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FEATURE ARTICLE 1
VolunTourism: 2009 Year-In-Preview
How will the world further embrace VolunTourism in 2009? What will emerge from the financial debacle and the outright disdain for human greed and overt corporate largesse? Will the hybridization of voluntary service and tourism result in greater efficiency for the social sector and a continuing "soul-discovery-process" for the tourism industry? Or will we revert to a Darwinistic-scenario in which we struggle merely to survive amidst the rubble of the global meltdown? Being pragmatically optimistic, I see a modest acceleration in the adoption of VolunTourism around the world in 2009. And, considering the vast increase in the global presence of VolunTourism in 2008, "modest acceleration" may very well look like a speeding locomotive!
The New Year is upon us. Quite fitting, don't you think, that amidst the crash of financial constructs that have "richly" served us, we now find ourselves poised on the precipice of The New. The New does not necessarily mean all is well with the world. I note this in the "So You May Know" Column for this issue. But The New also gives us a chance to continue building on the momentum of 2008 by sparking a renewed interest in the fact that VolunTourism is gradually filtering into the sap of global consciousness. And this is good news, indeed!
So what will we see in 2009?
I, for one, will be focusing on the longevity of VolunTourism. My goal for the year will be to craft an outline for a 50-Year Strategic Plan. You may laugh-out-loud at this, but given that the "developed world's" current generation on the planet, and the one upcoming will likely live for twice this period, is it so far-fetched? Can a "five-year strategic plan" really honor the breakthroughs in technology, the world-wide adoption of Eastern homeopathic & Ayurvedic medicine, yoga, and meditation and how these will contribute to the longevity of humanity? My answer is no, of course it can't.
2009 will be the year of many things in the voluntourism realm. Here are ten items I have selected for which folks should be on the watch in the year ahead:
The Year Of DMOs & CVBs And Voluntourism
Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) and Convention & Visitors Bureaus (CVBs) around the world will build on what the Jordan Tourism Board did in 2007 and what the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau did in 2008. 2009 will usher in a new age for partnership and interaction between the social sector and the entities responsible for marketing destinations. A revival in the understanding that the social sector plays a critical role in the overall health of tourism in any destination will represent both a reactive as well as a proactive adaptation.
On the reactive side, DMOs will be responding to unexpected closures or limited hours of operations for cultural meccas, historic sites, and other social sector-generated services and attractions in destinations. The maintenance and upkeep of these places and open spaces will require helping hands to replace finances that have dwindled or dried up completely in the aftermath of the meltdown. On the proactive side, you will see DMOs identifying unique projects, germane to that specific destination, in order to differentiate themselves from other destinations. This will result in a boondoggle for voluntourists seeking experiences that are truly authentic and filled with learning and exposure to new and different aspects of destinations.
The Year Of Specialized Voluntourism
To date, most voluntourism outfits have developed programming that is relatively generic or multi-focused when we think of the types of voluntary service available throughout the world. Programs have focused on house-building or similar construction, working at orphanages, counting sea turtle eggs, gardening, teaching, etc. Given that these activities have taken place in unique settings has generated sufficient interest for those who have seen voluntourism as a means of taking their voluntary service on a road trip.
But, in 2009, voluntourists will begin to seek specialized voluntourism offerings and for those who are keeping track, this is an incredibly exciting development. Entities like Waves For Development, Culinary Corps, and the two operations featured in this issue's Supply Chain - Cultural Restoration Tourism Project & Heritage Conservation Network - will enjoy a surge in interest from a more discerning and savvy audience. Tour Operators like Dolphin Connection, Evergreen Escapes, and Chachapoyas Tours will develop and continue to develop unique porgrams in alignment with the needs of the communities and environments in which they operate,
Although these are not completely new creations, they will gain a foothold amidst the behemoths of this travel genre. Affinity, sparked by keen interest from voluntourists or by learning institutions intent on introducing students to unexplored vistas, will be the herald of sustainability for these operations. If they maintain a small overhead while galvanizing the nature of the engagement for participants, even in the toughest of economic conditions, they should be able to weather any tempest - perfect or otherwise.
The Year Of Corporate Voluntourism
Recouping employee morale and public image will be the motto of companies in 2009. Massive layoffs in the latter part of 2008 with some likely lingering into Q1, possibly Q2 of 2009 will give way to HR Departments trying to salvage the overall mental well-being of the employee base. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has also taken a huge hit during this period as corporate foundations and philanthropic giving have diminished due to declining valuations of the assets that often fund these initiatives or direct employee contributions.
Rising like the phoenix, Voluntourism will give HR and CSR Directors, as well as those heading up sustainability initiatives, the opportunity to invigorate employee wellness & peace of mind, improve on the corporate anti-largesse movement, and inspire social responsibility with a more balanced, strategic approach. (See this issue's 3Q's for additional thoughts on the subject.) Corporate meetings & incentives will meld their missions with social responsibility through VolunTourism, resulting in an enhanced perception, both internally and externally, for corporations. The pain of the past year will be assuaged through a celebration of community and global citizenry.
The Year Of Books On Voluntourism
Are you ready to do some reading? Well, you will have plenty of opportunity in 2009 as books will be hitting the shelves practically once, in some cases twice, per month. There will be a bonanza of U.S.-centric books, while some brands with which you are very familiar will post their own discussions and "How To's" on the subject of voluntourism and volunteer vacations.
Although none of these books will be all-inclusive in their review of voluntourism, there should be some good material to peruse. You will see terms like "Best" and "Most" along with numbers like "100" or "500." It should also give practitioners a chance to gain some insight into how travel writers will be reviewing these offerings, which will be a slight departure from the nonprofit and educational-based reviews and discussions of the past.
The Year Of Consolidation & Outsourcing
The financial situation in which we find ourselves necessitates frugality. Voluntourism operators will begin, if they have not done so already, to utilize some of the methods for reducing costs and overhead that have been readily embraced by the travel industry over the past couple of decades. We will see more websites being designed and marketed from India and elsewhere. We will see more call centers operating in-country or in-destination with local residents being trained to address the concerns of individuals inbound from other countries.
We may also see a reduction in offerings to some destinations due to high levels of expenditure - either for voluntourists to travel to such locations or due to overhead costs to run operations there. This year will be very telling as to the commitment of voluntourism operators to a given destination and how tolerant in-destination suppliers will be of those entities that cannot commit to a minimum flow of voluntourists to their respective outfits.
The Year Of DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Voluntourism
One development within this travel genre that we should observe in 2009 will be the proliferation of what is being called DIY Voluntourism or Do-It-Yourself Voluntourism. Although I consider this to be a misnomer, as it is nearly impossible to be a voluntourist without some support from either a grassroots organization or NGO, I believe there are several factors that will contribute to it and one, in particular, upon which we have already touched - money.
Scarcity of resources will breed experimentation by voluntourists to discover whether they can, in fact, procure sufficient information to design and implement their own voluntourism journeys. Other forces will be at work here, as well. A number of voluntourists who have utilized the services of voluntourism operators in the past will "graduate" to a modality of considering how to increase the allocation of funds directly to projects by circumventing the "middle man" and taking it upon themselves to create their own unique journeys. Is this any less than what the founders of numerous voluntourism operations around the world have done through their own respective due diligence?
And now that more information exists - online and in print - the possibility of designing a personalized engagement is indeed tenable. With web portals popping up around the globe, voluntourists can discover, virtually, many of the programs and projects available in destinations which they have dreamed of visiting or those which have been recommended by friends and family. Videos and testimonials via online forums, articles, and blog posts will add to personal voluntourism "wikis" for those inclined to be pioneer voluntourists.
The Year Of Consultants & Voluntourism
Those who are accustomed to hiring consultants to support your respective operations will also have an opportunity to do so within the voluntourism sphere in 2009. With consolidation and shrinkage engendering leaner staff sizes, especially in North American offices, Australia, and the UK, we should see a number of folks starting their own consulting businesses in 2009. There is no way of predicting the level of talent of these individuals at this point, but the ones that may find the quickest "homes" for their knowledge & wisdom will likely be those who have expertise in a specific destination and a means of communicating and connecting with NGOs and grassroots organizations at the ground level.
Because travel & tourism seems to have some Darwinistic, die-hard quality, it has one of the greatest track records of resiliency of any industry out there. And the economic downturn doesn't hurt the philosophical idealism about "helping one's global neighbor," on the contrary, it enhances it to an even greater degree. So look for the tourism industry to use this down cycle to bring knowledgeable folks into its fold to build out voluntourism options. And since some members of the tourism industry can look at voluntourism as an extension of their philanthropy and corporate social responsibility (CSR), there may be monies available through corporate and family/owner foundations for this build-out that are currently inaccessible to the nonprofit world.
The Year Of "Emerging" & "Effective" Practices For Voluntourism
I have written about "best practices" in the past and have had discussions with folks on this subject. Something about the term and what it represents has always tweaked my inner sensibilities. Fortunately, I recently came across a review of the book, The Pfeiffer Book of Successful Leadership Development Tools, edited by Jack Gordon, in which Kelly M. Hannum, PhD, Manager of Research at the Center for Creative Leadership, offers these words:
2009 Will Be The Year Of...
1) DMO's & CVB's & Voluntourism
2) Specialized Voluntourism
3) Corporate Voluntourism
4) Books on Voluntourism
5) Consolidation & Outsourcing
6) Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Voluntourism
7) Consultants & Voluntourism
8) "Emerging" & "Effective" Practices For Voluntourism
9) Confluence For Sustainability & Voluntourism
10) Discount Voluntourism
I am grateful to Kelly for assisting me in what I hope will not be a crusade, nor merely a replacement of adjectives for external communications' purposes. What I hope we can achieve with this is a sense of perpetuation of the journey towards greater insight and discovery. To suggest that certain entities have "arrived" at some arbitrary point of conclusion by utilizing "best" in relation to their operations, activities, or practices is the worst thing we can do.
In order to survive long-term, voluntourism must be unconstrained by "marketing speak" and the paradigm of perceived achievement. As old as the roots of voluntourism may be, its recent growth and proliferation is brand-spankin' new. The creativity in this space, the entrepreneurial wisdom, and the experimentation - all deserve an equal opportunity to be recognized and celebrated. So here's to and embracing "emerging" and "effective" and making the "most" of 2009!
The Year Of Confluence For Sustainability & Voluntourism
For those wondering how the global economy will challenge sustainability in 2009, look no further than how those who have touted sustainable tourism over the last years will begin to adopt voluntourism. I think there are two primary reasons for this.
First, voluntourism is approachable. For tourism stakeholders, especially small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), who have questioned whether sustainability is even an option for them, voluntourism offers an accessible, easily assimilated demonstration of movement toward sustainability. Helping a village construct an eco-lodge through the inspired assistance of voluntourists supports the longevity of the local residents through additional income. Such projects will flourish in 2009.
Second, voluntourism is more readily understood by those who do not converse in "sustainability-speak." Voluntourism will give tourism stakeholders and observers alike an opportunity to discover unique, destination-specific applications of sustainability, necessitating a mere modicum of explanation and leaving plenty of time for active engagement in delivering measurable outcomes. So watch out carbon-offsets; time to make room for karmic-offsets!
2009 should see a melding of the practicality of voluntourism with the idealism of sustainability.
The Year Of Discount Voluntourism
Perchance I saved this for last because it will cause discomfort for some of you out there, but what else would you expect in a Global Recession of this magnitude? I don't think I need to say much about this. New Orleans' hotels got the discounts rolling back in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina, but this year it will be worldwide. Look for hotels and resorts to continue to lead the charge. You may see discounts from the airlines, as well. And, of course, practitioners will be offering reduced fees to lure voluntourists back to their respective folds.
None of these should raise any eyebrows. They are straightforward and a number of them have links to the overall financial health of the world. But, I think it would be a mistake to underestimate how this market is beginning to mature and that part of what is suggested here, for example, DIY Voluntourism, is a natural course of affairs. Some travellers area accustomed to taking matters into their own hands. Those who have that "independent," pioneer-like quality will seek out voluntary service activities just as they do any other type of travel experience. The difference in 2009? There will be a measurable increase in this audience's size.
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