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August 2005 - Feature Article 2

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Outbound VolunTourism: Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind - - Part II
Identifying "Risk" and "Lack" has been part of the process of developing any new venture or business enterprise throughout the history of business planning . In this, Part II of our three-part series, I will present some options for mitigating Risks.

Mitigating Investment Risk

In Part I of this series, we mentioned that Investment Risk has two sides. For the would-be VolunTourist, participating in these travel experiences is both a financial investment and an emotional one. The way to help VolunTourists reduce the investment risk is to supply them with alternatives and information. In the category of alternatives, I am referring to several things:

  • Offer an array of travel options – shorter vs. longer duration, more rustic (home stays, tents/camping) vs. hotel accommodations, local transit vs. private ground transport, etc.
  • Round Trip Transfer – give them an opportunity to purchase their airfare or ground transport separately as a means of giving them a sense of freedom to get their “own” deals and “save” precious monies.
  • No-cost options - if the majority of your add-on activities require cash outlay by participants, create some no-, or low-cost options that will reduce the investment outlay by participants

To reduce emotional investment risk, give VolunTourists a clearer understanding of what it means to participate in your service projects via testimonials. If you have guests that have written letters to you, get their permission and post them on your website. These will not be letters that “sell” your products and services, but rather tell the story of the transformation that a VolunTourist experienced. The more in-depth the description can be of the emotions and feelings in the form of true expression by participants, the better would-be VolunTourists will feel about their potential emotional investment risk.

As for VolunTourism Operators (VO’s), Investment Risk is a function of creating products and services that are both non-traditional in the industry and require funding by participants for those activities for which they would not generally pay. The way for VO’s to address Investment Risk is to create viable options for hedging their investment.

For example, if you want to introduce VolunTourism products and services, select an existing tour or product that is one of your “top-sellers.” Create a one-day or partial day VolunTourism activity within that tour. Give your clients a taste of what it is like and gather feedback and comments from them either through exit interviews or follow-up questionnaires.

Another option is to determine that you will invest in VolunTourism through philanthropic monies. Set aside a certain amount of funds to support the training of staff and development of capacity for a local NGO. Designate these funds as part of your corporate social responsibility, if you prefer. In either case, you will be educating the NGO staff and helping them to coordinate VolunTourism activities as “trials” for your clients. Again, follow-up, comments, and feedback from both NGO staff and clients will assist you in determining the viability of the investment.

The idea is to utilize the resources that you have at your disposal as a VO to reduce your initial investment in VolunTourism product research and development while delivering the highest opportunity for success. VolunTourism gives you far greater latitude than most other products and services because of the benefits that can be derived from this process. How often can philanthropic dollars be earmarked to help you determine the viability of a new product or service? Even if clients are not open to such activities, you can claim the monies as a tax deductible contribution to an NGO. This is how to mitigate your Investment Risk.

Mitigating Intensity Risk

The greatest way to alleviate the challenges of Intensity Risk is to establish freedom for VolunTourists through options. First let’s address the Intensity of Interaction with Destination Residents.

In the example given in the first part of this series regarding the inescapability from the orphanage, or “Hogar,” we could incorporate an exit strategy for our VolunTourists. In our literature describing the VolunTourism experience, we could let participants know about the regular contact with the residents and the “living on campus” scenario. In the same description we could let them know that for those who feel at any time they would like to have an “off-campus” night, there are additional accommodations available at “X dollars/per night.” Your guests will not feel embarrassment or the pressure of not being able to handle the Intensity of Interaction. In fact, it may allow them to push themselves beyond the limit of their own thinking because, in the back of their mind, they will know that the “safety net” of additional accommodations is ready and waiting.

Intensity of Labor poses even less of a threat to your operations, IF, and only if, you have divided your tasks accordingly. In the many years that I have been a volunteer, I have NEVER participated in an activity in which there was only one task or duty required. If I was washing dishes at a homeless shelter, there was a need for someone to put the dishes away, or to collect them from the tables. If we were mixing cement, someone needed to provide drinking water for the workers.

If you want to mitigate this risk, then thoroughly identify the various duties and responsibilities that will help you to achieve these tasks. Make it known to VolunTourists that you encourage switching off duties throughout the course of the day’s activities. You may even create a team captain position to fill out the roster and make sure that folks switch throughout the course of the day. This duty can be given to a VolunTourist that has expressed concern about the Intensity of Labor in a prior conversation with a staff member or during orientation, etc. It can also be a position given to anyone who needs a break throughout the day.

Mitigating Health & Safety Risk

If you take the notion that inevitably a VolunTourist will succumb to a health issue or will ultimately disregard a safety measure, then you have taken the biggest step possible in reducing this challenge to your operations. Someone WILL overeat; someone WILL forget to put down the mosquito netting at night; someone WILL dehydrate because they failed to drink enough fluids; someone WILL do something to injure themselves or someone else. IT IS GOING TO HAPPEN! Okay, now you know. The question is really this: “How well will you have prepared your staff and your VolunTourists in dealing with a breach of health or safety?”

Certainly information is the best tool for reducing this risk - information on your website, in your printed materials, and most especially during orientation with your VolunTourists. But also make sure that you have conducted some drills with your staff on how to deal with various types of health & safety “emergencies.” (Believe me, when you are 3,000 miles from home in a Country in which you do not speak the language, and some part of your body is not functioning properly – IT’s AN EMERGENCY!!!)

You may have literature for your staff on how to deal with “panic” or “shock” as well as other psychological responses to trauma. You may require all of your staff to undergo first aid and CPR training through a local hospital, clinic, or NGO. Again, preparation for the inevitable is your best defense. Staff should keep a record of health and safety challenges, regardless of how minor they may seem, for each group of VolunTourists and add this to an ongoing resource guide for your operational staff.

But also get generic information to your VolunTourists on how to PREVENT certain health or safety challenges. Give them your “List of VolunTourism Laws for Utmost Health & Safety.” If you wear gloves on a worksite, make sure to regularly dry your hands or rub them with sand or talcum powder to reduce blistering. If you have a weak stomach, bring a supply of dried fruit, if you can get it through customs, which will last you a few days to guarantee sustenance until your system becomes accustomed to the local cuisine. If you work, you need to take in plenty of fluids throughout the day. And so on.

During orientation, let everyone know where they can access the step-by-step procedures that you have created for dealing with minor accidents, health issues, etc. For the more complicated issues, those requiring hospitalization or immediate medical attention, let them know the basic process of getting to the nearest medical facility, but do not present the array of options that can occur – broken bone, nail through the hand, stitches, etc. This depth of explanation is not required until the situation presents itself.

If you have informed your guests sufficiently, you will find that they will begin to “police” themselves. You or your staff may hear, “Make sure to drink enough, everyone, it is hot today!” “The staff member told us to take it easy on the food here for the first couple of days, no wonder you have an upset stomach, you ate like a pig last night!” Peer pressure can be an excellent deterrent and a tremendous means of mitigating your Health & Safety Risk.

Part III

In Part III of this series, appearing in the August issue, I will address the Lack factors and offer some final thoughts on mitigating Risk and Lack in your Outbound Volun-Tourism operations

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