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The VolunTourist Publisher/Editor, David Clemmons
January 2006 - So You May Know

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The Familiarization VolunTourism Model

A term that continues to appear in marketing plans of destination marketing organizations and convention & visitors bureaus is something called the “destination education tour.” The DET has replaced the Familiarization Tour, or Fam Trip as it has been referred to by folks in the industry. For the purposes of this article, however, we will identify the opportunity as a Familiarization Trip.


The experience to which we are connecting visitors does not represent an education of the destination. Because VolunTourism represents the combination of both voluntary service and traditional elements of tourism, the likelihood that we will be able to completely “educate” participants about the social challenges and other issues with which residents and the community must deal is, in a word, preposterous!

I had originally intended to suggest that this model would only be appropriate for the nonprofit organizations and NGOs. My reasoning was simple: tourism industry representatives would not benefit from a familiarization trip as much as an NGO would. With a little reflection, however, I altered my thinking.

Tourism Industry Fam Trips

The Fam Trip has been a staple of the industry for many years. Destination marketing organizations have identified key individuals from particular target audiences and worked with operators, vendors, and suppliers to formalize the Fam Trip at little or no cost to the destination. But what does VolunTourism do to change, or, perhaps, enhance the Fam Trip?

VolunTourism can offer three distinct opportunities for the Fam Trip:

  • Set a precedent for the consideration of corporate social responsibility
  • Differentiate your services from those of other industry professionals
  • Connect the potential client with an “Automatic YES! Point” (AYP)

Each of these elements adds “luster” to your destination or your operations.


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The way in which you incorporate the voluntary service portion into the Fam Trip may also prove to support your efforts. If, for example, you conduct a little investigation prior to the Fam Trip, you may discover that one of the participants happens to philanthropically support a particular social challenge that has relevance to your destination. You may, therefore, draw attention to this in your presentation.

NGO Fam Trips

For those in the nonprofit world who have not developed a familiarization trip previously, you may want to speak with a representative of a destination marketing organization or ministry of tourism in your area. Whether or not you decide to take this approach, you have several reasons to initiate a VolunTourism Fam Trip:

  • You will be able to introduce your operations to “new” potential donors
  • You will be able to share the current programming with long-time donors
  • You will be able to demonstrate your capacity to potential tourism partners

Certainly, the manner in which you craft the Fam Trip will differ for each of these audiences. Fam Trips give you the opportunity to create a unique experience that can showcase your operations, the social challenges that you address, and the knowledge and expertise of your staff. These are things that can be stated on a website, in a brochure, or over the telephone, but can never equal the experience itself.

It is also possible for NGOs to access, either through tourism partners or the destination marketing organization, resources to support your Fam Trip. You may be able to also procure the services of a tourism industry vendor at “no-charge” to you as an operator because of the value that the vendor perceives in either a tax deduction, exposure to a potential client, or both. Keep this in mind when you are developing your Fam Trip.


The downside to VolunTourism Fam Trips is primarily in regards to the monetary outlay for an NGO. Tourism operators have marketing budgets and can absorb these types of expenditures. In fact, members of the tourism industry may be able to garner even more support than traditionally relegated due to the socio-economic impact of VolunTourism.

However, if an NGO determines that a Fam Trip will be used to generate donations, and the donations do not come as a result, then the loss may be too great.

The wise approach to this for NGOs would be to make sure that you have a mixed group of participants. Some can be donors, some potential tourism partners, and some can be long-term donors. By mixing the group, you mitigate the risk, and this is a good thing!

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