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March 2005 - Feature Article 2

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FEATURE ARTICLE 2

Attraction Or Added Value?

This may be one of the most challenging questions for any stakeholder considering the development of VolunTourism products and services.

Will VolunTourism be used as a mechanism to draw potential clients to your operation (attraction), or will it be used to enhance the overall experience of your existing clients (added value)? But added value can represent much more than client benefit, it can also refer to the “added social impact value” of the contribution that your clients make to the destination. Does this reflect positively on your operations? You bet it does.

Let's take a look at some key questions that we can ask that may help us determine which approach could be more beneficial for our respective operations.

Question #1: Does my/our operation have a large number of local competitors?

Yes: VolunTourism may be the perfect element for adding value to your existing packages. Remember, if price and product are perceived to be equal, consumers are more likely to purchase a product that supports a cause or issue. Here is what the 2004 Cone Corporate Citizenship Study reveals:

Americans Will Reward Companies Who Meet Their Expectations

As research results continue to demonstrate, Americans have grown to expect companies to play a more active role in addressing the needs of our society:

It is acceptable for companies to involve a cause or issue in their marketing

2004........72%
2001........70%
1993........66%

Where Americans stand prepared to punish companies they perceive as having negative practices, they will also reward those companies who meet their high expectations with their business:

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I am likely to switch from one brand to another that is about the same in price and quality, if the other brand is associated with a cause

2004........86%
2002........84%
1999........84%
1993........85%

In addition, Americans are willing to act in a variety of ways beyond product purchases:

A company’s commitment to a social issue is important when I decide…(first figure is 2004, second is 2002)

Which companies I want to see doing business in my local community: 85% vs 84%
Where to work: 81% vs. 77%
Which products and services to recommend to other people: 74% vs. 75%
Which stocks or mutual funds to invest in: 70% vs 66%

No: VolunTourism can be utilized as an attraction to your operations, especially if you can identify unique features of potential service activities to the destination. We do not mean simply building houses or planting organic gardens; we mean harvesting honey with Mayan women to support their family income, or planting foliage to secure a habitat for an endangered species.

Question #2: Is VolunTourism a revenue-generating strategy for my/our operation?

Yes: Clearly, in this instance, you want to utilize VolunTourism as an attraction. Your goal of generating revenues with this strategy means that you will need to create a package that incorporates volunteer experiences that include a direct economic impact to the destination. In fact, you may want to state in the description of a particular package that $xxx of your trip are paying for materials that will be used in the construction, development, or renovation of a particular structure, roadway, or recreational area. The main reason that people will participate in this excursion is because their resources will equal a specific outcome in the destination.

No: If generating revenue with VolunTourism is not a priority, then, most likely, you are attempting to add value to your existing packages. You may also consult a tax attorney on the tax deductible benefits of VolunTourism and include that in your packaging. Again, this is offering an added value for your clients.

Question #3: Is our team interested in expanding our operations with new clientele?

Yes: VolunTourism may be the perfect mechanism by which you create an attraction for new clients that have traditionally been guests of a competitor. But, and this can be very important, your ability to create this type of experience may open the option to appeal to folks that fall into the category of “do-it-yourselfers.” This service for these potential clients may be something that they have not been able to create on their own. You will attract these potential clients because your connections give you a direct advantage over their individual options.

No: If you are not interested in expansion through new clientele, then VolunTourism represents added value for your existing customer base. You want to create a retention mechanism to keep your customer base coming back year after year to see what you and your team have created “this year” as the voluntary service component.

Question #4: Does a severe lack of social services for the local population exist in the destinations in which you conduct your operations?

Yes: For those stakeholders that conduct operations in locations in which the local population suffers from a diverse set of challenging social issues, VolunTourism can be a major attraction for those who have great interest in addressing such situations. As voluntary service continues to broaden its appeal in developed countries, these populations are attentive to opportunities that provide them with a chance to be of service. By demonstrating that your operations have incorporated service into your product mix for this purpose, you have given a major reason to come to the destination, and, of course, utilize your services.

No: If social services are at a premium, or the lifestyle of residents is not diametrically opposed to the experiences of your clients, then VolunTourism can play the role of added value for your operations. You are not trying to attract travelers based upon a “dire” need to address the challenges of the destination. Instead, you are trying to deliver travel option that will add value to both the experience of the traveler and to the destination itself. These voluntary activities may address the environment and indigenous animal and plant populations more so than local social issues for the residents.

Question #5: Is it a primary goal of our operations to employ more local residents and secure additional income for them through VolunTourism?

Yes : If you plan to have fundamentally sustainable operations in a given destination, then hiring members of the local community is a great demonstration of this. VolunTourism can be a significant contributor in support of this and will be a major attraction for clients. Economic advantage that is passed by your operations to local people and can be spoken of through your marketing efforts to potential clients – websites, collateral, etc., is important. In the 2002 Geotourism Study released by the Travel Industry Association of America and National Geographic Traveler, more than 30% of respondents affirmed that, “It is important to me that travel companies I use employ local residents and support the local economy.”

VolunTourism often relies on low, to moderately skilled workers to support the activities of VolunTourists. Most projects – whether they contribute to eliminating social ills or advancing the income of local residents – do not require highly skilled employees. Relationships are an integral part of VolunTourism operations; and these are often fostered by well-respected, hard working locals.

No: Because your operations may be highly specialized and technically advanced in a given destination, you may not be able to meet these employment needs through the local population. However, you may have the option to employ one or two residents by offering the added value to your clients of a VolunTourism experience. Pilot projects to test the viability of such an option can be slowly developed and included in your client packages. This will not result in major contributions to the local residents’ income, but it will be a small step in evaluating if such is possible.

Conclusion:

These are only a few of the questions that you may ask as you discover how to utilize VolunTourism in conjunction with your operations. The important aspect of this exercise, however, is to demonstrate that VolunTourism has the power to function in both capacities – either as an attraction to your operations or as added value for your clients. You will need to take the necessary time to review these options and determine which one assists you in meeting your overall goals and objectives.

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