.
Harold Goodwin and Justin Francis, amongst a cadre of other individuals, have made respon-sible travel an important topic in the UK. Tourism Concern has also undertaken a significant role in establishing criteria for best practices and methodologies for entities to cultivate a responsible approach to travel. What does responsible travel mean? Well, here is a definition from ResponsibleTravel.com:
"Responsible travel is a new way of travelling for those who've had enough of mass tourism. It's about respecting and benefiting local people and the environment – but it's about far more than that.
If you travel for relaxation, fulfilment, discovery, adventure and to learn – rather than simply to tick off 'places and things' – then responsible travel is for you."
I like the words "respecting and benefiting local people and the environment." Certainly seems to give credence to the idea of rendering service to the communities and destinations one visits.
Societal Impetus To Serve
There are internal motivators within basically every society that encourage people to be of service. It may be having children and therefore feeling the peer pressure of needing to serve as a "room mother" at an elementary school or as a "coach" for an athletic team. In the UK this societal impetus to volunteer is present along with several others: religion, the democratic process, and philanthropic organizations, just to name a few.
With wealth, privilege, and freedom comes the responsibility to serve those who do not have these things or have them sparsely in comparison to one's own situation. There are also familial responsibilities and caregiving that may not be easily passed on to an institution. Again, these societal conditions push us towards being of service. And from this position, it is decidedly easier to move beyond self, family, city, and nation, to the world at large.
Survival Of The Fittest?
It will be interesting to watch the de-bate over VolunTourism in the UK in the weeks, months and years ahead.
There is money to be made; this will entice more travel companies to engage in VolunTourism which will increase the competition for Volun-Tourists that have traditionally been an audience for NGOs only.
We saw some of the fallout from this in the remarks by Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO). Is Charles Darwin's approach to evolution about to filter into the VolunTourism industry?
The old adage, "if you build it, they will come," may not be the reason why the United Kingdom has an abundant supply of VolunTourism Operators (VTOs). Yet, the fact that the UK has a growing contingent of VolunTourism practitioners is in-escapable. (Hands Up Holidays, the Supply Chain for this issue, is one such VTO.)
These entities have, in some cases, sprung up from the expansion of the Gap Year to incorporate voluntary service. But now they are reaching beyond the 17 - 25 year-old market. They are discovering the potential of family & cross-generational travel, corporate, and an active pre- & post-retiree market. Others were spawned in response to the Southeast Asian Tsunami.
In another development within this arena, First Choice Holidays, PLC acquired i-to-i, a UK-based VolunTourism Operator, earlier this year. In September, the subsequent merger of First Choice and TUI AG to form TUI Travel, PLC transpired, this may be perceived as giving i-to-i a substantial competitive advantage.
Could this compel others to start-up VolunTourism operations, or for existing VolunTourism practitioners to look for mergers and/or partnerships to better compete in this growing market space? Could it also translate into "boutique"-style VolunTourism or a niche specialization in addressing one cause/social issue or a limited set of communities or destinations? I am already reaching for a box of popcorn to watch this story unfold.
Reuter's Foundation runs a web site called AlertNet. A blog entry was posted on August 15th by Alex Klaushofer in response to the criticism of voluntourism in the UK. If you decide to peruse the article, I highly recommend that you sift through the 17 comments that are offered by readers. It provides some indication of what a "hot topic" this is in the UK.
The "beauty" of VolunTourism, if you will, is that it is not a "spectator sport." There are too many stakeholders - communities, residents, travelers, companies, NGOs, etc. - and there is too much at stake. The UK is not a country of spectators; although, they may watch an occasional game of football. These are active, engaged individuals with some discretionary time and some very valuable Euros in their pockets.
The foundation for incubating VolunTourists is well-established. Travel and service are the life-blood of the "island," and there are a plethora of statistics to prove it. If even 10% of the 20+ million UK citizens who volunteered in 2003 (Source: Home Office Citizenship Survey) become VolunTourists, it could greatly impact communities and environments across the globe.
Next Up: India
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