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Volume 2 Issue 1 - Feature Article 2

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Study & Research



Special Report: Gulf Coast & New Orleans VolunTourism
Prompted by an article that ran in the Washington Post on 15, March 2006, I connnected with the Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), the New Orleans CVB, and Harrison County, Mississippi. The following is a special report on how the tourism and nonprofit industries are combining their efforts to support VolunTourism in the region.

You may have seen the articles that have filtered out of the U.S. Gulf Coast Region and New Orleans regarding the impact of VolunTourism. One was recently inked in the Washington Post. Prompted by the media and emails, I decided to inquire about the efforts in which VolunTourists are engaged and the status of VolunTourism, especially as it pertains to these destinations.

Steve Richer, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast CVB, and I have been in contact over the last several months. March 16th – 19th, he and his team, in conjunction with Tourism Cares, coordinated a visit of some 300+ members and students connected to the National Tour Association (NTA) to serve the communities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. (And this group represents just a small portion of the VolunTourists that have come to the region during the Spring Break period.)


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New Orleans , too, has received thousands of students and adults that have traveled to the area to support the cleanup. Lisa Holland of the New Orleans CVB has adjusted her traditional role of group travel planning for certain demographic groups to one in which she is dealing with audiences that she has rarely seen in her time at the Bureau. “These are not the groups with which I am accustomed,” she said. “In some ways it is very exciting for us. But we also realize why they have come; it is very heartwarming.”

But it is not only the CVB’s that play a role in organizing and coordinating these visits. People like Camille Peno of the Harrison County Long-Term Recovery Committee & Unmet Needs are gathering data and assessing the needs of the communities. This grueling task is challenging beyond recognition. When I spoke with her she mentioned that consistently they are finding a person here or there that has “falling through the cracks.” Through no fault of anyone, there are simply not enough folks engaged in the process of discovering what is needed, where, and how much. This is certainly something that VolunTourists can do – with little or no training.

“We need people to knock on doors. We need people to check on folks that do not have telephones or access to television or radio. We need to start preparing people for the future,” Camille told me. The region also needs skilled workers. VolunTourists that are plumbers, carpenters, and electricians are desperately needed at this time.

Photo Courtesy Of VolunTourists Without Borders, All Rights Reserved

Implementation vs Adaptation

First, I think we should all applaud the efforts of folks like Steve Richer and Lisa Holland. They have made tremendous strides in reorganizing their traditional capacities to support the inflow of VolunTourists to the region. And through the assistance of nonprofit industry representatives like Camille Peno, these VolunTourists have had targeted activities in which to engage.

Nevertheless, in speaking with these extraordinarily flexible people, I realized, as I did after connecting with folks in the Tsunami-impacted areas of Southeast Asia, that there is a BIG distinction between adaptation and implementation. Steve, Lisa, and Camille have done an amazing job of adapting to the challenges that have been posed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, yet would they have been better able to coordinate these efforts if a plan had been in place, if they had known each other beforehand?

The obvious answer is “yes,” of course. And now there are roughly two months until Summer Vacation begins. Operators will be planning trips to the region and will have the opportunity to designate a portion of each itinerary to “hands-on” service. Tauck World Discovery is one operator that will offer short-term VolunTourism experiences for their clients in conjunction with their itineraries to the region this summer.

Camille Peno is certainly one person with whom operators can connect. Her headquarters are in Harrison County, Mississippi, but she also has contacts in Hancock and Jackson Counties – the other two areas that were decimated in the state. She can be reached at: 228.897.1358. They are also assembling a website for future dissemination of information; be sure to ask her about this when you contact her.

Photo Courtesy Of VolunTourists Without Borders, All Rights Reserved

We also have to consider the individual leisure travelers that are organizing their summer engagements. I suggest that if you are an operator specializing in providing services to individual travelers that you contact either the Gulf Coast CVB or the New Orleans CVB to determine how you may be able to work with these respective offices to support the movement of VolunTourists to, within, and from, the region. Your efforts may prove most supportive in what will be a long-term recovery process.

There will be a lull in the travel window over the next couple of months. This time can be used wisely to gather the needs assessments from Camille Peno’s office and that of those working in New Orleans and combine them with the knowledge and expertise of those of you in the travel industry that are interested in aligning yourselves with VolunTourism. The itineraries will be unique, and the participants may be a group with which you are unfamiliar, but this simply equates to a new opportunity for you and your company. Let us know how you do!

Additional Contact Information (Group Bookings Only)

Lisa M. Holland, Tourism Sales Manager

New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau

2020 St. Charles Avenue , New Orleans, La. 70130

(504) 566-5053 direct phone line

(800) 748-8695 ext. 5053 toll free

(504) 566-5002 fax


Steve Richer, Executive Director

Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau

PO Box 6128 , Gulfport MS 39506

(228) 575-4297


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